The police must strictly observe SOPs to prevent any further deaths in custody
20 January 2018
Lawyers for Liberty refer to the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission’s (EAIC) findings on the custodial death investigations of S. Balamurugan and Soh Kai Chiok as released through their press statements on 18 January 2018. In these statements, EAIC disclosed serious breaches of the police’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) which have led or contributed to the deaths of Balamurugan and Soh.
We commend EAIC’s excellent work in investigating cases of custodial deaths, making findings and recommendations and providing an additional layer of accountability. In two other inquiries into the deaths of N. Dharmendran and Syed Mohd Azlan, EAIC’s recommendations have led to the prosecution of several police officers under the Penal Code for murder (section 302) and culpable homicide not amounting to murder (section 304(b)) respectively.
However, in both cases, the prosecution failed to prove their case and the perpetrators were ultimately acquitted of all charges.
It is well known and indeed in our experience, police officers are reluctant to testify against fellow police officers. The royal commission of inquiry into the death of Teoh Beng Hock called this phenomenon, the “blue wall of silence”, the brotherhood among officers involved that prevent any meaningful investigation and accountability.
Therefore, it is not surprising that in these custodial death-related prosecutions, the conviction rate is extremely low as witnesses, mainly fellow police officers usually give vague testimonies which, when combined with the accused police officers’ version of event, would typically be enough to raise a reasonable doubt, thereby acquitting them.
We are concerned EAIC’s work will be in vain as criminal prosecution rarely leads to conviction unless this “blue wall of silence” is broken. In order for any real change to occur, the police force themselves must be willing to change and not tolerate any further custodial deaths.
The police must start taking the rights of detainees seriously by strictly enforcing the laws and SOPs governing arrest, investigation, remand and detention of detainees, and in doing so will minimise the abuse of power over detainees.
Senior police officers must lead by example and ensure the SOPs on lockup management, CCTV, investigation, detention, welfare of detainees including providing medical attention to ill or injured detainees are strictly observed.
When a death occurs during their watch, the police must not instinctively try to cover up or minimise culpability but instead to genuinely investigate and ensure that all those responsible, from the highest rank to the lowest rank are dealt with accordingly whether through criminal prosecution or disciplinary action. The most serious breaches, and in cases of criminal conduct should lead to criminal prosecution and sacking.
Lawyers for Liberty