Date: 28 July 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Parti Keadilan Rakyat
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No. 1, Jalan Tropicana Selatan 1
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THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S (“AG”) EXPLANATION FOR SETTING UP INQUEST FOR TEOH’S DEATH AND RCI ONLY FOR INVESTIGATIVE PROCEDURES IS MISLEADING AND MISSES THE POINT!
The AG’s argument (see www.nst.com.my/current_news/NST/articles/200907250808253...) for setting up an inquest to look into Teoh’s death 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 have known at all times that there are such provisions for setting up an inquests. The point that is being missed completely by the AG is that all such inquests in the recent past inquiring into deaths in custody have failed to identify the perpetrators and achieve any semblance of a just outcome. No one has been held responsible for any of the 104 deaths in custody since 2003.
These inquests failed for a variety of reasons including the fact the junior judicial officers were investigating in circumstances where they were entirely dependent on the evidence placed before them through police witnesses when it was often the case when police misconduct itself was the core issue in the inquest. 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.
It is the failure of these inquests that fuelled the strong public outcry for a Royal Commission into the cause of Teoh’s death.
The announcement in the media today that a Deputy Registrar of the Shah Alam High Court has been appointed as the coroner also goes to reinforce the point we are making. With no disrespect to En.Azmil Muntapha Abas ( of 8 years service including 4 as a Magistrate ), his standing is simply not comparable to the personalities for example who were appointed to the Royal Commission to investigate the assault on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and identify the assailant/s. They included persons such as Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abidin ( former Chief Judge Malaya ) and Datuk Mahadev Shankar ( retired Court of Appeal judge ). The Royal Commission on the Police was chaired by Tun Dzaiddin ( retired Chief Justice ).
The AG also misled us by referring 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 crimes committed by government officers or departments. The best example is that already cited when the Royal Commission was set up in January 1999 to investigate the serious assault on Anwar Ibrahim and in particular to identity his assailant.
The reasons for setting up for such Royal Commissions in the past is quite clear. For some reason, they seem to have escaped the understanding of the AG. I quote from a news portal called the Malaysian Mirror ( www.malaysianmirror.com) which frequently presents news favourable to the Barisan Nasonal as well:
“An independent Royal Commission is a powerful instrument to provide checks and balances within a democratic system of government. The setting up of a Royal Commission is usually a last political resort by a government to probe into a highly controversial issue.
But it does allow the government to show that it has nothing to hide, and that it will absolve itself from any accusation that a government probe will only allow different government investigative agencies to practise mutual back-scratching.
The institution of the Royal Commission is deeply rooted in the parliamentary traditions of democratic practices in Commonwealth countries. It was first made popular in the 1980s in the UK, to meet the many challenges from an explosion of social problems following the beginning of industrialisation.
A Royal Commission also has wide coercive powers, to summon witnesses and documents, seize documents and evidences, hold public hearings, research into cases, consult with experts from both within and outside the government, hold hearings in cameras, offering indemnities, summon classified information even, and coerce all public officials to aid in the execution of the Commission.
The Cabinet decision is puzzling. The mystery behind Teoh’s death and the MACC method of investigative procedures are intimately inter-related, and should be probed by the Royal Commission in one go.”
It is interesting that what is obvious to a group of experienced journalists seems to be beyond the capacity of our legally trained AG.
There is nothing mandatory about the setting up of an 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.
It would have been appropriate if as the legal advisor to the government, he had instead advised the Cabinet to broaden the terms of reference of the Royal Commission to include investigating the circumstances of Teoh’s death and indentifying those responsible.
What we see now is the hastily set up inquest which has been directed to start tomorrow. 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.
Of the two inter-related issues at hand, MACC method of interrogation and Teoh’s mysterious death, the latter is the one that has riled up national anger. Concerned citizens of the country are hungry for the truth about how a promising young man about to be married to a lady two months pregnant with his child entered the MACC office and left as a corpse!
The proposed Royal Commission has much greater moral authority and legal prowess to probe into Teoh’s death and dig out the truth from behind the veil of Malaysian officialdom. To relegate this critical task to a junior magistrate court of inquest opens the BN government to the opposition charge that the Cabinet has put the cart before the horse.
Already, Teoh’s death has reunited the PR coalition and rescued them from their receding public image damaged by public internal bickering and their poor showing at the Manik Urai by-election. Mishandling of the investigation into causes of Teoh’s death will only give them an opportunity to accumulate their political capital towards the next general election.
The Cabinet might have misread public sentiment when they decided on the narrow and ineffectual terms of reference of the proposed Commission of Inquiry related with Teoh’s death.
Vice-President, Parti Keadilan Rakyat