There have been several alarming incidents of thefts and robberies in the Klang Valley recently. In one case, four masked, gloved, and parang-wielding robbers broke into the house and injured a female victim.

They ran off with about RM4,000 in cash, mobile phones, and jewellery estimated to be worth RM20,000. In a separate case in Cheras, a woman’s handbag was stolen from the passenger seat of her car by a snatch thief.

With occurrences on the rise, we decided to consult a lawyer to find out the answer to the question “If I’ve been robbed, can I chase down the thief and hit them with my car?”

We spoke to Kelvin Wong Xin Yan, who is a partner at the law firm Jeffrey & Co. which is situated at the heart of Georgetown in Penang. The firm’s practice areas include land & commercial property, divorce, debt collection & recovery, and intellectual property Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Bachelor of Law (Honours) graduate from the University of London specialises in litigation.

Things aren’t so simple by the rule of law, so Kelvin helped us to break down the answer specifically so that you’ll be prepared in the event of such a situation.

RD: Can I chase down the thief (presumably in the event that we want to try and stop him and arrest him)

KW: Yes, under section 27 of the Criminal Procedure Code. A private person i.e. the general public is allowed to execute an arrest if the other person in his/her reasonable belief committed an offence that is equivalent to a non-bailable and seizable offence. Sometimes, in layman’s term, we refer this a ‘citizen arrest’. 

RD: What is a non-bailable and seizable offence?

KW: In most criminal matters, there are two statutes we normally refer to i.e. the Criminal Procedure Code and Penal Code. There is a list in the First Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code titled the ‘Tabular statement of offences under the Penal Code’. Based on this table, cross reference with the Penal Code, we will then be able to ascertain which offence in the Penal Code is a non-bailable and seizable offence.

Example, if it is a robbery, it falls under Section 392 of Penal Code, and if it is a theft, it falls under Section 379. By looking at the table, finding the specific sections in row (horizontally) and cross referring to “bailable” and “seizable” in column (vertically), both 392 and 379 are non-bailable and seizable offences that fits to be allowed for a citizen arrest.

However, there may be ancillary statute for certain specific offences such as if a robber possesses and fires a gun, it shall fall under Section 2 of Firearms (increased penalties) Act 1971 read with Section 8 Arms Act 1960 (punishment in a jail term of more than 3 years or punishable by death), while that will be refer to the last paragraph in row of the table.

RD: Once you chase them down or are in the midst of chasing him, can you hit them with your car to stop them?

KW: It depends –– on how fast you drive to hit him, how many manoeuvres you made to avoid before hit him and after you hit him, did you drive over him?

To clarify, the idea of citizen arrest or the meaning of an ‘Arrest’ in general is defined in Section 15 of the Criminal Procedure Code. 

In section 15(2),  it is stated that "If such person forcibly resists the endeavour to arrest him or attempts to evade the arrest such officer or other person may use all means necessary to effect the arrest".

In section 15(3) otherwise, a proviso states that "Nothing in this section gives a right to cause the death of a person who is not accused of an offence punishable with death or with imprisonment for life."

Yes, you can chase him, but you must carefully ensure your actions of chasing him will not and shall not cause him injury or death. For example, if you chase him by car and you accidentally (after taking precautions to avoid) crash into his motorcycle or car while he makes a sudden stop, then it may be acceptable.

However, If you chase him and accelerated (knowing that the speed could cause death) crash into his motorbike or car even with the intent to stop him, then you could be criminally liable.

Now, if you look at the stance that the Malaysian Court has taken in the past. One particular case stands out the most: in the case of Mahmood v Government of Malaysia [1974] 1 MLJ 103, the High Court referred to various Indian case laws and journals and comparatively considered that:

"commenting on the meaning of the words "Use all means necessary to effect the arrest" has this to say:–

"On the other hand, the person effecting the arrest is justified under sub-section (2) of the section in using so much violence as is necessary to effect his object, with this qualification, namely, that his right does not, except in the two cases mentioned in sub-section (3) extend to causing the death of the person sought to be arrested. Thus, where a chowkeedar
seeking to arrest a fugitive thief, seeing no other means of capturing him, wounded him with a spear, it was held that he was justified in doing so. Similarly, a shot fired over the head of a suspect, a dangerous person, in order to effect his arrest, was held to be justified. Where a supposed offender took shelter in his own house and would not come out when called by
the police officer desiring to effect his arrest it was held that the latter was justified in firing a shot at the house as last extremity and committed no offence if the shot fired by him killed the offender who could not be seen from the place from which the officer fired."

Thus, it all goes down to the first answer I gave. Whether the injury you caused when chasing down the robber is accidental and whether the force used (presumably in a car which equals speed) is reasonable and necessary to effect the arrest but not to kill the robber.

RD: If we can only hit them if our safety is threatened, in which event would our safety be considered to be threatened? For example, what if the thief robs us at knifepoint and runs away and then we chase them?

KW: The scenario you mentioned comes into play in two parts.

The first would be, “If the thief robs you at knifepoint, can you hit him back with something?” This is an idea of justification of private defence.

The second one is, “Can you chase a thief after they rob you?” Presumably you wanted to chase and arrest, it is an idea of justification on how much force to assert for a successful arrest. That was answered above.

So the answer is yes, you can defend yourself when you are robbed at knifepoint. Reference is to be made to Section 96 and 97 of the Penal Code, whereby a reasonable apprehension that death or bodily harm is required and/or theft, robbery etc.

RD: What does the word reasonable apprehension mean and what are the applicable standards?

It depends on various considerations such as:

The general idea is that, it all depends on how reasonable the defence was in proportion to the danger you faced.

In this regard, we can look at the Malaysian court case of Public Prosecutor v Ngoi Ming Sean [1982] 1 MLJ 24, where the Court had this to say:

RD: If an armed robber enters our home can we stab them with a knife or hit them with a weapon?

KW: Noy advisable, unless the robber causing imminent damage to you.

RD: What other methods can we use to physically stop the thief which is legal?

KW: The answer would be perhaps to use something that is not deadly, if it is not deadly it would hardly be a "weapon". Also, it depends on which parts of the body you intend to hit. It would be best to avoid the head because it could be interpreted as an "intent to cause death".

You could have a pair of scissors with you, a plate, a pencil, and perhaps a spanner. Nevertheless, it is always advisable to avoid confrontation and run away or even lock yourself in a room without having to face the robber. Not would you risk avoiding injury you would also avoid possible legal complications.

Phew, that sounds like a lot to think about in the event of a life-threatening situation. So remember folks, always protect yourself if you can because you can earn money again but don’t want to risk your life!

Visit Jeffrey & Co’s website or email them at [email protected] for legal advice. You can also connect with Kelvin on LinkedIn.

Image credit: CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash