By Rama Ramanathan

The police have said they will ask the Public Prosecutor to order an inquest into Ganapathy’s death.

That’s a good thing. But it’s usually families who ask for inquests. So, why do the police want an inquest?

Because they think they can persuade a judge, in open court, that they didn’t contribute to Ganapathy’s death?

Because then they can tell activists and reporters to “shut up” about the case? (They’ll use the line “the court will decide.”)

Because when activists and reporters shut up, people will forget the case?

I think the answer is probably "all of the above."

Do you remember naval cadet officer J Soosaimanickam, whose death 3 years ago was the subject of an inquest? What was the coroner’s verdict?

An inquest ends when the coroner delivers a verdict. Based on the evidence, the coroner will choose between 5 verdicts: open verdict, misadventure, natural death, homicide, suicide.

The coroner will state whether any “unlawful acts or omissions” by anyone contributed to the death. These include using excessive force, giving bad food, not giving medicines, not sending to hospital, etc.

What happens in Malaysia after the coroner decides?

The family may have some closure because a judge has determined the cause of death. If they’re unhappy, they can appeal. And they can use the information gathered during the inquest to file a civil suit to get money to cover losses and to teach the authorities a lesson. Even in cases where the coroner’s verdict is suicide.

The police, it appears to me, don’t observe inquests, even when the victim died in their own custody. Their participation is limited to police witnesses who testify at inquest hearings. I doubt they attend court when the coroner delivers the verdict. I doubt they get a copy of the coroner’s decision and/or grounds of decision.

Journalists may write about the verdict. Especially if the deceased is part of a larger story, for example fireman Adib and the Shah Alam temple incident. Most inquests are minimally reported both during hearings and on decision day. And the news reports are not widely shared.

What happens in the UK, after the coroner decides?

In my last post I spoke of the coronial system in the UK and promised to speak of “Regulation 28 reports.” UK law requires coroners to issue these reports. They’re posted on the judiciary’s website.

The latest report is dated 27 May 2021. It’s addressed to the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, and the National Police Chiefs Council. It’s copied to the Chief Coroner and to a family member of the deceased.

The coroner gives a brief outline of evidence given by police officers in the case of Zeyna Partington, who died by suicide after overdosing on some medicine. The evidence shows poor decision making by officers.

Partington was reported missing on 8 August 2019. The evidence shows the police knew she was mentally ill. And they had the means to track her car using the number plate reading capability of a camera network in the region.

The police told the computer system to place a low-risk marker on her car, although the evidence warranted a medium-risk marker. This wrong decision resulted in her car not being flagged for follow-up by officers twice, despite being detected by the network.

The coroner raised 3 “matters of concern.” The first is lack of knowledge of officers. The second is a policy which causes delays in actions which could save lives. The third is late or non-implementation in the region of a system which was rolled out nationwide.

The report is just a mite over 2 pages and ends with these words:

You are under a duty to respond to this report within 56 days of the date of this report, namely 21st July 2021. I, the Coroner, may extend this period. Your response must contain details of action taken or proposed to be taken, setting out the timetable for action. Otherwise, you must explain why no action is proposed.

Notice the interval between death and decision was 10 months, in the Covid-19 period. And, the authorities must respond to the coroner’s findings. While, in Malaysia, 3 years on, there's still no decision in the Soosaimanickam inquest. And, there’s nothing like the UK’s Regulation 28 mandate.

Oh, one more thing. The Partington inquest occurred as a matter of routine. It didn’t have to be ordered by the Public Prosecutor.