Bipartisan action needed on independent police commission

court-jailPETALING JAYA: MPs from both sides of the political divide must persuade the government to set up an independent oversight body to check on custodial deaths, a lawyer said today.

M Visvanathan said the establishment of a body like the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) was vital to restore confidence in the police force.

“The police cannot investigate itself when detainees die in their custody,” he told FMT.

Visvanathan said this in response to a private member’s bill submitted by Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang to establish the IPCMC to check corruption, misconduct and abuses of power in the force.

The lawyer said MPs could use the Royal address during the current Dewan Rakyat session to impress upon the cabinet the urgency to set up an independent body, especially with the recent spate of deaths in police lock-ups.

Visvanathan, who represents families of victims who died in police cells and prison jails, said the issue needed urgent public attention.

“There cannot be such deaths if we are to be regarded as a nation which respects the rule of law.

“It just does not make sense for the police to investigate their own staff when such deaths take place in a location under their control,” he said.

Visvanathan said in the United Kingdom and Australia, an independent coroner would carry out such an investigation to determine the cause of death and who was responsible.

Referring to the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC), Visvanathan said it could investigate custodial deaths as well as alleged police abuse but could only go as far as recommending action to be taken against suspects, and not charging them.

“We want a body whose findings must be acted upon by the public prosecutor,” he added.

Three incidents of deaths in police lock-ups over the past seven weeks have once again grabbed public attention. On Jan 18, Soh Kai Chiok was found dead at the district police headquarters (IPD) in Bera, Pahang.

Then, on Feb 8, S Balamurugan died at the IPD Klang Utara despite the court having denied police a remand order on him. Finally, on Feb 25, M Thanaseelan was found dead at the Bukit Sentosa police station lock-up in Hulu Selangor after suffering from suppurative peritonitis, which did not receive proper medical attention.

Lim, who is DAP Parliamentary leader, said the IPCMC would have been established 10 years ago, when it was first proposed during Abdullah Badawi’s tenure as prime minister, if the effort to implement it had not been sabotaged by police officers.

In February 2004, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong appointed retired chief justice Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah as chairman of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the police.

The following year, the commission submitted 125 recommendations to the government, with the core proposal being the setting up of an IPCMC.

Lim said the IPCMC could be established as soon as possible because the commission had included in its report a 49-page, 104-section Bill with two schedules.

Apart from civil society, the Malaysian Bar has repeatedly called for the setting up of the IPCMC each time custodial deaths occur.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia statistics revealed that between 2000 and 2014, 242 detainees died while in police custody.

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