My good friend Nik Ramly (not his real name) was in Alor Star recently. While we were having our drinks at Kepala Batas Airport prior to his departure for Kuala Lumpur, he asked me if making a false police report was a serious offence and warranted a custodial sentence.

I told him it was a serious matter and police would not take it lightly as it could send the wrong signal to the public.

In Malaysia, the matter is dealt with under Section 182 of the Penal Code. It states that whoever gives to “any public servant” (a term which includes a police officer) any information, orally or in writing, which he knows or believes to be false, intending thereby to cause such public servant to use his power to “the injury or annoyance” of any person, shall be punished (upon conviction) by a prison term not exceeding six months or to a fine of up to RM2,000 or both.

Somehow, with this light sentence, the crime does not seem serious.

The wrongful act (actus reus) under Section 182 is giving the information (i.e. making the police report), while the wrongful intent (mens rea) is doing it with the knowledge or the belief that the report is false with the intention that the report will be acted upon by the police leading to the “injury or annoyance” of the person mentioned in the report.

The mens rea, therefore, is (a) either actual knowledge or the belief that the information is false, AND (b) the intention that the report will be used by the police to the detriment of another party.

To constitute a criminal offence, both actus reus and mens rea must exist and be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

On May 13, a 25-year-old marketing manager Syed Mohammed Syed Mohd Afandi lodged a report at the Johor Baru Selatan police station stating that he was a victim of a snatch theft.

After the police carried out their investigation, he was arrested.

On May 17, he was brought up at the Johor Baru magistrate’s court on a charge of making a false police report under Section 182 of the Penal Code.

The accused, who was unrepresented, pleaded guilty and was fined RM400 or one month’s jail in default by magistrate Noor Aisyah Ahmad.

In South Australia, a heavier penalty is meted out to people convicted of the offence of making false reports to the police.

Under Section 62 of its Summary Offences Act 1953, any person who makes a false representation to a police officer, knowing that it is false and that it will probably be investigated by the police, is guilty of an offence.

The maximum penalty is A$10,000 (RM31,000) or two years’ imprisonment.

The court can also order the accused (upon conviction) to pay a reasonable amount towards the expenses of any investigation made by the police as a result of that false report.

In Pennsylvania, the United States, under Section 4906 of its Pennsylvania Criminal Code, Title 18, Chapter 49, making a false police report is a misdemeanour, carrying a jail sentence of not more than one year.

In South Carolina, the US, the law is set out with greater clarity. The South Carolina Code 16-17-722 states that:

(A) It is unlawful for a person to knowingly file a false police report;

(B) A person who violates subsection (A) by falsely reporting a felony is guilty of a felony and
upon conviction must be imprisoned for not more than five years or fined not more than US$1,000, or both;

(C) A person who violates subsection (A) by falsely reporting a misdemeanour is guilty of a misdemeanour and must be imprisoned not more than 30 days or fined not more than US$500, or both; and,

(D) In imposing a sentence under this section, the judge may require the offender to pay restitution to the investigating agency to offset costs incurred in investigating the false police report.

In short, the punishment for making a false police report in that state must reflect the gravity of the crime said to have been perpetrated by the person falsely accused in the police report.

In Singapore, the penalty for lodging false police reports in that state is a prison term of up to one year, fine of S$5,000 (RM15,000) or both.

Like several other statutes enacted before Merdeka, our law on making false police reports need to be revisited, and if deemed necessary, should be revamped to keep abreast with changing times.

In some jurisdictions, the willful act of making a false police report is regarded as a serious crime of perverting the course of justice, necessitating a very heavy sentence — not just a minor offence of wasting police time.

Salleh Buang formerly served the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for private practice, the corporate sector and then the academia