On 7 February, we raised 12 questions about the way the police are handling deaths in police custody.
That was our response to seven statements by the Integrity and Standards Compliance Department of the police, which announced seven deaths in police custody in five weeks.
On 9 February, we read a report by Bernama, the national news agency, titled “Satu dari tujuh kes kematian tahanan ada unsur jenayah” (One in seven deaths in custody has a criminal element).
The report claims to be based on a press conference held by the department director Azri Ahmad.
According to the report, the police will refer six cases, which they have determined have no criminal elements, to the Attorney General’s Chambers for directions on whether inquests must be held.
We are shocked.
Did the police report the deaths to coroners? Are the police unaware that coroners are bound – by law and the chief justice’s directives – to conduct inquests?
Is it possible that, over the years, the Attorney General’s Chambers has been contravening Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code? This is the section in full, with the relevant parts underlined:
“334 Inquiry into cause of death of a person in custody of police or in any asylum
“When any person dies while in the custody of the police or in a psychiatric hospital or prison, the officer who had the custody of that person or was in charge of that psychiatric hospital or prison, as the case may be, shall immediately give intimation of such death to the nearest Magistrate [Coroner, since 8 April 2014, vide Chief Justice Directive], and the Magistrate or some other Magistrate shall, in the case of a death in the custody of the police, and in other cases may, if he thinks expedient, hold an inquiry into the cause of the death.”
It is clear that the conduct of an inquest into a death in police custody is NOT optional. We reproduce below the parts we underlined above:
“… the [Coroner] … shall, in the case of a death in the custody of the police, … hold an inquiry into the cause of death.”_
Yet, based on data revealed in Parliament, we know that since 2014, coroners have routinely failed to conduct such inquiries (inquests).
Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances calls upon Attorney General Idrus Harun to respond to this question: Is your Chambers giving wrong directions to the police and coroners? – Caged
Caged is pleased that a member of the cabinet responded to our statement (above). It is odd that the response came from the law minister, not the attorney general or the home minister. We note that it’s a political answer, not a legal one:
Responding to Caged’s question why the police are referring deaths in police custody to the Attorney General’s Chambers and not the coroners court for directions, the minister said: “the AGC is the ultimate legality of things in Malaysia.”
“It’s the AGC that will decide whether an inquest is necessary. It will normally direct the inquest to be conducted by the Coroner’s Court.”
Yesterday, Caged queried the procedure. “Are the police unaware that coroners are bound by law and the chief justice’s directives to conduct inquests?”
The group added that the AGC could have “over the years been contravening Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code”.
However, Wan Junaidi said the “code must be read as a whole, not in isolation”.
The Santubong MP also said it took long for police to prepare their file reports on deaths in custody, because post-mortem and medical reports referred to the Chemistry Department were often held up in the system.
Wan Junaidi, who was the deputy home minister from May 2013 to July 2015, and had chaired the committee tasked with looking into forming the coroner’s court, said when the then law minister made the decision to form the court, she did not take into account revamping the “supporting infrastructure”.The Chemistry Department was not revamped.”
He said the extra manpower needed to speed up the investigations was never assigned.
That, he said, was why the post-mortem and medical reports on deaths in custody from the Chemistry Department takes three to four months to complete. “The department is bogged down with paperwork.”
He said the additional workload without the additional manpower, it was no wonder why the death reports are slow.
“It’s the failure of the system,” Wan Junaidi added. – The Malaysian Insight