• EDICT Malaysia

The Selangor police must report and investigate the death of V Mugilarasu

On 3 July, in a statement (link) we called on Selangor police chief, Commissioner Datuk Noor Azam Jamaludin, to explain why the police had not reported the death of V Mugilarasu, 35 yrs, in Sungai Buloh Prison, to the coroner, though they had informed Mugilarasu’s family a day earlier.

The Police Commissioner brushed aside (link) our claim of failure to report. The brush he used was COVID-19 procedures issued by the Health Ministry. His answer is inconsistent since the police did inform Mugilarasu’s family. If the family could be informed, why not the coroner?

On 4 July (the next day), in a follow-up statement (link), we pointed out that immediate reporting of the death to the coroner is mandatory. Just as we did on 3 July, we pointed to the Criminal Procedure Code, section 329(5) where this mandate is enshrined in law.

Yet, as of 8 July, one week after Mugilarasu died, and after we had twice challenged the failure to report the death to the coroner, the police still had not done so.

Worse, on 7 July, the Police Commissioner is reported to have said “We have investigated events leading to his death and from the post-mortem results, no foul play was detected. He suffered a heart attack.” (Selangor police say Mugilarasu died of heart attack, rule out foul play, Thasha Jayamanogaran, Malay Mail, 7 July 2020, link).

The police should not prejudge the matter. The duty to make findings as to the cause of death lies with the Coroner. It is not for the police to determine and to announce the cause prior to the inquest being concluded in court.

We remind the Police Commissioner that the police are required to uphold the rule of law (Police Act, section 3). The law pertaining to deaths in custody requires the police to do more than repeat what is stated in a post-mortem report, let alone preliminary post-mortem findings.

We recall that 15 years ago the Dzaiddin Commission reminded the police that they must go beyond the pathologist’s findings (paragraph 2.3.5(i)).

We note also that when the Commission informed the then IGP, Tan Sri Bakri, of some interim findings about room for improvement in handling deaths in custody, he responded immediately. The police took concrete action three weeks after the Commission met with him, one year before they received the Commission’s final report.

According to the Commission’s report, the IGP’s intervention resulted in CID Directive No. 10/2004: 29 May 2004, which, includes this: “all police investigations into deaths in police custody have to be completed within the period of 1 month and an inquest must be held.”

Mugilarasu died in a prison, not in police custody. But his life matters as much as the life of any other person. The handling of his death is also a reflection on the credibility of the police in the eyes of the public.

Therefore, we call upon Commissioner Datuk Noor Azam to emulate Tan Sri Bakri. Act immediately. Admit the failure. Don’t repeat the mistakes in the present case. Take steps to prevent similar failures in the future.

Human lives deserve to be treated better than inanimate objects.

EDICT 10 July 2020

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