Updated at 12:30pm, 29 July 2009
ATTORNEY General (AG) Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail’s argument for setting up an inquest to look into the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock is simply that, as there is a specific provision under the Criminal Procedure Code for such an inquiry, “it is only proper that a court of law determines the cause of death”.
We know that there are such provisions for setting up an inquests. But the AG is missing the point that all such inquiries into deaths in custody have failed to identify the perpetrators and achieve any just outcome. No one has been held responsible for any of the deaths in custody since 2003.
These inquests failed for a variety of reasons. Junior judicial officers were investigating where they were entirely dependent on the evidence placed before them through police witnesses, when the core issue was often police misconduct itself. The deputy public prosecutors from the AG’s chambers, who were assigned the responsibility of presenting the evidence, were also responsible. Rules of evidence were technical and the participation of lawyers also limited.
The failure of the inquests had underlined the call for the IPCMC in the 2005 Report of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Police so that an independent body would investigate such misconduct, and also for a proper and independent Coroner’s Court.
The failure of all our key institutions — the AG’s chambers, the judiciary and the police — to hold anyone responsible for these custodial deaths has created a culture of impunity among some of our enforcement officers. It is the failure of these inquests that fuelled the strong public outcry for a Royal Commission into the cause of Teoh’s death.
Furthermore, the announcement in the media today that a Deputy Registrar of the Shah Alam High Court, Azmil Muntapha Abas, has been appointed as the coroner also goes to reinforce the point we are making. With no disrespect, Azmil’s standing is not comparable to the personalities who were appointed to the Royal Commission to investigate the assault on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and identify the assailants, such as former Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abidin, and retired Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Mahadev Shankar.
It was also misleading for the AG to refer to the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1950 to imply that royal commissions were for the purpose of inquiring into “conduct and management of government officers and departments, or for the public welfare”.
Such inquiries can also be made into crimes committed by government officers or departments, such as the aforementioned inquest set up in January 1999 to investigate the assault on Anwar and to identify his assailant.
There is nothing mandatory about the setting up of this particular inquest; this is obvious in the statement issued by the AG himself, where he confirms that he directed the setting up of the inquest by the magistrate. This is not the case of the magistrate invoking his own powers to conduct a mandatory inquest, under the circumstances provided in the Criminal Procedure Code.
It would have been appropriate if, as legal adviser to the government, the AG had advised the cabinet to broaden the terms of reference of the Royal Commission to include investigating the circumstances of Teoh’s death and identifying those responsible, [on top of scrutinising the mode of questioning employed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the cause of Teoh’s death].
What we see now is a hastily set up inquest by a junior judicial officer, which has been directed to start tomorrow, as a fait accompli. It will only confirm further to all Malaysians that the government does not intend the Royal Commission to touch on the question of the circumstances of Teoh’s death at all.
This regrettable situation will continue to raise questions about whether the Barisan Nasional sincerely intends to find out the truth behind the mysterious circumstances of Teoh’s death, or to perpetuate a cover-up.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat
28 July 2009
See also: Inquests are hamstrung
Isa Ben Yusof says
The comments by YB Sivarasa Rasiah will be like pouring warm water over the duck’s backside in so far as the BN is concerned. Either BN and its cohorts are ignorant of things and the sway in public opinion of its performances and rhetoric which are completely meaningless and makes the citizens look ignorant or, the BN is going on a ruse to keep the public misinformed as is their inborn character these past 50 years or so.
Whether the Coroner is a junior person or the Royal Commission consists of cohorts is of no use to this country. The Reports will be hide and seek versions of the findings and they will be chucked into the wastepaper basket within a few days as has been the case with most Reports. Possibly there is none in the Civil Service who is capable of studying and implementing Reports as we cannot expect the Politicians to do this chore when they have to go round giving rhetoric to continue to confound and confuse those gullible folks who care to listen to them – for a Fee of course these days.
Azizi Khan says
[…] It is [the] general public perception that the AG makes a mockery of the law. In fact, these days the general public is more aware of Malaysia’s legal procedures due to BN’s blatant flouting of the laws.
Nicholas Aw says
Obviously, the Attorney-Generalâ€™s argument is â€œmisleadingâ€. But isnâ€™t that what this powerful pro-BN watchdog wants? That Teo Beng Hockâ€™s inquest would be just a number to add on to all the â€œfailedâ€ inquests where no one has been held responsible for any of the deaths in custody since 2003.
In all fairness, the AG has to put on a front to show that he is acting according to the laws. The game plan must not destroy the credibility of the MACC or any governing body. Asking the dog to bite the hand that feeds it is putting a noose around the AGâ€™s neck.
It is unfortunate that whatever bona fide action that is being taken would still not extinguish the doubts in the minds of the rakyat because the image of the authorities, be it the MACC, the police or even the judiciary has taken a lot of beating in recent times. The people are wary of the actions of the authorities and it would take much more than mere promises to regain the peopleâ€™s trust.