COMMENT | Malaysians Against Death Penalty & Torture (Madpet) wants inquests to be conducted for all deaths caused by police shootings to determine that it was in compliance with the law.
The law is clear about the powers of the police and there is a need to establish that the police did not break the laws – and certainly did not murder anyone.
Of late, we have come across two media reports of police shootings that resulted in deaths of all the alleged suspects.
On Sept 15, it was reported that three armed robbers were shot dead following a 7km high-speed chase with police.
Selangor police chief Noor Azam Jamaludin said a police team was patrolling the Bandar Country Homes area when they stumbled upon the robbers, who were in a red Volkswagen Polo.
Noor Azam said the men did not heed orders to stop and sped off.
A check on the car used by the suspects revealed that it was reported stolen in Rawang on Aug 5.
In the ensuing 7km chase, two of the robbers fired shots at the police who fired six shots back, killing all three suspects.
On Aug 27, it was reported that three men, believed to be foreigners and members of the notorious Geng Tebuk were killed in a shootout with police in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.
Penang police chief T Narenasagaran said police defended themselves from the trio who jumped out of a Toyota Camry, fired shots and attacked the police with parangs.
The three men are suspected to be involved in over 15 cases in the state since last year involving losses of RM620,000.
Narenasagaran declined to reveal the trio's country of origin until police investigations were completed.
Shooting someone who is shooting at you may be justified, but the main duty of the police is to arrest and not shoot a person dead.
Media may report some but not all incidents, and as such, one wonders about the actual number of people shot dead by the Malaysian police.
Were there any inquests conducted for all these deaths by reason of police shooting?
Following the shooting incidents, the media reports the police version of what happened and it is often noted that the police are quick to link the dead with past crimes.
This itself raises concerns about the killings and thus there is a need for an independent inquiry into these shootings and deaths.
If they were "suspects", why were they not previously arrested and investigated? Were there even arrest warrants out for them?
We also do not have follow-up media reports informing people that the police have positively identified the dead and has secured evidence linking them to the alleged past crimes, if at all.
Other questions arise including if the police followed the arrest procedures or did they just shoot to kill?
The police may be telling us the truth but this is really not enough.
We need independent inquiries into these deaths by the magistrates and judges and this procedure is provided in our law.
In the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 337 states that "A magistrate holding an inquiry shall inquire when, where, how and after what manner the deceased came by his death and also whether any person is criminally concerned in the cause of the death."
As such, the magistrate can inquire whether the death was caused by the police acting in accordance with the law and there was no possibility of arrest.
Remember that our law gives the police the power to arrest and not to kill. Force could be used in certain cases but the object must always be "…to effect the arrest…"
Section 15(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code about arrest states, " If such person forcibly resist the endeavor to arrest him or attempt to evade the arrest such officer or other person may use all means necessary to effect the arrest."
This section also states in subsection (3), Nothing in this section gives a right to cause the death of a person who is not accused of an offence punishable with death or with imprisonment for life.
Clearly many, if not all, of these persons who have been shot dead by the police are at most merely "suspects", and are not yet "accused" for they only become the "accused" after they have been charged in court.
Hence, those shot to dead can only be unavoidable accidents, at best, when the police tried to effect the arrest of the said persons/suspects.
It would also be good for the police if the findings of the inquest comes to a similar conclusion.
Inquests, after all, must be conducted in all cases, except in the limited exceptions provided for in law.
Therefore, save for cases of clear death by natural causes like old age and sickness, there is a need for the magistrate to conducts inquiry into the deaths, and that certainly should include deaths caused by police shootings and death in police custody.
The Criminal Procedure Code (Section 334) provides specific provisions covering an inquiry into the cause of death of a person in custody of police or any asylum.
It is important that the Malaysian government now reassures us that inquests today are being carried out in all deaths in custody cases.
In 2014, the government announced the creation of the permanent Coroners Court, which was to begin operations from April 15, 2014.
It is time to review these Coroner’s court with a realistic objective of increasing its number.
There is also an urgency to consider if we need to enact a Coroner’s Act such as the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 in the UK.
The UK Act states that an inquest into a death must be held with a jury especially in cases where the death was caused by police or death in custody cases.
Therefore, Madpet calls
- for inquests into all cases of death by reason of police shootings;
- for the findings of all inquest including deaths by police by shootings be made public;
- for the investigation of cases of police shooting to be conducted by an independent unit, not the police, who will then also assist the magistrate in the inquest;
- for the criminalisation of extrajudicial killings in Malaysia;
- on the government to disclose statistics and information about deaths by reason of police shootings, and the steps taken to confirm that these were not extrajudicial killings.
Madpet also hopes that the government would consider enacting a Coroners and Justice Act with the possibility of the involvement of a civilian jury.
Charles Hector represents Malaysians Against Death Penalty & Torture (Madpet)
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.