By Rama Ramanathan

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--For an outline of the case of Anna Jenkins, whose death the Penang coroner is currently investigating, please refer to my previous post.

In that post, I pointed out six differences between the death inquiry (coronial) process in Queensland and in Malaysia. To keep it short, I limited my remarks to the case of Monique Clubb (Queensland), which is “somewhat similar” to that of Anna Jenkins (Penang).

The differences I pointed out were (1) There’s a coroner’s website in Queensland vs. none in Malaysia; (2) Seven full-time coroners in Queensland vs. one part-timer in Penang; (3) the police as a “party” to the inquest in Queensland vs. Attorney General’s Chambers as “conducting officer” in Malaysia; (4) state-funded representation for indigenous Monique’s family; (5) Queensland coroner’s duty to provide recommendations vs. “recommendations as out of scope,” in Malaysia (6) better retention of CCTV evidence in Queensland.

In this post, I’ll point out six other differences between Queensland and Malaysia.

FIRST, In Malaysia, coroners use cold labels such as “the deceased” or “witness number X,” e.g., “according to witness I4, …” In Australia, they use warm names, e.g., “according to Ms McBride.”

SECOND, in Malaysia, inquest reports refer to precedents, cases in which judges have interpreted the law. In Australia – at least in the reports I’ve read to date – precedents are not mentioned.

THIRD, in Malaysian inquest reports, it’s often difficult to discern what “checklist” a coroner expected the police to use in their investigation. In Australian reports, it’s easy to discern what a coroner expected.

FOURTH, in Malaysia, the testimony of police officers is often weak. Answers such as “I can’t remember” and “not within my knowledge” are common. In Australia, police participation seems more professional.

FIFTH, in Malaysia, witnesses often include officers with high ranks such as Inspectors and Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP). In Queensland, in the Monique case, the highest rank was Senior Sergeant. The Malaysian police have 17 ranks; Queensland’s police have 11 ranks.

SIXTH, the Australian coronial process shows more sympathy for the deceased and the family. I’ll use three excerpts from a 2020 inquest report by coroner Derek Lee in New South Wales to explain why I say so.

This excerpt shows that the coronial process empathizes with the family over the loss of a loved one and the exposure of details about him or her.

The sense of loss experienced by family members does not diminish significantly over time. Therefore, it should be acknowledged that both the coronial process and an inquest by their very nature unfortunately compel a family to relive distressing memories and to do so in a public forum.

This excerpt shows the coronial process values the entire life and potential of the departed (the report includes a recap of his life).

Inquests into the deaths of persons, even those persons who are missing and suspected of being deceased, by their very nature only tend to focus on the last moments of a person’s life, or the last moments when they were seen alive. These moments are sometimes measured in weeks or months, but more often they are measured in hours and days. 

As a consequence, often there is very little known about the (usually) years of life that preceded these final moments. Therefore, it is appropriate at this stage to recognise Paul’s life in a brief, but hopefully meaningful, way.

I’ve not seen such remarks in Malaysian coroner’s reports, though I’ve heard coroners urge mindfulness of the presence of family members.

There is much else which is different in Australia compared to Malaysia. For instance, there’s a whole coronial infrastructure which includes media persons and counsellors. And, a lot more cases must be referred to coroners in Australia than in Malaysia. That’s too much for this post.

This excerpt shows how aware Australian coroners are of a mismatch in expectations between the family and the coronial process.

On behalf of the Coroner’s Court … I extend my sincere and respectful condolences to Paul’s family ... In any missing person investigation, it is too simplistic to speak of an inquest perhaps providing closure to the loved ones of a missing person. 
It is acknowledged, with some considerable distress, that the questions which an inquest seeks, and is sometimes able, to answer rarely overlaps with the many questions held by loved ones of a missing person. 
However, it is hoped that the coronial process has been of assistance in some small way to Peter, and those closest to Paul.

I’ve not seen similar sentences in Malaysian coroner’s reports.

In Malaysia the law on coroners’ inquests has not changed appreciably since 1935 and remains embedded in the Criminal Procedure Code. Most other countries have introduced Coroner’s Acts.

I think Malaysia’s coronial process is primitive. Do you agree?
*Rama Ramanathan is spokesperson for Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED) and an independent writer.*