Inquest a must when death takes place in lock-up, says lawyer

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PETALING JAYA: An inquiry must be held before a coroner as the death of S Bala Murugan took place when he was under police custody, a lawyer said.

M Visvanathan said Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code was clear that an inquest must be held whenever a person dies while under police custody, in a mental home or in prison.

“It is expressly provided in law and pursuant to a court practice directive that a senior Sessions Court judge must lead the inquiry,” he said.

Visvanathan said this in response to reports that police would only conduct investigations into the death of Bala but were silent about asking the court to hold an inquest.

“The police could not merely investigate the death in a lock-up and ignore the need for an inquest,” he said, adding that the officer-in-charge at the police station where the person had died must report the case to the nearest court.

According to Visvanathan, the objective of an inquiry was to identify the dead person, the date, time and place of death, and the cause of death.

“Most importantly, it is to identify who are the persons criminally concerned in the cause of the victim’s death,” he said.

He said police have to submit their investigation before the coroner to come to an opinion.

Visvanathan said court judgments had also clarified that it was for the police to conduct further investigations to find out who was criminally liable for the death if there was foul play.

“It is then up to the public prosecutor to decide whether to charge anyone for an offence.

“A coroner may only identify persons criminally concerned as he does not have the power to determine any penal offence,” Visvanathan said.

Bala, from Meru in Klang, was detained by North Klang police on Monday together with two others.

Lawyer Gerard Lazarus, who appeared for Bala during remand proceedings on Tuesday, said his client was arrested because he was in the company of men targeted by police.

Lazarus said a magistrate ordered the investigating officer to free Bala and send him to hospital.

About 6am on Wednesday, police contacted Bala’s family, telling them to go to Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah in Klang. However, when they arrived at the hospital, they were told Bala had died.

The family wanted a second post-mortem conducted because of the injuries found on Bala’s body.

His brother Balaraj, 33, lodged a report on the circumstances leading to Bala’s death at the South Klang police station yesterday.

Bala leaves behind widow Natthanan Yoochomsook, 38, and their only child Yanika, 14.

Meanwhile, the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) said it would carry out an immediate investigation into whether procedures were followed in this case.

“The investigation is to identify whether there was any misconduct by police officers when handling suspects,” EAIC chairman Yaacob Md Sam said in a statement.

He said EAIC viewed Bala’s case seriously, especially after the death of an inmate, Soh Kai Chiok, on Jan 18 at the Bera police headquarters in Pahang.