The Malaysian Bar welcomes the news that the police have reopened investigations into the death of Teoh Beng Hock. This matter was referred to the Attorney General’s Chambers (“AGC”) and the police were instructed to continue with their investigations.
It has been more than a decade since Teoh’s death that is still shrouded in mystery. The Court of Appeal had in September 2014 set aside the Coroner’s open verdict, which is a decision affirming the occurrence of a suspicious death but without specifying the cause. A three-man panel ruled that Teoh’s death was caused by multiple injuries from a fall from the 14th floor due to or accelerated by unlawful acts by unknown persons, which may include Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (“MACC”) officers who investigated Teoh. We hope that based on the Court of Appeal’s decision and recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (“RCI”) on Teoh’s death, the AGC can consider reclassifying the case and investigating it under more serious penal offences.
The Malaysian Bar also calls for inquests to be made into all cases involving deaths in custody as well as cases of suspicious deaths. The duty of a coroner is to carry out inquests into deaths and determine the cause and circumstances of deaths of those who died of unnatural or unexplained causes. In this regard, we urge the Government to introduce a Coroners’ Court Act, similar to that of Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and other Commonwealth nations that will strengthen the roles of coroners through fundamental structural reforms in its inquiry processes. The Malaysian Bar had in October 2020 submitted a draft Bill to the AGC on the setting up of an independent coroners’ court.
Whenever a death in custody occurs, it raises questions and piques the public’s interest, which undoubtedly attracts media attention. Deaths in custody pose a threat to civil society that is governed by the rule of law, therefore it is essential that such tragedies must be avoided at all costs. The Enforcement Integrity Agency Commission (“EIAC”) has an important function to monitor and counter deaths in custody. The courts need to play a pivotal role by considering awarding substantial damages once liability is established in a civil suit. This is the way forward to ensure that justice is served.
26 November 2020