10 April 2014
Lawyers for Liberty is surprised at Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri’s sudden announcement of the commencement of the permanent Coroners’ Court on15 April 2014 to replace the present inquest system (New Straits Times, 3 April 2014 – “Nancy: Coroner’s Court starts April 15”).
Although we welcome the decision in principle, we are nonetheless extremely concerned that the Coroners’ Court is being set up haphazardly with superficial improvement and without enacting a comprehensive Coroners’ Act or making structural reform that have frustrated so many inquests by returning ‘open verdicts’ (which simply meant that the cause of death was unclear and therefore no one can be held responsible).
The primary function of the Coroners’ Court is to independently inquire into how, when and where the person died and deliver the finding and verdict. Without further details of what fundamental reforms the Coroners’ Court entail other than appointing more senior magistrates of a certain ‘grade’ to act as coroner, we are extremely concerned that this will be business as usual where the police and AG’s Chambers like in many previous cases, will be able to gloss, downplay, cover-up or make outrageous claims over the cause of death.
The Royal Commission of the Inquiry into the Death of Teoh Beng Hock highlighted the ‘blue wall of silence,’ the brotherhood among officers involved that prevent any meaningful investigation. Needless to say this ‘blue wall of silence’ must be broken in order for the Coroners’ Court to be effective.
The present state of the Criminal Procedure Code does not provide the coroner with a more investigative or supervisory role from the moment the death was discovered, thus the coroner is still wholly dependent on the police to investigate their own personnel.
Rather than setting up the Coroners’ Court in a half-hearted manner and with no real improvement over the inquest, we call upon the government, in consultation with the Malaysian Bar and civil society, to set up a proper Coroners’ Court with comprehensive legislation detailing the powers of the Coroner including supervision of all police investigations to ensure that all relevant evidence is collected so as to prevent collusion and lackadaisical investigation.
In order to restore public faith in the administration of justice, the culture of impunity, cover-up and silence must be replaced by independent and competent police investigation, an AG’s Chambers and judiciary that are genuinely committed to inquire into all extra judicial killings.
The Coroners’ Court will not resolve the unabated deaths in custody or those caused by trigger happy policemen. We reiterate our calls for the government to implement the recommendation of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police (May 2005), for the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to function as an independent and external oversight body to investigate complaints about police personnel.
Lawyers for Liberty
10 April 2014
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10 April 2014