Imagine yourself in the following situations:
- You hear a woman screaming from your neighbour’s apartment. When you look out from your window, you see your neighbour kicking and beating his wife
- One a night when your neighbour went out for dinner, you see a man with a knife breaking into your neighbour’s house
- You witness your friend selling and taking drugs in a nightclub
- You walk on a street, and out of a sudden you see a man robs a handbag from a lady, who fells onto the floor and cries for help
It doesn’t take a policeman to know that a crime is being committed in the scenarios above. But what if you decided it was none of your business and ignored it… pretending that nothing happened? While it may be morally and socially irresponsible, could it also be illegal?
So, are you legally required to report a crime which you are aware of?
Yes, but only limited to certain serious crimes.
To look at this question in more detail, we need to look at the Criminal Procedure Code (‘the CPC’). Section 13 of the CPC imposes a duty on the public to give information about certain crimes that we are aware of. The public is also required to give information about any unnatural death or death by violence, or about any body of any person being found dead.
A list of crimes has been listed down under Section 13, and here are some examples:
- Waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Ruler, or Yang di-Pertua Negeri
- Possessing weapons or missiles at riot
- Kidnapping or abducting
- Exploiting any person for the purpose of prostitution
- Buggery with animal
- Carnal intercourse without consent
- Incites a child to an act of gross indecency
- Theft with preparation of causing death or hurt in order to commit theft
- House trespass in order to commit an offence punishable by death or life imprisonment
- Housebreaking by night
Of course, this isn’t the full list and some crimes may have different levels of severity; but it should give you a pretty good idea of what kinds of crimes warrant reporting.
What if you failed to report the crime?
If you are aware of any person committing these offences, you are legally required to immediately report the incident to a police officer, unless you have reasonable excuses for not doing so. A ‘reasonable excuse’ could be very subjective as it largely depends on the specific circumstances of the case. For example, not reporting the crime because you’re afraid that your violent neighbour will set fire to your house (or worse) may be seen as a more reasonable excuse than not reporting a crime because you didn’t want to be late for work.
When you are legally bound to give information about the crime but you purposely refuse to do so, you can be charged with “intentional omission, by a person bound to inform, to give information of an offence” under section 202 of the Penal Code. If you were found guilty of the offence, you may face imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to RM 2,000, or both.
The CPC is not exhaustive in providing the list of crimes that require you to report. The obligation to report is also stated in some other legislations, for example:
- Duty to report bribery transactions (section 25 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009), failing to do so will be imposed a fine less than RM 1,000 or imprisonment up to 10 years, or both.
- Duty to report sexual offences against children (section 19 of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017), failing to do so shall be liable to a fine up to RM 5,000
Suffice to say, it might be a good idea to make a police report regardless, since...
You never know when your report may prevent or solve a crime
The case of Kitty Genovese is often used as an example of the Bystander Effect, where everyone assumes someone else will take responsibility for making a report… leading to no report actually being made. Kitty Genovese was robbed and stabbed outside her apartment door and screamed for help as she was left bleeding on the doorstep. More than 30 people heard her screams (some even looked out their windows) but no one called the police or went to help. Because of this, the robber felt brave enough to return 10 minutes later to stab and rape her.
None of the witnesses got in trouble for not reporting the incident, but the question to ask is… would she be alive if someone did?
Therefore, you never know how much impact you can make by making a police report. There are a few ways that you can report a crime:
- Go to the nearest police station
- Call 999