With one death a month in lockups, Bar Council says time for IPCMC and Coroners’ Court
Following the recent death of N. Dharmendran, 32, in police custody, the Bar also called for the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as an independent body to oversee complaints about the police’s conduct.
“The statistics regarding deaths in police custody in Malaysia is a leaf out of the macabre: 156 persons died in police custody between 2000 and February 2011, and it has been reported that there were at least six such deaths in 2012, with this being the fifth one in 2013.
Dharmendran was reportedly arrested on May 11 and died ten days later on May 21 May while under remand at the city police contingent headquarters here.
Leong noted too that Dharmendran’s death was the second time the authorities had failed to follow government protocol which requires law enforcement officers to immediately inform a suspect’s kin or friend of the arrest, as well as the National Legal Aid Foundation (YBGK), resulting in detainees dying in the lock-up.
Another 32-year-old, K. Nagarajan, was the first incident. His death was discovered on Christmas Eve last year at the Dang Wangi police station lock-up, the Bar chief said.
And on May 26, R. Jamesh Ramesh, 40, was reported to be found dead in a police lock-up at the Penang police headquarters after being detained for a drug offence, joining the growing list of custodial deaths.
“It is untenable for the government to continue to ignore the dire need for the IPCMC, in the face of continuing cases of deaths in police custody,” Leong said.
He added that the authorities had also flouted the provisions laid down in Chapter XXXII of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states that all custodial deaths must be investigated by way of an inquest, pointing out that in many cases, none were held.
The Bar urged Putrajaya to carry out “comprehensive structural reform” where inquests are concerned, noting that in highly-controversial cases, the inquests had returned an “open” verdict.
Leong pushed for the legislation of a Coroners’ Act and the setting up of a Coroners’ Court and proposed that the new law provide for the official appointment of a state coroner and coroners who must be a Sessions Court judge rather than a magistrate, as is currently the case, to conduct the inquest.
He also suggested the coroners undergo special training and supervise all police investigations into the death to ensure that all relevant evidence is collected and preside over inquiries as well as its findings.
As a fourth measure to strengthen the case, he said only pathologists, or medical practitioners supervised by pathologists should be allowed to conduct the autopsy.
While Leong said Bukit Aman should be credited for the prompt set-up of a special committee headed by Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar to curb lock-up deaths, he called on the authorities to immediately call for an inquest into Dharmendran’s death, saying the police owed a duty to the dead man’s family and the public.
According to rights group Suaram, there were 218 cases of alleged deaths in custody in Malaysia from 2000 to this month, with its records showing that nine of those cases occurred in 2012, while five cases took place this year.
Dharmendran’s death joins a list of other alleged police killings like that of Chang Chin Te earlier this year, A. Kugan and R. Gunasegaran’s deaths in 2009, the deadly police shooting of 14-year-old schoolboy Aminulrasyid Amzah in 2010, and various other fatal police shootings in the past two years.
A United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 2010 visit to Malaysian prisons and detention centres reported in 2011 that between 2003 and 2007, “over 1,500 people died while being held by authorities.”
Other civil society groups and several politicians from both sides of the divide have called for the IPCMC to be implemented to reform the police force since 2006.