No witness statements allowed in inquest into fireman’s death

Fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim’s helmet rests on a shelf above his serial number 17476.

SHAH ALAM: The High Court today set aside the order by a coroner to compel the conducting officer to prepare statements for seven witnesses scheduled to take the stand in the inquest to determine the cause of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim’s death.

Judge Ab Karim Ab Rahman said witness statements could not be used in an inquest as the procedure was different from that of a criminal trial.

“This is not a criminal trial where someone is charged with an offence,” he said in allowing the government’s application to reverse the directive of coroner Rofiah Mohamad, made on Jan 18.

The coroner had relied on Section 402B of the Criminal Procedure Code in ordering conducting officer Hamdan Hamzah to prepare the witness statements of six doctors and the investigating officer.

Karim said the coroner had no discretion to make such an order as it would only be applicable in a criminal trial.

Hamdan, who is also deputy public prosecutor, earlier submitted that the government was not agreeable to Rofiah’s directive as the inquest was a special proceeding.

“In an inquest, the coroner can also ask questions of witnesses, unlike a trial where the prosecution and defence counsel can examine and cross-examine the witnesses and the accused,” he said.

Lawyer M Visvanathan, who appeared for the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple task force, said an inquest was an investigation conducted in a courtroom.

“Witness statements cannot be relied on, otherwise it will set a bad precedent in similar proceedings,” he said.

Lawyer Yahya Othman appeared for Adib’s family, Syazlin Othman for the housing and local government ministry, Cyrus Tiu Foo Woei for the Bar Council and Siti Kasim for the temple devotees.

The inquest will be held from Feb 11 to 28, March 1 to 5, March 19 to 29 and April 1 to 12. Thirty witnesses are expected to testify.

Adib, 24, was severely injured during the violence at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ 25. He had been part of the response team sent from the Subang Jaya fire and rescue station early on Nov 27.

He died at the National Heart Institute three weeks later on Dec 17.