‘Do the right thing’ when questioning minors, Bar Council tells cops
Stepping into the SK Seri Pristana issue where police had questioned several pupils, Bar Council chairman Christopher Leong (pic) pointed out that although there was nothing in the law to suggest that police cannot question a minor, police still had an obligation to "do the right thing".
And that, said Leong, was the obligation to inform the parents or guardian and ensure that they are present during the interview session.
He pointed out that the Criminal Procedure Code allowed a person questioned by police the right to refuse to answer questions that may incriminate him.
"Police must inform an adult of this right and this also applies to children," Leong said in a statement.
"This legal duty imposed on the police is not a mere mechanical exercise," he added.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), in taking a tougher stand, urged the government to study procedures used by other countries when it came to questioning of minors by the police.
"We recommend the government study good practices from elsewhere and to consider developing appropriate legislation to that effect," said Suhakam in a statement.
Both the Bar Council and Suhakam were responding to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar who had stated that there was no necessity to obtain the consent of parents when they questioned the SK Seri Pristana pupils.
Police had quizzed several pupils over the eating in the shower room controversy.
Khalid further added there was nothing in the law that states that the consent of parents must be obtained.
Leong agreed with Khalid on the legal position.
He said except for the provisions in the Child Act 2001 pertaining to the arrest of a child or the removal of a child to a safe place, there were no provisions in the law which referred to an obligation by the police to inform the parents when questioning a child.
In the present case, however, Leong questioned whether the police officers who interviewed the children were trained to deal with children so that they would not be traumatised.
Leong pointed out that the issue in the Seri Pristana controversy was the fact that children were told to eat in the shower room.
"It appears that the authorities are missing the woods for the trees in this whole affair," he added.
Following the eating in the shower room issue, at least 18 police reports were lodged against the school and the headmaster while four reports were lodged by the school against several parents.
Police then obtained approval from the headmaster to interview six pupils for 30 minutes in one of the classrooms.
The parents were aghast. They claimed that their children were traumatised after being interviewed by the police.
Suhakam also questioned the failure of the school authorities to inform the parents that the police had wanted to question their children.
Its acting chairman, Datuk Khaw Lake Tee, said in a statement the school should be more responsible when it came to the pupils under their care to ensure such an incident does not recur.
"The United Nations Guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime also flags the need to delicately handle child victims and witnesses of crime," Khaw pointed out.
Khaw urged the police and schools to continue to uphold, at all times, the best interests of children, so that there would not be any repeat of the incident at Seri Pristana. - September 7, 2013.