Coroner’s Court toothless without structural reforms, says lawyer group

Minister in charge of law, Nancy Shukri (pic), announced last week that the Coroner’s Court will replace the present inquest system starting April 15, with one coroner appointed to each state. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Minister in charge of law, Nancy Shukri (pic), announced last week that the Coroner’s Court will replace the present inquest system starting April 15, with one coroner appointed to each state. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 — A permanent Coroner’s Court will only superficially address the issue of custodial deaths if not accompanied by legal reforms to grant it independence, a civil rights group asserted today.

According to Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), such a court will otherwise continue to serve up “open verdicts”, where causes of deaths remain unclear and nobody can be held responsible for them.

“Although we welcome the decision in principle, we are nonetheless extremely concerned that the Coroner’s Court is being set up haphazardly,” the group’s executive director Eric Paulsen said in a statement here.

“We are extremely concerned that this will be business as usual where the police and Attorney General’s Chambers like in many previous cases, will be able to gloss, downplay, cover-up or make outrageous claims over the cause of death.”

Minister in charge of law, Nancy Shukri, announced last week that the Coroner’s Court will replace the present inquest system starting April 15, with one coroner appointed to each state.

The Court is tasked to independently inquire into how, when and where the person died, and subsequently deliver the finding and verdict.

According to LFL, the coroner is still dependent on the police to investigate its own officers, as the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) does not provide the coroner with a more investigative or supervisory role following the discovery of a death.

Therefore, it would possibly for the Court to run into what Paulsen termed the “blue wall of silence”, where police officers involved in a case would keep mum, thus preventing any meaningful investigation.

To solve the issue, LFL urged Putrajaya to consult the Malaysian Bar and the civil society in drawing up a legislation detailing the powers of the Coroner.

The powers should include supervising all police investigations to ensure that all relevant evidence is collected, to prevent collusion and lackadaisical investigation, said LFL.

In addition, the group also insisted for the implementation of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to function as an independent and external oversight body to investigate complaints about police personnel.

Nancy told reporters last week that 10 coroners ranked JUSA C in the civil servant ladder will be appointed to 10 states, with the four remaining states getting a coroner ranking L54 each.

The four states are Perlis, Malacca, Kelantan and Terengganu, where low number of death cases have been reported.

Nancy also brushed off any need for a distinct Coroner’s Act in the near future, saying that the coroners will rely on CPC, and supplemental protocol will be issued by Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria if necessary. 

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