KUALA LUMPUR: It is odd that deputy public prosecutors and magistrates decided no inquests were necessary for 22 deaths in policy custody between 2000 and 2004, when the law made it mandatory in such cases.
Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Siti Norma Yaakob said yesterday the law governing deaths of persons in police custody was clearly set out in Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
“From my reading of it, it is mandatory to hold inquests to ascertain the cause of death.
“And if that is the law, how is it possible that in 22 death cases, officers of the court have seen it fit to make decisions that no inquests were necessary?” Siti Norma asked in opening a Bar Council workshop on “Inquests into Death in Police Custody.”
She said this after quoting the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police findings that inquests were done on only six out of the 80 deaths in police custody in the four-year period and that it had been deemed unnecessary for 22 cases.
She noted that the commission report had also stated that for 39 out of the 80 cases, the Sudden Death Report was prepared and submitted to the magistrate in April 2004 but inquests were not initiated.
Acknowledging the courts were overburdened, Siti Norma stressed, however that: “Officers of the court should be aware of the serious implications when a decision is taken that an inquest is not necessary or when there is a delay in conducting an inquest.”
Siti Norma said the law required post-mortem reports and inquests to be held immediately for all cases of death of persons under police custody and the magistrate was duty bound to transmit his record of evidence and findings to the Public Prosecutor.
Failure to conduct an inquest as soon as possible allowed for the perception that there was foul play or something to hide and this in turn added to negative perceptions about the police and the authorities involved, she said, adding that these issues should be addressed by the workshop participants.
Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said last week that the Government would set up a coroner’s court in the bigger states to handle cases involving death under suspicious circumstances.
He said the move was in response to public concern about current inquests into deaths in lock-ups and bodies found dumped.
The move would speed up probes into causes of deaths before sensitive evidence was tainted by the passage of time.