By Rama Ramanathan 

One of my readers asked: “If Ganapathy had died in London, in like manner as in KL, who would investigate his death?”

First, let’s be clear about “in like manner.” Ganapathy did not die in police custody. He died soon after contact with the police.

It’s been alleged that the police released him from custody because they didn’t want to be responsible for a man who had become seriously ill while he was in their custody. The allegation is very believable, because in 2005, the Police Commission said pretty much the same thing.

We know from a police statement that the police did not classify Ganapathy’s death in any of the categories which would mandate a report to a Malaysian coroner, let alone an inquest.

So, according to officialdom, Ganapathy died while receiving treatment in a hospital. And, thanks to the police report made by his family and media coverage, we know he died soon after contact with the police. For my purpose here, those are the circumstances under which he died.

So, let’s suppose he had died “in like manner” in London. Would his death have been reported to the coroner? Who would have gathered evidence such as police logbooks, video recordings and witness statements? The police? The coroner? An independent institution with police powers?

The reader asked me because in 2019 I wrote about the IOPC, the Independent Office of Police Conduct, in the UK. Also because Parliament’s Bills Committee, which reviewed the (now axed) 2019 IPCMC Bill, considered the IOPC a benchmark agency.

The IOPC is a police service which polices the police. Many IOPC investigators are former police officers. They have powers, resources, and facilities at least equal to Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

In the UK, a strict, statutory rule applies in all matters of Death or Serious Injury (DSI) involving the police. DSI includes deaths and injuries in custody, in traffic accidents and shootings involving police, soon after contact with police, and more.

All DSI matters must be investigated by the IOPC. The responsibility of the police is limited to preserving evidence, notifying the IOPC and complying with any instructions issued by IOPC officers.

Note: I’m using the definition of “DSI matter” in the IOPC document “Statutory guidance to the police force on achieving best evidence in death and serious injury matters.” (link) I’ve not repeated the definition here because it’s got too many long sentences (smile).

Now, I’ll try to answer the questions.

If a doctor had issued a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, Ganapathy’s death would not have been reported to the local coroner. (Only a third of all deaths are reported to UK coroners.)

If a doctor had claimed Ganapathy had sustained any serious injury as stated above, the police would have referred the case to the IOPC. But, since someone reported suspicion that the police contributed to his death, the police would have been expected to refer the case to the IOPC.

The deaths of Sivabalan and of Umar Faruq would have been reported to local coroners. And, since they died in police custody, the police would have referred their cases to the IOPC.

A side note: the IOPC may choose to conduct an independent investigation, or to manage an investigation conducted by the police.

Moving on, if they died in like manner in London, would there be coroner’s inquests? To answer, I rely on the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009 (link).

For Ganapathy, the answer is “only if the coroner has reason to suspect that he died a violent or unnatural death, or if the cause of death is unknown.” It seems the coroner has discretion to decide.

For Sivabalan and Umar, the answer is “because they died in custody, the coroner must hold inquests, each with a jury of 7-11 persons.”

I’ll end by noting what INQUEST, UK’s leading watchdog NGO on coronial inquests, has written about the IOPC’s involvement:

“Once the [IOPC] investigation has taken place, the IOPC will state whether they believe there has been a breach of the Police Code of Conduct and whether to recommend any disciplinary action against any of the officers involved. If the police force concerned does not agree, the IOPC has the power to enforce their recommendations. A decision may be made before the inquest, or it may happen afterwards.” (link)

I think it’s time to establish a real IPCMC, Independent Police Complaints and Conduct Commission. Not the vapid version proposed by the Pakatan Harapan government, but a real one like the IOPC. What do you think?