MARUAH submitted the letter below to the Straits Times forum on 29 July 2013. It was not published.
29 July 2013
The Straits Times
We refer to the articles “Fierce struggle lasted about 30 min” (ST, July 20 2013) and the Attorney General Chambers’ (AGC) response “AGC clarifies why no Coroner’s Inquiry was held for prison inmate’s death” (ST Online, 25 July 2013 9.18 pm).
We extend our condolences to the family of Mr Dinesh. We also raise our concerns here.
The circumstances leading to Mr Dinesh’s death in prison leave many unanswered questions. Was Mr Dinesh a large-sized, well-built man that it needed 8 officers to subdue him? Why was pepper spray used? What if the prisoner had an allergic reaction to pepper spray? Was Mr Dinesh conscious or responsive when he was left alone in the cell? What was the nature of the investigation process into the conduct of the officers?
There are contradictions in how the Coroners Act (Chapter 63A; 2012) has been interpreted in this case. The AGC’s statement states that Section 39 gives discretion to the courts to not pursue a Coroner’s Inquiry (CI) into the circumstances of a death following the outcome of criminal proceedings. However we also have Section 25 (1) (a) of the same Chapter 63A which makes it obligatory (“shall’) for a CI when a death has occurred in official (police) custody or in other circumstances as outlined in the Third Schedule of the Coroners Act. We also understand that Section 25(2) of the Act allows the Coroner not to hold an inquiry if the death was due to natural causes, against public interest to do so and that Section 25(3) gives discretion to the Courts to assess for a CI based on the desires of the deceased family and/or the value in that this death may reduce the chances of other deaths occurring in similar circumstances.
Based on the above Sections of the Coroners Act (Chap 63A) it is unclear why there is no CI when Mr Dinesh’s death is not natural, there is public interest in this case, the criminal negligence charges are against only one senior prison officer; and the contradiction that the restraint techniques used did not result in any major injury to Mr Dinesh and yet an autopsy report that cause of death was asphyxiation.
This overall lack of transparency does not stand us well as a country. It is due process to affect a CI as Mr Dinesh’s death is not natural and it took place when he was in official custody. His rights under
Articles 3, 7 and 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by our Constitution of Articles 3 and 12 – all of which emphasise equal protection under the law and “a right to life, liberty and security of person”, need to be observed.
Ms Braema Mathi