Enlarged bench to decide if custodial death victims must be compensated

Lawyer M Visvanathan with P Chandran’s wife Selvi Narayan and daughters Darshini and Rita at an earlier hearing.

PETALING JAYA: The Federal Court has agreed to assemble a seven-member bench to decide whether family members could claim damages when victims die in police lock-ups due to negligence of the police.

Lawyer M Visvanathn, who is representing the family of former lorry driver P Chandran, said the request was allowed as the subject matter was of public interest and constitutional importance.

He said the government’s appeal to refuse payment of RM200,000 compensation to Chandran’s widow Selvi Narayan and daughter Rita would be heard on July 23 following a case management exercise yesterday.

“The appeal in Chandran’s case is a revisit of a November 2017 majority Federal Court ruling that denied a mother of RM300,000 in damages though it was proved the victim (N Kugan) was assaulted to death,” he said.

Six months earlier, the Court of Appeal affirmed a High Court ruling that Selvi and Rita were entitled to receive compensation as Chandran’s death was due to negligence and abuse of public office by the police.

In early January 2017, then High Court judge S Nantha Balan held the police liable for the death of Chandran in the Dang Wangi police lock-up four years earlier after his medical needs were not attended to.

The government was only prepared to pay RM144,000 for loss of income, RM10,000 for loss of dependency and RM3,500 in special damages for funeral expenses to Chandran’s family.

On Jan 10, 2018, the government obtained leave to appeal against the Court of Appeal decision as it went against the majority Federal Court judgment made two months earlier.

Justice Zaharah Ibrahim, who delivered the judgment for the majority, said the constitution did not give courts the power to compensate the family members of such victims.

Zainun Ali, in her dissenting judgment, said the death of an individual was a clear violation of the most fundamental liberty entrenched in Part 11 of the Federal Constitution.

Visvanathan said the legal fraternity took the position that exemplary damages should be given to serve as a deterrent and a warning to law enforcement agencies that no lives could be taken “save in accordance with the law”.

“Exemplary damages must be provided to send a strong message to law enforcement agencies that suspects cannot be tortured until they die because the right to life is fundamental in our constitution,” he said.