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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Serving Justice, Straight Up

Serving justice, straight up

It took me a while to understand that in as much as contract, commercial, criminal, constitutional or any other field of law was important, the existence of a functioning system by which the law was applied and enforced was far more crucial. For without such a system, it would not matter at all that there were laws.

When I first graduated from law school, I believed that all things said and done we had such a system. I am almost certain now that we do not.

We have courts, some of them in very opulent buildings that are akin to palaces. We have judges at all levels, be it at the subordinate courts or into the dizzying heights of the judicial hierarchy. There is in place an Attorney General’s Chambers from which spring a number of federal counsel and deputy public prosecutors who represent the State in its legal endeavours. They are complemented by a host of lawyers who, together with their counterparts from the civil service, apply laws that have been duly enacted by legislative chambers and Parliament respectively.

Impressive, one could say. I however reserve my judgment. Just like cameras, there are “point and shoot” lawyers and judges, and there are the far more sophisticated and capable ones. Both serve their purpose but one category serves it far better, something to think about considering the legal system is one whose standard cannot be compromised for any reason at all. Lives, in the widest sense, are at stake. They are being put at risk by the kind of individuals being allowed into the system.

All this however does not directly answer the question of whether the system is one that is functioning effectively. In this, it must be understood that the ultimate arbiter of whether a legal system is effective is the public that the system is intended to serve. The level of public confidence in the system is the only yardstick by which this effectiveness can be measured.

The stark reality is that the average Malaysian entertains grave doubts about the integrity or competence or both of those who make up the system (and in this, I tar lawyers with the same brush). From a public confidence standpoint, it could be said that the system is not functioning.

We cannot blame them for so doubting. Controversy upon controversy, many of which were unnecessary and avoidable, have impacted. Suspicions have been given foundation by the findings and recommendations of a Royal Commission of Enquiry that lambasted the system and urged urgent corrective measures. One cannot fault the average Malaysian for thinking justice is no longer the sacrosanct quality that it is meant to be, having instead transformed into something pliable that can be moulded to convenience.

This has had ramifications it seems. Malaysians have no alternative but to take their cases to the courts, it is the only way in which they can have their legal disputes resolved. Faced with a system that they have come to perceive as lopsided and pliable, it appears that they have attempted to improve, or at the very least even out, their odds where they have been able to do so. If the system were seen and understood to be unyielding, this would not be occurring.

It is perception that fuels belief that the system is hardly working as it should. As a lawyer, this saddens me, not because I think it is an unfair assessment but because I can see why it is they might believe this to be the case. Over the last twenty years the Judiciary has taken a beating, inside and out. It seems like every Chief Justice since Tun Dzaiddin started his term with laudable declarations concerning the need for reform only to subsequently find that the problem areas were so entrenched that resolving them was neither easy nor possible in their limited terms of tenure. Promises unfulfilled have deepened distrust.

It is high time that those who manage the institutions in ours system of justice wake up to the hard truth that mere rhetoric and superficial changes will not serve any purpose in attempts to rebuild confidence. Efforts must be real and driven by a desire to deliver to Malaysians objective justice at its keenest. It is not enough to say that there are those in the system who do just that. Though that may be the case, there are seemingly those who do not. It must be understood why this is the case and what can be done. The situation is desperate and calls for extreme measures.

Crucially, the system must be seen to be delivering justice. It is a cardinal rule of justice that not only must it be done, it must be seen to be done. The appearance of impartiality is paramount in building public confidence in the system. In this, standards must be seen to be applied uniformly, without exception. Explanations as to why they are not, do not go very far in explaining away the fact that they are not.

Perception is key. Without the public having confidence in the system, justice will never be served.

(Malay Mail; 24th February 2009)


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Cost Of Winning

The Cost Of Winning

One cannot be faulted for thinking that those who claim the right to lead us understand that the system of constitutional democracy put in place by the Federal and State Constitutions circumscribes the authority and power of the Yang diPertuan Agong and their majesties the Malay Rulers.

They surely appreciate that this is particulars so in matters of governance where even if a royal discretion or prerogative is involved, such as is invoked where a Mentri Besar is appointed, such discretion is guided by constitutional prerequisites and that the process of checks and balances must necessarily inform the exercise of such discretion.

An aspect of this process is the taking of legal challenge against the Ruler concerned. The constitutional crisis’ in East Malaysia in 1966 and 1994 saw challenges against the Governors of Sarawak and Sabah respectively, for instance. The constitutional framework makes no distinction between a Sultan or Raja and a Governor where the exercise of such discretions is concerned. Both categories of personages are understood in law to be exercising constitutionally delineated discretion. Such exercises of power are open to being scrutinized by the courts of this country.

It is for that reason that it is said that the doctrine of separation of powers, so crucial to efficacious functioning of democracy, safeguards citizens from autocratic action on the part of any organ of this country. This is the bedrock that gives foundation to the sacred principle that no person is above the law.

I believe that this notion of guided discretion prompted the Prime Minister to say last March that the appointment of Datuk Ahmad Said as Menteri Besar by the Regent of Trengganu was unconstitutional. It is also a belief that the Regent had overstepped the constitutional limits of His Highness’ discretion that prompted UMNO assemblymen as well as UMNO agencies to protest the appointment and to stand by their preferred candidate, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh. A similar situation in Perlis led to a well-publicized crisis within UMNO at around the same time.

In these incidents, and others like them, political parties and individuals had for their own reasons voiced their disagreement with the decision of a Ruler in the belief that the Ruler erred in going beyond what was legally permissible. There was no legal prohibition to them doing so, a state of affairs that remains unchanged. Such action cannot be criminalized for being seditious as the voicing of opinions aimed at showing that a Ruler had been mistaken is allowed. All leaders are capable of making mistakes and being able say that they have done so is a necessary part of democratic forms of government.

To say that such action amounts to treason is wholly incredible. Treason requires an intention to wage war, to cause bodily harm or death or to cause the deposing of a Ruler. Saying that the Ruler is wrong may be impolite or offensive but it can by no stretch of the imagination amount to treason, nor has it ever been suggested to amount to such.

Until now it would seem.

Mr Karpal Singh and his Pakatan Rakyat associates are in the line of fire and ironically, UMNO and its agencies have put them there. The charge: that they have committed treason and sedition in having publicly taken the position that the Sultan of Perak erred in having decided to allow the Barisan Nasional to form a government in Perak.

How what it is Mr Karpal and associates have said and done amounts to treason or sedition eludes understanding, just as how it differs in principle from what was done in Trengganu or Perlis last March. In as much some may have disagreed with those who protested the decisions of the Rulers in those States, they were entitled not only to their views but also to express those views. Their right to do so is a cornerstone of a system founded on the Rule of Law, one that Tun Mahathir relied on to strip away royal immunity when he was Prime Minister.

It is possible to infer from the manifest lack of basis for the fiery denunciations that behind them lurk questionable political objectives. The imminent UMNO assembly is more probably than not a factor that has shaped the way in which the recent “win” in Perak has been approached since.

The posturing and rhetoric is further so threatening in nature that it is not unreasonable to infer that a campaign of intimidation is underway. Its objective is self-evidently the communicating of a message to those inclined to challenge the legal validity of the appointment of the new Mentri Besar: that they do so at their own peril. Such conduct could fairly be characterized as being intended to subvert the due process of law. If so, this is a punishable contempt of court.

More worryingly, such conduct incites. Too often, political leaders get so lost in their politics to the extent that they fail to see that their rallying cries potentially have a less desirable kind of influence. In all societies there skulk individuals who take it upon themselves to force through a conclusion that they believe their community requires in supreme acts of deliverance. All they need is to receive the right message. Our leaders warn us about playing with fire yet they forget sometimes that it is they who ignite sentiments with potentially devastating consequences.

The situation in Perak has caused anger and pain. It may be that the only way in which the chapter can be closed is through a decision of the courts. For many, the decision itself may be less important than the process. An airing of grievances, such as a court hearing will allow for, is more often than not essential to the achieving of reconciliation. Resolution of this nature can only be in the interests of the state and its government, whoever forms it.

Though the Barisan Nasional may have won the day in securing the right to govern, it must ask at what cost to itself and, more importantly, to the rakyat. In this case, the winner does not take all.

(Malay Mail; 10th February 2009)


Friday, February 6, 2009

Perak, A Constitutional Crisis

Now that the dust is settling, it is becoming clearer what it is that took place in Perak over the last twenty-four hours. My respectful view is that His Highness may have acted erroneously in directing the resignation of the Mentri Besar.

As always, it will be useful to consider the objective facts. They are as follows:
  • His Highness, the Sultan of Perak, granted audiences and in doing so was made to understand that the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly no longer support the incumbent Mentri Besar. Of these, three memberships are disputed in view of letters of resignation having been tendered to the Speaker. The Speaker has taken the position that the letters are valid and as such the two members are no longer members. Further, legal proceedings are being contemplated
  • excluding the three disputed memberships, both the Pakatan Rakyat and the Barisan Nasional each hold influence over twenty-eight members
  • twenty-eight members have indicated in private to His Highness that they no longer have confidence in the incumbent Mentri Besar. With the three disputed memberships, this number increases to thirty-one
  • no vote of confidence has been moved at the Assembly
  • the incumbent Mentri Besar made a request for dissolution of the Assembly. This request was not made on the basis that the majority of members had lost confidence in the Mentri Besar. Rather, it was made on the basis that in the circumstances it might be appropriate for fresh elections to be held in the State
  • on 5th February 2009 His Highness refused the request and directed the Executive Council to resign. From a statement issued by the palace, this directive was based on His Highness having refused the request for dissolution.
  • crucially, the directive was made in accordance with Article 16(6) of the Perak Constitution. This article provides that where a request for dissolution is made as a consequence of the Mentri Besar ceasing to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Assembly and His Highness refuses, the incumbent Mentri Besar must tender the resignation of the Executive Council.
From the above, it is apparent that His Highness considered the situation to be one in which the Mentri Besar had ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the members. In doing so, His Highness accepted the three disputed members as still being members of the Assembly and as such approached the situation on the assumption that the Barisan block outnumbered Pakatan by three instead of one.

It must be borne in mind that:
  • as noted above Article 16(6) is specifically directed to a no-confidence scenario, that is the incumbent Mentri Besar can seek the dissolution of the Assembly upon his having ceased to command the confidence of the majority
  • Article 36(2) however provides more generally that His Highness has the power to dissolve the assembly. It is clear that this provision is aimed at allowing His Highness to dissolve the Assembly for other reasons thought to be appropriate
  • as a matter of law His Highness is empowered to do what is permitted under the Perak Constitution and the Federal Constitution. This is the essence of a constitutional monarchy
  • the Perak Constitution does not empower His Highness to dismiss the Mentri Besar. The manner in which the Mentri Besar is to be removed from office is as provided for under Article 16(6), through a refusal to dissolve the Assembly at the request of the Mentri Besar when the Mentri Besar has ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the Assembly.
It is apparent that His Highness had moved on the assumption that the request for dissolution was prompted by the Mentri Besar having ceased to command the confidence of the majority. This may have been based on a misapprehension of the situation and the appeal to the Sultan to dissolve the Assembly for reasons other than confidence. If so, then the directive to resign was arguably not tenable.

However, it could be said that all things considered His Highness had come to the conclusion that in any event the Mentri Besar no longer commanded confidence. In this context, the central question is whether His Highness was empowered to conclude that the incumbent Mentri Besar no longer commanded the confidence of the Assembly without there having been a vote of no confidence.

There is precedent. The Federal Court had in 1966 (Stephan Kalong Ningkam) determined that a similar provision of the Sarawak Constitution required there to be a vote of no confidence taken in the Assembly before the Chief Minister was obliged to resign. The decision was based on several key factors that I believe to be relevant to this discussion. These were:
  • the Sarawak Constitution did not empower the Governor to dismiss a Chief Minister
  • the phrase “confidence of the majority” was a term of art and could be read as implying the need for a vote of confidence or a vote on a major issue. The Court took into consideration the fact that the Sarawak Council Negri should, in principle, manage its own affairs.
  • no vote had been taken in the Council Negri and instead the Governor had come to his conclusion based on extraneous matters, particularly confidential letters. The Court observed that members expressing a view outside the Council Negri might very well take a different position in it when under the scrutiny of the public. This was of particular significance as out of the forty-two members of the Council Negri only twenty-one had indicated their not supporting the incumbent Chief Minister.
It could therefore be credibly argued that the Perak Constitution requires the tabling of a vote of confidence in the circumstances. The factors considered by the Federal Court have great significance to the scenario at hand, one as ambiguous as that which the Federal Court was faced with in 1966.

Much will now depend on what the incumbent Mentri Besar does. In Stephan Kalong Ningkam, the Chief Minister concerned took it to court and won. The Federal Court declared the Governor as having acted unconstitutionally and the dismissal of the Chief Minister invalid. Mohamad Nizar could attempt the same course.

It would be regrettable if the situation were forced to escalate to that level. Litigation of that nature, any nature for that matter, will be disruptive at all levels. With the Barisan Nasional moving in already though, it seems that there is little choice in the matter. Walking away is simply not an option that the constitution and the people and democracy will allow for.

In the meanwhile, we will have to buckle in for what has become a full-blown constitutional crisis.

(Malaysian Insider; 6th February 2009)


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Making Sense Of The Perak Controversy

Before embarking on an analysis of the state of play in Perak, it would be of value to consider the objective facts:
  • two assemblymen signed undated resignation letters as a condition to their being nominated by their political party for a state election. For this, the party also gave them full support, financial and otherwise. They won their respective seats;
  • the undated resignation letters were submitted to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The Perak Constitution allows members of the Assembly the option of resigning their membership “by writing under his hand addressed to the Speaker”;
  • the party opted to submit the resignations of the two assemblymen. It is not apparent what prompted this;
  • the Speaker has accepted the resignations and communicated the fact of the resignations to the Election Commission. The Speaker has taken the position and ruled for the purposes of the Assembly that the resignations have taken effect and by-elections be held. He will treat the assemblymen as no longer being members of the Assembly for the purposes of proceedings in the Assembly;
  • the two assemblymen dispute the validity of the resignation. They do not contend that the resignations letters were not under their hand. They contend that the resignations were procured through duress; and
  • the Election Commission has decided that the resignations are doubtful and as such not true resignations.
From the above, it could be said that the following questions arose when the controversy first erupted:
  • the legal value or validity of the resignations. There is no authoritative decision of the courts on this point. A 1982 decision of the then Federal Court (Datuk Ong Kee Hui) observed that such resignations could be viewed as being contrary to public policy in view of elections at both the State and Federal level being of individuals as opposed to political parties. A question of honoring the wishes of the electorate, that is the electing of the individual as opposed to the party, arises. The Federal Court did not decide on the point as the Member of Parliament concerned did not seek to invalidate the resignation nor had the Speaker been joined as a party. The point is as such open to argument; and
  • whether the resignation letters were procured under duress,
However, these questions have been overtaken by events, in particular the decision of the Speaker to accept the resignations and give effect to them. The Speaker may be wrong but until he is shown to be wrong through valid process – either in the Assembly (to the extent that such process is available) or through the courts – the Speakers decision must stand.

In this regard, the Election Commission is charged with the conduct of elections. It could be argued that in order to do so, the Election Commission must have the power to determine whether an Election is needed in the first place. Where State and Federal Elections are concerned, this is established by the dissolution of the Assemblies and Parliament respectively. However, where casual vacancies (through death, resignations or disqualifications) arise, the situation is more nuanced.

The Perak Constitution (Article 36(5)) provides that a casual vacancy shall be filled within sixty days from the date on which it is established by the Election Commission that there is a vacancy. Vacancies caused by death and disqualifications are easily established. Where the latter is concerned, the matter is decided by the Assembly itself, which in law is taken to have final say (save where there is a matter of legal interpretation).

In the ordinary course resignations are similarly uncomplicated; the Speaker receives the letter of resignation and communicates the fact to the Election Commission which establishes the vacancy based on the Speaker’s declaration. From this, it is apparent that the vacancy is established by reference to the position taken by the Speaker. This is consistent with the basic principle of parliamentary democracy that it is the Speaker that regulates the assembly.

The question that arises is therefore whether this process is derailed by a dispute as to the validity of the resignation. In my view, it should not be, and the Election Commission must act accordingly. I say this for two main reasons. First, the scheme explained above.

Secondly, it is not for the Election Commission to embark on a fact-finding or adjudicative process as, amongst other things, it does not have the power to do so. In denying the position the Speaker has taken, the Election Commission is in effect asserting that that the Speaker is wrong. The Election Commission cannot do so. If there is a question as to the correctness of the Speaker’s position, then it must be challenged through proper channels.

Seen from this perspective, this unprecedented and very curious action of the Election Commission regrettably raises questions as to its motives. It must be taken to appreciate the precarious position it has left Perak in, one which looked upon objectively appears to have been made more accommodating to the machinations of the Barisan Nasional. I note that by-elections would be inconvenient for UMNO which is scheduled to have its assembly in March. It is as such open to question as to whether the Election Commission has conducted itself in the independent manner the Federal Constitution requires of it.

Where this leaves the Perak Government is an open question. It could seek a ruling of the Court as to the correctness of the decision made by the Election Commission and an order to compel the latter to conduct the by-election. This would be a time-consuming affair and occasion a delay that can only work against the interests of the State. The razor thin margin is undermining of stability and it is more probable than not the attention of those who make up the State government would be focused more on preserving their government than the affairs of the State.

The Election Commission’s stance and the underlying events would afford sufficient cause for the Menteri Besar to request that His Highness the Sultan dissolve the assembly and call for fresh elections. All things considered, this may be the best way to protect the interests of Perak. In these difficult times, governments should be focused on what needs to be done rather than politics.

(Malaysian Insider; 4th February 2009)


Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree

Fruit of the poisonous tree

In much of the commentary thus far on the sudden death of Kugan Ananthan while in police custody, the focus has been on the need for greater control and supervision of the police to ensure the accountability and transparency so crucial to the curbing of abuses of power. I too have written elsewhere that the Government’s refusal to establish the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is impeding its ability to deal with the attitudes and practices that have resulted in a discomforting prevalence of sudden deaths in custody.

That this is an important aspect of any meaningful and coherent effort to curb abuses of power by the police cannot be emphasised enough. The issue is really a systemic one; it is the system that is failing Malaysians and allowing for the kind of horrific events that we have been made to bear witness to far too often this last decade.

Having said that, other more immediate solutions or deterrents are no less important. A transparent investigation into the death and due prosecution of all those involved to the fullest extent of the law would serve the interest of Kugan’s family and the wider public by ensuring that justice is not only done but is also seen to be done. This would go far in helping staunch the hemorrhage of public confidence in the institution. Immediate disciplinary action would reinforce the gains.

In the same vein, there is much value in seeking to understand what it is that drives those abuses that lead to injuries or even deaths in custody.

It is readily apparent that there is no legal basis for the use of force by police officers during interrogation. If a police officer uses force he is in fact assaulting and battering an individual. In doing so, he is committing a range of crimes as well as acting wrongfully in a way that would justify a claim for damages. The question of necessary and proportional force does not arise in this sort of situation unlike in situations where police officers are confronted with the risk of injury to themselves unless appropriate defensive action is taken such as may be necessary during efforts to quell riots for instance.

Notwithstanding the foregoing being a cardinal principle of policing beatings happen; sometimes to within an inch of the suspect’s life, sometimes at the cost of that life. The question is, sadism aside, why would the police officers concerned expose themselves to potential prosecutions and damages claims.

A belief in their immunity goes some way to explaining the mindset. If police officers get away with such conduct over a period of time without reproach or reprisal, they will over time form the view that their behaviour is not only acceptable it is expected. This does not however explain what it is that prompts such conduct in the first place.

I believe the answer lies in the desire of the police officer to secure a conviction. We cannot discount the fact that in constantly being confronted by criminal acts and their consequences and having to deal with a justice system that may seem to more concerned with rules and procedures rather than justice, the police officer will over time develop a single-minded approach to getting his man. He does not care about how he gets the evidence as much as he does about getting the evidence and the conviction it will lead to. In the mind of the police officer, in doing so he is putting away a bad person, making the world a safer place for it and paving the way for promotion.

While noble in intention the approach leaves much to be desired, particularly when the end result is a custodial death. The fault may however lie in part on a system of evidence that defines itself by relevancy. All evidence is admissible to trial as long as it is relevant. As long as it is not a confession that is in issue (the law requires that to be voluntary) it does not matter that the evidence was the by-product of brutalizing that may in itself be the subject of criminal prosecution.

A solution may as such lie in a rethinking of those principles pertaining to the admissibility of evidence. The exclusionary rule implemented in the courts of the United States is a model worth considering. That rule renders evidence inadmissible if the means by which it was obtained is illegal, such evidence being the “fruit of the poisonous tree”. It goes a long way to remove the incentive to commit the kind of conduct under discussion.

Though in many ways, the refashioning of admissibility principles is really a matter for Parliament, the Malaysian courts have a limited discretion that can be wielded in such a way so as to compel respect for those constitutional guarantees that such conduct violates. This most recent tragedy is reason enough for the courts to start considering the possibilities.

(Malay Mail; 3rd February 2009)


Monday, February 2, 2009

Is The Die Cast?

Though it is not yet possible to conclude what it is that occurred during the last hours of the life of Kugan Ananthan, those few facts with which the public has been acquainted with strongly suggest some measure of culpability on the part of those police offers involved in his interrogation. It is a fact that Kugan died in police custody during an interrogation in which he had been severely beaten. It is also a fact that the Public Prosecutor has classified the death as having been caused by murder for the purposes of investigations and the police officers concerned suspended.

It must however be emphasized that until and unless the police officers concerned are convicted, they are innocent of any crime. Their guilt should not be prejudged. We should also not rush to any conclusions on the racial dimensions of the incident as there is insufficient material available on which we can form any conclusion.

Having said that, questions must be asked. There is an urgent need for Malaysians to understand what it is that occurred and why it happened. We must also be made to understand why it is the police force responded as it did when news of the death surfaced. Questionable reactions on the part of the ranking police officer in charge have regrettably resulted in an uneasy belief that the truth is somehow being avoided.

The context of this latest tragedy cannot be overlooked. The prevalence of sudden deaths in police custody have been a source of concern for some time now. They were one of the main focus areas of the Dzaiddin Commission established in 2003 to look into the operation and management of the Royal Malaysia Police.

It is not insignificant that the Commission found there to have been a worrying level of abuses of power on the part of police officers coupled with a lack of due regard to the civil liberties in the discharge of their duties. It is equally compelling that the Commission implicitly concluded that the self-regulating the current Police Force Commission in effect allows for had allowed this very worrying state of affairs to have come into existence when it strongly recommended the urgent establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

The stark reality is that sudden deaths such as Kugan’s are unnecessary and could in all probability be avoided if there are sufficient controls in place. The prevalence of abuses of power regrettably points to safeguards being inadequate despite the obvious need for them. It could as such be said that Kugan died at the hands of a system that, through studied indifference, has nurtured an environment in which police officers seemingly feel justified in taking the law into their own hands.

The consistent refusal on the part of the Government to establish the IPCMC despite the obvious need for the external, and life saving, control it would allow for is mystifying. As has been stressed for many years, the number of deaths associated with the police force is uncommonly high. Allowing this state of affairs to perpetuate is only going to foster the impression that extra-judicial killings of the kind more commonly associated with banana republics is a defining feature of this nation. Public confidence will not be shored by yet another high profile case in which police officers are accused of murder.

It is sad to note that the Government’s reluctance seems to be prompted more by a desire to appease the police force rather than a rejection of the merits of the IPCMC recommendation. This appears to be motivated by a need on the part of the Barisan Nasional, and in particular UMNO, to enlist the police force to further its political causes, a process which suits the convenience of the police force as long as it serves its interests. This quid pro quo is to an extent reflected in the Government’s willingness to implement measures recommended by the Dzaiddin Commission, including legislative amendments aimed at protecting due process rights of arrested persons, that have not put it on a collision course with those who control the police force.

In this, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the only real opposition to the IPCMC has come from the police force itself. That this opposition is manifestly self-serving, and such of little credibility, is demonstrated by the conclusions of the Dzaiddin Commission that abuses of power were systemic and took place under a shroud of pervasive corruption that engendered a lack of transparency and accountability. It is for primarily this reason that the IPCMC was recommended.

This is not to say that the Government or the police force condones extra-judicial killing or torture. I do not believe that either institution does. The high incidence of such deaths however gives rise to the question of whether such deaths are perceived as sometimes being necessary incidents of the kind of tough policing efforts that the country is said to require.

Viewed from the perspective defined above, the issue at the heart of the Kugan tragedy is really one of control and regulation. There is absolutely no justification for the abuse or killings of any person by the police. If there are those who think that such conduct is justifiable, then they must be shown otherwise and terminated from service.

That the Government and the police forces itself are respectively incapable of curbing abuses of power, and the incidents of such abuses including sudden deaths in custody, is now beyond doubt. It if were so this latest controversy would not have erupted and we would have seen more decisive action taken over the past five years. External control is as such clearly essential to efforts aimed at reforming the police force. The Government is however opposed to external control for reasons that appear to be primarily shaped by its political perspective, It would not be unreasonable to conclude to that end that the Government views itself as not being in any position to reign in the police.

If so, as shocking as it may be, it would seem that the die is cast and until a new Government is formed Malaysians should accept sudden deaths and other forms of abuses as a part of the Malaysian way of life.

I may have overstated the concern. There is after all one question that remains to be answered by the Government, the one that everything really boils down to all things said and done: Has the Government accepted the risk of such abuses reoccurring as the necessary consequence of a political balance it wishes to maintain? The only way it can show that it has not is to establish the IPCMC; it has every justification to do so now.

(Malaysian Insider; 2nd Feb 2009)