Home TA Online 2017 TA Online Custodial death: Police behaviour ‘reprehensible and unconstitutional’

Custodial death: Police behaviour ‘reprehensible and unconstitutional’

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Prema Devaraj wonders how effective efforts have been in halting custodial deaths or bringing about accountability in custodial deaths.

By all accounts, it was an avoidable death. It is just that neither the IO (investigating officer) nor the police personnel bothered to take the necessary steps to send the deceased to hospital. If this is not behaviour which is reprehensible and unconstitutional, then I do not know what is…

Strong words from Justice S Nantha Balan in reference to the negligence of certain police officers in not providing timely medical assistance to Mr P Chandran, which resulted in his death four years ago when he was in the police lock-up in Dang Wangi.

In Justice S Nantha Balan’s written grounds for judgment, Mr Chandran’s death was avoidable, and the following were highlighted in media reports. The police personnel involved:

That Mr Chandran’s death was only noticed 12 hours after he died in the lock-up makes one wonder about the work ethic of the police officers involved and makes a mockery of the use of CCTV in lock-ups to monitor situations.

The Lock-Up Rules 1953 state the roles and responsibilities of police officers in charge of detainees in the lock-up. In this case, Justice Nantha Balan reportedly said he found hardly any or any credible evidence to show that the Lock-Up Rules 1953 were complied with.

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Media reports on the 86-page judgment presented in court point to the lack of respect the police officers involved had for either Mr Chandran’s life or the laws pertaining to the rights of detainees in lock-ups.

Deaths in police custody have long been a shame factor for the police. Estimates from statistics released by the police over the years suggest at least one death in police custody per month.

Rogue officers who are responsible for such deaths and the lack of accountability over these deaths continue to smear the name of PDRM and erode the public’s trust in and respect for the police, who are meant to ensure the safety of the public, including those in custody.

In awarding RM357, 000 in damages to the family, Justice S Nantha Balan has acknowledged that a wrong doing has occurred and has attempted to rectify the situation through compensation, not that it can bring Mr Chandran back.

However Justice S Nantha Balan noted that no action had been taken against any of the police officers arising out of Mr Chandran’s death despite Sessions Judge Ahmad Bache, who sat as coroner, ruling in January 2014 that Mr Chandran’s death could have been averted had the police performed their duties and responsibilities.

How is it possible that no criminal charges were laid against the police officers involved?

Mr Chandran’s family have lived not only with the loss of Mr Chandran but also with the knowledge that those responsible for his death have not been charged or prosecuted with any crime.

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This is not the first time something like this has happened in our country. We live at a time in our country’s history when making people accountable for their actions seems very difficult to do and integrity is sorely lacking.

And yet, it is these very principles of accountability and integrity that are needed to pull us out of the abyss of wrongdoing and inaction our nation has been dragged into.

Perhaps we may see these principles emerge as the MACC casts its nets over corrupt civil servants and pledges to eliminate graft by 2020.

However we might all believe in the process and the pledge better if the elephant in the room (ie the 1MDB scandal) is not spared diligent investigation and rigorous prosecution.

In the same vein, there must also be accountability in PDRM, especially over custodial deaths. We have witnessed the proposal and rejection of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) over 10 years ago, the setting up of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) and the coroner’s court, and more recently the introduction of the Self-Monitoring Analytics Reporting Technology (Smart) system to monitor inmates.

In 2015, there was the campaign #ACT4CAT to urge the government to accede to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). The government was also urged to take the necessary legislative, policy and administrative measures to ensure the effective prevention of any practice that could lead to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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In 2016, the Bar Council renewed its call to the Malaysian government to establish the IPCMC. Suhakam, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, in marking Human Rights Day in December 2016 noted the issue of custodial deaths among other issues and called on the government to accede to the UNCAT.

One can only wonder how effective these efforts have been in halting custodial deaths or bringing about accountability in custodial deaths. The release of comprehensive statistics on custodial deaths is crucial in evaluating the situation and monitoring progress, if any, in this area.

For now, Justice S Nantha Balan’s use of the words “behaviour which is reprehensible and unconstitutional” rings true not just for the police officers responsible for the death of Mr Chandran – but for all those who, although having the power to stop such deaths and hand over rogue police officers for prosecution, continue to look the other way and perpetuate a culture of silence and denial over the issue of custodial deaths.

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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Hakimi Abdul Jabar
24 Jan 2017 5.44pm

Prevention is consistent with the Federal Constitution, UDHR and Conforms to Various International Standards A concern to prevent custody deaths is consistent with the principles of the Federal Constitution, e.g. Art. 5 including the rights to life, the right to personal liberty of the person and wholly consistent with the well-enshrined principle that persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty, [DPP v Woolmington]. It is also in accordance with Article 3 UDHR which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person Furthermore, there are a number of pertinent international standards for investigating deaths in custody. These are embodied mainly in the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1989 embodied in UNESCO & UNGA resolutions, UN Economic and Social Council, Res. 1989/65, 24 May 1989 and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, UN General Assembly, Res. 43/173, 9 December 1988. Practical complementary guidance may also be found in the 1991 United Nations Manual on… Read more »

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