PETALING JAYA: The High Court in Johor Bahru has dismissed a negligence lawsuit filed by the grandmother of a man who died in custody eight years ago.
Sasikumar Selvam died at the Kluang prison on May 22, 2015, while serving a 10-year sentence. He had been an inmate since June 13, 2013, following a conviction for robbery.
At an inquest in 2017, the coroner ruled that Sasikumar’s death was caused by “a person or persons unknown”.
In 2018, Sasikumar’s grandmother, Sushila Rani Ramasamy, filed a lawsuit against the Kluang prison authorities, alleging that they failed to prevent his death. The government was also named as a defendant in the case.
Dismissing the civil action on Monday, Justice Shamsulbahri Ibrahim said the fact that Sasikumar died in prison did not necessarily mean that the government must be imputed with liability.
“The deceased did not die from health problems. Instead, (forensic pathologist) Dr Rohayu Shahar Adnan (testified) that he hanged himself,” he said.
Shamsulbahri said prison authorities cannot be held accountable for every suicide in custody.
“The act of suicide in prison is not a risk that can be expected for all inmates.
“The duty of care only arises when it is known, or reasonably believed, that an inmate has a risk of self-harm.
“Therefore, duty of care does not arise when the act of suicide is unforeseen and cannot be anticipated,” he said.
Shamsulbahri pointed out that Sasikumar had been in Kluang prison for almost two years, and he found no evidence to support a claim that he had suicidal tendencies or psychological issues.
Similarly, he said, there was no evidence to support the family’s allegations that a group of prison officers were, by supposedly failing in their duty of care, involved in the “murder” of Sasikumar.
“Honestly, it is difficult to believe the claim that the deceased was murdered,” he said.
He said officer Najib Selamat, who was on duty to conduct rounds that night, passed by Sasikumar at 9.15pm and saw that he was still alive.
Less than one hour later, when Najib returned, he said he saw Sasikumar hanging from the back iron bars inside the cell.
“The officer said the deceased’s cell was always locked, and no one had access to his cell.
“If anyone wants to enter the deceased’s cell, he or she must call the officer to open the door. In my opinion, it is impossible for someone to do something to the deceased in such a short period without being noticed by the officer,” he said.
During the trial, Najib told the court he was not aware of any fight involving Sasikumar and did not hear screams when he conducted his rounds that night.
The court also rejected the family’s contention that the High Court was bound by the outcome of the findings of the 2017 inquest when arriving at its decision.
“A coroner is not bound by ordinary legal principles. He or she is free to consider any evidence deemed appropriate, including hearsay evidence, which is usually not admissible in court proceedings.
“Due to the loose admissibility of evidence in an inquest, the verdict of an inquest cannot be accepted in determining liability in civil or criminal cases,” Shamsulbahri said.
He said he sympathised with Sasikumar’s family over the death, but the court could not decide “based only on a bare allegation”.