Home Civil Society Voices Mugilarasu’s death in prison: Coroner must hold inquest

Mugilarasu’s death in prison: Coroner must hold inquest

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Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (Edict) has issued a series of statements calling for a coroner to come up with findings.

3 July: Police must explain why they didn’t report death of Mugilarasu to Selangor coroner

Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (Edict) notes with sadness a news report at 3pm today that yet another person has died in custody. The latest life to be lost in custody is that of Mugilarasu, 35 years.

We are shocked to learn that as of 8pm today (3 July) the police had not informed the Selangor state coroner of the death of Mugilarasu – despite the fact that last night (2 July), at 11:15pm, the police informed Mugilarasu’s brother, Karunakaran Pillai – who confirmed the identity of the deceased this morning.

Edict calls upon Selangor police chief Commissioner Noor Azam Jamaludin to explain why the coroner has yet to be informed and whether he considers this a non-compliance with the law.

We remind him the Criminal Procedure Code requires the police to report the death immediately to the Coroner (Section 329(5)), that it is common practice for coroners to view the body in-situ (Section 330), and that a coroner must conduct an inquest into the death (Section 334).

We call upon Inspector General of Police Hamid Bador and Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin to respond to growing public concern over the appalling number of deaths in custody and to arrest the slide in public confidence in the police over their handling of such cases.

We urge them to establish a special standard operating procedure to cover deaths and abuse in custody, in lock-ups and in other places of detention. Only then will the public believe that detained persons are treated by jailers and investigators as living beings, not as inanimate objects.

4 July: Are the police really so ignorant of the law?

Edict, in a statement yesterday (3 July), called upon Selangor police chief Commissioner Noor Azam Jamaludin to explain why the police had not informed the Selangor coroner of the death in custody of V Mugilarasu, 35, in Sungai Buloh Prison on 2 July, as mandated by law.

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We wrote: “We remind him that the Criminal Procedure Code requires the police to report the death immediately to the Coroner (Section 329(5)).” (Emphasis added)

We are pleased that Malaysiakini reporters immediately asked Noor Azam for a response. We are happy that he responded immediately. We are glad his officers appear to have immediately informed him of Mugilarasu’s death (Malaysiakini, 3 July 2020, “Selangor police chief denies hiding death in prison from coroner“).

We are however shocked by his response. We are shocked that he appears to think the body of a deceased person must be examined by a doctor before the coroner is informed.

Nothing in the law requires the police to obtain a medical opinion as to cause of death before informing the coroner. The word “immediately” is used in Section 329(5) of the Criminal Procedure Code just as we have used it in the second and third paragraphs above.

The report of Noor Azam’s response suggests that he said the police will not report a death in custody to the coroner until the physical investigation of the deceased is completed by a forensic pathologist (government medical officer).

That is neither the law nor the practice of other state police contingents who are mandated to investigate deaths in custody. They investigate about 16 deaths in police lock-ups every year, in addition to dozens of deaths in other places of detention every year.

In any case, a post-mortem report is rarely available before three months from the time of physical investigation of the body by a medical officer. This is because deaths in custody are not prioritised in Malaysia, and so medical officers must wait months for results of toxicological and microbiological tests.

In a statement on 1 July, we called upon the KL police chief to reveal the disclosure protocol for deaths in custody in his police district. We asked, “Other than the coroner (as required by law), to whom must the police report the death? What information must the police release to each victim’s family and to the public? By when?” (Note: We are not aware of any response by the KL police chief, Mazlan Lazim.)

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We extend that call to the Selangor police chief. And to Hamid Bador and Hamzah Zainuddin.

When will the police and the government uphold the rule of law as it applies to deaths in custody? When will they act to arrest the slide in public confidence in the police? Human lives are not inanimate objects.

10 July: Selangor police must report and investigate the death of V Mugilarasu

On 3 July, in a statement, we called on Selangor police chief Commissioner Noor Azam Jamaludin to explain why the police had not reported the death of V Mugilarasu, 35, in Sungai Buloh Prison to the coroner, though they had informed Mugilarasu’s family a day earlier.

The police commissioner brushed aside our claim of failure to report. The brush he used was Covid-19 procedures issued by the Ministry of Health. His answer is inconsistent since the police did inform Mugilarasu’s family. If the family could be informed, why not the coroner?

On 4 July (the next day), in a follow-up statement, we pointed out that immediate reporting of the death to the coroner is mandatory. Just as we did on 3 July, we pointed to the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 329(5), where this mandate is enshrined in law.

Yet, as of 8 July, one week after Mugilarasu died, and after we had twice challenged the failure to report the death to the coroner, the police still had not done so.

Worse, on 7 July, the police commissioner is reported to have said, “We have investigated events leading to his death and from the post-mortem results, no foul play was detected. He suffered a heart attack” (Malay Mail, 7 July 2020, “Selangor police say Mugilarasu died of heart attack, rule out foul play“).

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The police should not prejudge the matter. The duty to make findings as to the cause of death lies with the coroner. It is not for the police to determine and to announce the cause prior to the inquest being concluded in court.

We remind the police commissioner that the police are required to uphold the rule of law (Police Act, Section 3). The law pertaining to deaths in custody requires the police to do more than repeat what is stated in a post-mortem report, let alone preliminary post-mortem findings.

We recall that 15 years ago the Dzaiddin Commission reminded the police that they must go beyond the pathologist’s findings (paragraph 2.3.5(i)).

We note also that when the commission informed the then-Inspector General Bakri Omar, of some interim findings about room for improvement in handling deaths in custody, he responded immediately. The police took concrete action three weeks after the commission met with him, one year before they received the commission’s final report.

According to the commission’s report, the inspector-general’s intervention resulted in CID Directive No. 10/2004: 29 May 2004, which, includes this: “all police investigations into deaths in police custody have to be completed within the period of 1 month and an inquest must be held.”

Mugilarasu died in a prison, not in police custody. But his life matters as much as the life of any other person. The handling of his death is also a reflection on the credibility of the police in the eyes of the public.

Therefore, we call upon Commissioner Noor Azam to emulate Bakri. Act immediately. Admit the failure. Don’t repeat the mistakes in the present case. Take steps to prevent similar failures in the future.

Human lives deserve to be treated better than inanimate objects.

10 July 2020

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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13 Jul 2020 11.07pm

The police can simply brush aside call to follow the law in cases of custodial death because they know very well nobody can take any action against them for not following the law. As simple as that. Until something is done which will compel the police to act in accordance with the law.

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