PETALING JAYA (Jan 2, 2013): The legal fraternity has called for the establishment of a coroner’s court in Malaysia in a bid for structural reform of inquests.

Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee said such a court would be able to focus on identifying the deceased and ascertaining the circumstances of death.

“Recent enquiries into deaths of persons whilst in the custody of, or in or around the premises of, law enforcement agencies, have resulted in open verdicts,” he said today in a statement on the case of K. Nagarajan who died in police custody on Dec 24.

“The Malaysian Bar calls for an immediate inquest into the incident, which is a matter of public interest and warrants utmost priority,” he said, adding that a Coroner’s Act should also be introduced.

It was reported that Nagarajan, 32, who was allegedly arrested on Dec 21 for a drug-related offence, was found dead after having spent three nights in the Dang Wangi police station lock-up.

His family was reportedly told he died from a fall but wounds found on his body had raised their suspicions.

Lawyers for Liberty spokesman Eric Paulsen, when contacted, supported the call for the setting up of a coroner’s court, saying many deaths in custody do not lead to inquests even though the Criminal Procedure Code deems it mandatory.

“In the rare case where there is an inquest, it is normally ineffective as it only occurs after an internal investigation is conducted by the police, which gives room for people to protect each other or play down evidence.

“Having a coroner’s court would set up a neutral position as the court has more powers to ensure that everything is done properly, but it must be independent,” he said, adding that politicians should stop defending the police.

Paulsen also called for the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission to investigate deaths in custody, whether in police lock-up, detention centres or prison.

The Sun Daily, 3 January 2013 , Michelle Chun