Edict urges Idrus to reform handling of cases of deaths, abuse in custody

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Attorney General Idrus Harun

Edict is glad to join the chorus of welcome for the honourable Idrus Harun’s appointment as Attorney General.

We look forward to him filling the lacuna of leadership in the Attorney General’s Chambers with respect to addressing the scourge of deaths and abuse in custody in Malaysia.

The government does not publish data regularly about deaths and abuse in custody. Monitoring by civil society organisations indicates that deaths and abuse in custody, whether in police lock-ups or prisons or immigration detention centres, continues unabated.

Edict’s involvement in coroner’s inquests and in subsequent civil action against the authorities in high courts and courts of higher jurisdiction has revealed many shortcomings which can be addressed by the Attorney General’s Chambers.

We give five examples.

First, in a civil action taken by the family of a victim against the perpetrators of a death in police custody, the Attorney General’s Chambers chose to represent the perpetrators while at the same time prosecuting them in a criminal court. Edict recommends that the attorney general establishes and enforces a rule barring such representation.

Second, deputy public prosecutors who serve as conducting officers during inquests often act as if they are defending the authorities, instead of assisting the coroner to arrive at findings of fact. Edict recommends that the attorney general establishes training and monitoring of deputy public prosecutors to ensure they assist the coroner rather than the authorities.

Third, there is a lack of urgency with respect to conducting inquests. In one case we are handling, the coroner failed to conduct an inquest. An inquest date was eventually set by order of a High Court and subsequent highlighting of the matter through the media by Edict. Edict recommends that the Attorney General’s Chambers establishes a monitoring system to track and ensure the timely conduct of inquests in all cases of custodial deaths (as laid out in Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code).

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Fourth, currently the Attorney General’s Chambers, as a matter of routine, appeals the award of damages by civil courts, to “bargain down” substantial awards which judges choose to hand down in order to “send a loud message” to the authorities and the government about reprehensible and egregious malfeasance. Edict recommends that the attorney general accepts, as a matter of course, awards handed down by judges and treat appeals as exception rather than the rule.

Fifth, also due to appealing as a matter of routine (rather than case-by-case), awards for damages are subject to appalling delays. In one case where negligence has been amply established, the wife and six children of a victim haven’t received one sen eight years after he died. Our fourth recommendation covers this – and will loudly signal a humanitarian response to suffering caused by misfeasance and a refusal to even appear to condone belligerent abuse of power.

Edict wishes Idrus much success and joy in his tenure as attorney general and hopes that his legacy will include actions to end the scourge of deaths and abuse in custody.

9 March 2020.

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