GEORGE TOWN: After a coroner refused to release documents over a gravedigger’s death in custody, his family went to court, hoping for answers.
Today, the High Court ordered the coroner’s court to disclose documents related to the death of Mohd Fadzrin Zaini, 29, like police reports, sketch plans and medical reports to the family of the deceased.
Judicial commissioner Mohd Radzi Abdul Hamid ordered the coroner to disclose the station and lock-up diaries, pictures of the lock-up, post-mortem and chemist reports, along with other materials substantial to the inquest.
Fadzrin, a gravedigger from Butterworth was detained in a lock-up in Kepala Batas after a drug raid on Nov 20, 2019. Two days later, he was found dead in his cell, with police claiming he had hanged himself.
At the inquest held on March 9, 2021, a sessions court judge sitting as a coroner declined to release documents to Fadzrin’s family, saying that Section 51A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) on discovery of documents did not apply to inquests.
Lawyer M Visvanathan, on behalf of Fadzrin’s family, then filed an appeal to the High Court to demand that the documents be furnished.
In allowing the appeal, Radzi said the coroner was right to say that Section 51A of the CPC concerning disclosure of documents cannot be used in an inquest, as it was meant to apply in criminal trials.
Radzi said at an inquest, a coroner merely inquires on the cause of death of a person, relying on the Chief Justice of Malaya’s Practice Directions No 2 of 2014, not the CPC.
However, Radzi said, although the disclosure of documents remains at the discretion of the coroner, this discretion should generally be exercised in favour of releasing the documents, as per the practice directions of the chief justice.
Radzi said the coroner had therefore erred in not supplying the documents related to the case, adding that disclosure of documents should be requested during the inquest proceedings.
He ordered the coroner to produce the police report, the lock-up diaries, photos, sketches, medical and post-mortem reports as well as other documents deemed necessary to the lawyers representing the deceased’s family.
Outside the court, Visvanathan said the decision by the court was a precedent for future inquests, where pertinent documents related to custodial deaths are to be furnished. V Sanjay Nathan also appeared for Fadzrin’s family.
Fadzrin’s mother Fadhelah Othman, 53, who was in court today, said she was glad the High Court ruled in their favour and hoped there would be justice for her son.
“He did not deserve to die like that. I want to know why. I have been praying so hard that the courts find out why he died,” she said in tears.
The inquest will be held on May 7 before sessions court judge Norsalha Hamzah.