Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Contempt Proceedings Against Home Minister and Others for failure to complete inquest in death in custody cases as directed by the Judiciary?


Media Statement – 2/2/2022

Contempt Proceedings Against Home Minister and Others for failure to complete inquest in death in custody cases as directed by the Judiciary?

As of March 2019, all death in custody inquests had to completed within 6 months

In January 2022, 4 persons have already died in police custody, and MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) is most concerned as to whether the Coroner is doing its job, including the conducting of speedy inquests (inquiries) as required by existing laws.

The Special Coroners Courts came into being in 2014, and now pursuant to Practice Direction No. 2 of 2019 by then Chief Justice Richard Malanjum, that came into force on 8/3/2019, amongst others, state that all deaths in custody inquest must be completed within six(6) months.

The law also now stipulates the need for registration in court, and the duties of the Coroner, who today is a Sessions Court Judge. A non-compliance of the current law, including Court Directions may amount to not just an offence, but also a Contempt of Court.

In January 2022, the reported deaths in police custody are as follows:-

a)      13/1/2022 - a 63 year old man, who would probably be alive, died in a police lock-up at the Taiping district police headquarters (IPD), Perak.

b)     16/1/2022 -  37-year-old man died at the Pengkalan Chepa police station at 4.35pm.

c)      28/1/2022 - 38-year-old detainee died at the Marang police station lock-up in Terengganu on Friday (Jan 28), and

d)     29/1/2022 -  38-year-old man died while in police custody in Kuala Kangsar, Perak


In compliance with the Court’s directions, the inquest must be completed within six(6) months. After 8/3/2019, Practice Direction No. 2 of 2019 states, amongst others, that all deaths in custody inquest must be completed within six(6) months. Other inquest/investigation of sudden death cases must be done in 9 months.

On 16/12/2021, the Home Minister disclosed in Parliament that the total number of death in police custody cases for the period beginning January 2015 until September 2021 was 79, and that inquest was conducted only for 20 cases. After the Court’s direction, inquest not yet commenced should have started and ended within 6 months.

The Special Coroners Court has been established since 15/4/2014, which provides also for the registration of deaths in court, and for duties and procedures for inquest. Has the Minister, the police and the prosecutors complied with this directions?

If not, then the Home Minister and also the police, other law enforcers and even prosecutors may be guilty of CONTEMPT OF COURT, over and above possibly a violation of existing applicable law for failing to commence and complete inquests in the remaining about 59 cases of death in police custody until September 2021, following the Minister’s admission that inquest was only done for 20 cases.

All deaths even sudden deaths, meaning deaths on the face of it not caused or expedited by actions and/or omissions of another, are required to be registered in court. All inquests need to be registered in court.

Special Coroners Court – with a Sessions Courts Judge as Coroner since 2014

Malaysia, through the Judiciary, had established a Special Coroners Court in every State Capital since 2014, and determined that the Coroner shall be a Sessions Court Judge, and no longer a Magistrate.

This Coroners Court will also deal with all deaths, not just deaths in custody, but even sudden deaths (natural deaths arising by reason no fault, be it action or omission, of another) and even deaths in workplaces, commonly referred to deaths by industrial accidents. All deaths need to be registered in court, where a different registration Code is provided for inquests (Code 65A), and for deaths in custody(Code 65B). Other sudden deaths come under Code 65, which the Coroner also need to evaluate each of these allegedly ‘deaths by natural causes’ and determine whether an inquest is needed or not.

Duties of the Coroner

The practice directions states clear duties on the Coroner, including the need to examine bodies at place where death happens, participate in post-mortems, obligation to notify next of kin of the death, and also give notice to the next of kin when inquests be done. If the Coroner cannot attend to view the body and the site where the death occurs, then the State Director can instruct the nearest Magistrate and/or Session Court judge to do the needful.  

Speedy Action Crucial To Prevent Tampering With Evidence

MADPET stresses the importance of speedy action by the Coroner, who later is duty bound to determine ‘…when, where, how and after what manner the deceased came by his death and also whether any person is criminally concerned in the cause of the death.'(s.337 Criminal Procedure Code).  

Further, there is always the real possibility that the police may contaminate the crime scene, having reference to the 2018 findings of the inquiry by the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) into the death in custody of Syed Mohd Azlan which found police officer/s criminally liable, and also found  that the police had tampered with evidence – even causing a rubber mat and/or carpet possibly stained with blood to vanish.

Prosecution of accused no longer a total bar on inquest – just a delay

When someone is charged in court in connection with the death, the Coroner cannot commence or continue with the inquest, until that case and related appeals are disposed off. This means that thereafter, the inquest can be commenced.

Police, besides assisting the Coroner, have another different obligation

The other legal obligation of the police and the Public Prosecutors is the investigation to identify and prosecute the perpetrator of the crime that resulted in the death. To be able to charge anyone for a crime, the Public Prosecutor is duty bound to find sufficient evidence that, in their belief, will be sufficient to show that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not uncommon that the insufficiency of evidence leads to fact that a suspect may not be charged in court, and our hope is always that in such cases, investigations be continued until justice is served.

The Coroner and the inquest procedure  is there also to prevent mistakes by police and/or prosecutors like making a wrong conclusion of a death as being simply a ‘sudden death’ or natural death for which no one is criminally liable.

Naturally, when it is death in custody of the police or any other State bodies, it is all the more important that an inquest be done without fail by an independent Coroner speedily. This special treatment of death in custody was emphasized by Parliament in the Criminal Procedure Code, and even the Judiciary by the assignment of death in custody with a different code, requiring an inquest.

There were 166,507 deaths recorded in 2020, and Practice Direction No. 2 of 2019 points out the added duty of the Coroner to ascertain the details needed for the registration of deaths pursuant to Registration Of Births  And Deaths Act 1957. As such, the sufficiency of the Special Coroners Court with 1 Session Court Judge as Coroner per State needs to be re-evaluated. It may be best for the enactment of a Coroners Court Act, and provision of required staff to assist the Coroner in carrying out its duties. It is best that the Coroner is freed from other duties of a Session Court Judge. It is best that the Coroners Court be placed under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary.

As such, MADPET calls

-         For inquest of the recent 4 deaths in police custody in January 2022 to be completed in 6 months;

-         Contempt of Court actions against the Minister of Home Affairs, Inspector General of Police and other law enforcement officers including prosecutors that caused the failure of ensuring inquests in death in police custody cases, as required by Chief Justice’s Practice Direction No. 2 of 2019, to be completed within 6 months be seriously considered;

-         For the consideration of criminal prosecution of police and/or others that failed to comply with the requirement of the Criminal Procedure Code with regards to inquests(inquiries into death);

-         Call for action also against Session Court Judges appointed as Coroners, who failed to comply with the requirement of Practice Directions by the Chief Justice of the Federal Court;

-         Call for the enactment of a Coroners Court Act, that will also provide for the employment of paid staff to assist the Coroner in carrying out his/her duties, noting that the Coroner has the responsibility of looking into not just deaths in police custody, but all deaths including deaths at workplaces, when on an average there is about 150,000 or more deaths annually in Malaysia; and

-         Calls on the Chief Justice of the Federal Court to forthwith disclose the number of sudden deaths, number of inquests, number of inquest on death in custody cases that have been registered and considered by the Coroner and their outcomes.

Charles Hector

For an on behalf of MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)


To view the relevant Practice Directions of the Court mentioned/referred to the above media statement, see Death in Custody - Coroner is Session Court Judges, no more Magistrate, all deaths must be registered in court - Practice Direction

A MADPET statement that was issued following the 1st Death in Police Custody can be seen here

If proper procedure followed, 63 year old accused will be alive today, and not died in a police lock-up

Other relevant posts:- 

2022 2nd Death in Police Custody(16th Jan) - Pengkalan Chepa. Coroner - Tell us how he died? 

3rd Death in Police Custody in 2022 - at this rate, for 2022 we will get 36? All police lockups have CCTV by end 2021

4th death in police custody in 2022...Where is the Coroner - has he seen the body, started investigations,...??

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