By Edmund Bon

Many have asked why civil society is objecting to the “cause of death” question being carved out of the Royal Commission of Enquiry (RCE)’s terms to be left to a Magistrate in an Inquiry of Death (IOD) held under Chapter XXXII of the Criminal Procedure Code. Here’s why.


The context first. My learned friend, Fahri Azzat, has argued in customary fashion that a RCE would bear no fruit. That’s pessimism at peak. But Fahri should not be faulted for taking this position.

However, what is the alternative? Our law enforcement and investigation agencies have so thoroughly been smeared that each time a serious incident occurs e.g. custodial death, there is no place for the rakyat to seek refuge and no institution the rakyat trusts to give refuge. The RCE must always be the last resort, but is now the first, popular port of call. RCE proceedings, which ought to be extraordinary, is now normative in our society. Why so?

Because, we have reached a point where there is little, if any, public faith in our public services and the institutions established to protect us. Hoping beyond hope that independent-minded Commissioners will be appointed to the RCE, calls are made across the board for a fairer shot at “real” justice through a RCE. The nude-squat and VK Lingam video clip enquiries are good examples.


Having said that, once a RCE is established, it cannot operate in a vacuum. Should one consider the previous Commissions cited by my learned friend, Lam Wai Loon, one would note that the Commissions were established to conduct comprehensive investigations into cases of tragedies (e.g. collapse of a ferry terminal, and fires at a factory and school), incidents of physical abuse (e.g. black-eye incident involving DSAI, and nude-squat incident involving a police detainee) and allegations of judicial corruption (e.g. VK Lingam video clip). None of these Commissions proceeded devoid of any factual matter, nor without seeking an outcome as to the causes of the tragedies, abuse and corruption. It was in any event impossible to so proceed.

The establishment of this RCE was precipitated by Teoh’s interrogation and subsequent death. How was the interrogation carried out, how did the death occur, and why, are questions the RCE cannot run away from. It is utterly impracticable to sieve investigation/interrogation methods from Teoh’s death. To exclude the cause of death from the scope of the RCE’s work is to give the RCE an impossible assignment. And it would be the first time a RCE is asked to operate in this manner.


Imagine the RCE hearing. Those who interrogated and monitored Teoh, and had contact with him will be called to give evidence.

Imagine the IOD hearing. The same witnesses will surely be called to give evidence to establish his movements and what occurred on that fateful day.

Parallel proceedings will be in session – the RCE and the IOD. Same witnesses, and same testimonies (hopefully) to establish the fact pattern. It will be repetitive and duplicitous. Cost, time, expenses, resources will double. Do we really need this when the RCE may deal with issues which will be before the IOD? And what happens when there are legal issues or facts which overlap, and the findings of the RCE and the IOD conflict? Which holds sway?


It would be a terrible waste to have the RCE only look into MACC’s investigation/interrogation procedures, and leave the burning question of the cause of death to the IOD. Why?

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