Malaysians against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) and others in Malaysia are still waiting for the coroners’ findings on the about 24 cases of deaths in police custody in 2022.
We are pleased that since the criminal investigation unit for deaths in custody (USJKT) was established in January last year, the number of deaths in police custody decreased by 48% in 2022 or 24 cases, compared to 46 the previous year.
We are happy that the minister announced the findings of the police – that is, the criminal investigation unit for deaths in custody found that only two deaths in police custody had criminal elements: one is already in court and the other is still under investigation. But what were the findings of the coroner?
We trust better the investigation and determination of the independent coroner, who is a magistrate or a Sessions Court judge, rather than the investigation unit – which, at the end of the day, is still part of the police – that is looking into deaths in police custody.
The coroner’s duty, according to the Malaysian Criminal Procedure Code, is to establish the “cause of death”, including not only the apparent cause of death as ascertainable by inspection or a post-mortem examination of the body of the deceased, but also all matters necessary to enable an opinion to be formed as to the manner in which the deceased came by their deaths and as to whether their death resulted in any way from, or was accelerated by, any unlawful act or omission on the part of any other person.
We note that the police, other detainees in the same police cell, or some other before the police arrest could have caused the death in police custody. Death caused by negligence like failure to provide needed healthcare in time or even deprivation of needed regular medication is also a crime in Malaysia.
With regard to deaths in custody, Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code states:
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When any person dies while in the custody of the police or in a psychiatric hospital or prison, the officer who had the custody of that person or was in charge of that psychiatric hospital or prison, as the case may be, shall immediately give intimation of such death to the nearest Magistrate, and the Magistrate or some other Magistrate shall, in the case of a death in the custody of the police, and in other cases may, if he thinks expedient, hold an inquiry into the cause of death….
The minister said that six cases have been referred to the coroners’ court, with four of them in the midst of inquest proceedings while the other two are still pending.
Madpet reiterates that all deaths in custody must, according to law, be brought to the attention of the coroner, and it is only the coroner who decides whether to conduct an inquest or not. The government, the minister or even the police have no business determining whether an inquest should be conducted or not.
The minister should reveal whether inquests by the coroner have been completed for all the 24 cases of deaths in custody in 2022. It would be best if the findings of the coroner are speedily revealed.
The minister should also inform us whether there were CCTV recordings in the cells or stations where the deaths occurred. If not, the minister should inform us when the CCTV with recording capabilities and body cams on police officers will become a reality. What exactly is the reason for the delay since the budgets for these have been long approved?
Madpet reiterates the call by the Malaysian Bar, in a resolution adopted in 2022, that a coroners’ court act be enacted, with Sessions Court judges as coroners.
Madpet calls for greater transparency for all deaths in police custody, and that inquests be held for all such deaths, as this will help erase the perception that the police caused the deaths. – Madpet