Can A Mentally Disabled Person Stand Trial?

Ever wonder if a mentally disabled person can be asked to stand trial and put forward his defense in a criminal case? Wonder no more, as today, we will be briefly looking at the case of Muhd Haslam Abdullah v PP1 which expounded extensively on those issues.

Brief facts of the case

Muhd Haslam was charged for trafficking cannabis and was sentenced to death by the High Court. He appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal. During the case management:

  1. Everyone (literally everyone) realizes that Muhd Haslam was not normal – he had a disability of the intellect/ mind.
  2. Through the record of appeal, it was discovered that the High Court did send Muhd Haslam for observation at a government mental hospital to determine if he was fit to stand trial. In this regard:
    1. The report states that Muhd Haslam was sound and was conscious of the consequences of his actions when he was caught by the police; and
    2. He is mentally fit and stable to stand trial and to defend himself (notwithstanding the fact that he has an OKU card).
  3. However, the report was not given to Muhd Haslam for him to use it as evidence in the trial in High Court.

The decision of the courts

The High Court held that Muhd Haslam was competent enough to stand trial as any other normal person would, notwithstanding the fact that he held an OKU card and fall under the class of person that is recognized by law as a person with mental disabilities under the Person With Disabilities Act.

However, the Court of Appeal disagreed. At the end of the appeal, the court set aside the death sentence and acquitted Muhd Haslam of all charges that were brought against him by the prosecution.

So can a mentally disabled person stand trial?

Yes, the court says that a mentally disabled person can actually stand trial for a charge against him. However, there are certain factors that the court must observe consider before asking a mentally disabled person to stand trial:

  1. The court must apply its mind to whether such a ling term mental impairment to the mind of a mentally disabled person (especially a person with an OKU card) would affect his appreciation of an occurrence of a crime and whether this would affect his culpability for the crime.
  2. Even if a disabled person is certified as fit to stand trial in the medical report, the court must still evaluate the medical report in reference to the degree and mental disability as well as the nature and type of mental disability of the disabled person, and not just accept the report as gospel truth.
  3. If a mentally disabled person is asked to stand trial (i.e. certified as fit to stand trial), the court must continually assess and address the ability of a mentally disabled person to stand trial throughout the trial to ensure that a fair trial is provided to the mentally disabled person. This includes but not limited to:
    1. Ensuring that a disabled person could meaningfully participate in the trial process, especially when he is called to defend himself.
    2. Giving appropriate allowance and accommodation to the mentally disabled person in situations where there are contradictions in versions of stories given by the prosecution and the disabled person.
    3. Giving equal weight in situations where the way in which a disabled person gives evidence would not have been accepted/ give less weight if it was done by an ordinary and competent person. For example, a disabled person chooses to give evidence by the way in which a disabled person is competent and confident in giving evidence.

The court noted that criminal justice is ill-adept to cater to the disabilities of the mind of a disabled person. The court went on and state that, at the end of the day, even if an accused did not raise the defense if insanity, the court must still treat a criminal justice system. This would ensure individuals who suffer from a mental disability are or protected equally by the criminal justice system of this country.

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1. [2020] 4 CLJ 328.

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