Royal Commission may not be satisfactory

The need for interrogation in the criminal justice system cannot outweigh the constitutional right of a person to legal representation of his choice. What more if that person were a mere witness and not a suspect.


Teoh Beng Hock's unborn child will turn 10 when the year 2020 arrives. By that time he will probably be asking questions about his father's untimely death.

The exact story that the child will be told is currently unclear except for the fact that on one fateful evening, his father walked into the house of an enforcement agency to be questioned about RM2,400 but unfortunately never walked out alive.

The child deserves more than that. The child deserves answers not only regarding the truth about how his father died but also about how it was allowed to happen.

It is the Government's duty to provide the child with the answers but the Royal Commission of Inquiry's terms of reference is procedure driven and thus the question as to how Teoh died may never be satisfactorily answered. The effectiveness of the coroner's inquest on the other hand is limited by the quality of the police investigations.

Sadly, the answer to the latter question about how it was allowed to happen will most likely be a damning indictment of Malaysia's civilisation in the early 21st century.

Walter V. Schaefer, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois said that "the quality of a nation's civilization can be largely measured by the methods it uses in the enforcement of its criminal law."

Well, going by Justice Shaefer's measurement, it would seem that the quality of Malaysia's civilization as it stands leaves much to be desired.

The questioning of a suspect by enforcement agencies for more than eight hours is torture by anyone's standards. Some of us cannot even sit through a two hour meeting at the office without feeling exhausted and worn out.

Teoh Beng Hock was reportedly questioned by the MACC for 10 hours and 45 minutes. And he was not even a suspect.

Kajang councillor Tan Boon Wah says in his sworn affidavit that was taken by MACC from his Cheras home on July 15 at 8.45 p.m. and released at 1.35 p.m. the following day.

The power of the MACC to order a person to attend before it for purposes of being examined orally is limited to a "day to day" examination and not a continuous day to night and then to day again examination.

Further, Article 5 of the Federal Constitution and Section 28A (4) of the Criminal Procedure Code guarantees a detained person's right of access to a lawyer.

Teoh's lawyer M. Manoharan, who reportedly went to the MACC office after receiving a call from Teoh, said that he was denied permission by MACC to accompany his client during questioning.

How can the MACC expect ordinary citizens to follow the law when they apparently failed to do so?

The need for interrogation in the criminal justice system cannot outweigh the constitutional right of a person to legal representation of his choice. What more if that person were a mere witness and not a suspect.

The serious ramifications of a situation where agencies of the Government fail to adhere to the rule of law was fittingly put by Mr. Justice Brandeis in the case of Olmstead v. United States where he observed that "Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously."

Mr. Justice Brandeis continues by saying "Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means.. would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this Court should resolutely set its face."

The Government and its agencies must therefore step up and lead by example. Crime is evil. Evil will be punished. The punishment will be dished out swiftly without regard for colour or position in society. This is what must happen but unfortunately it is not always the case.

Early this year in Subang Jaya, which is not too far away from Shah Alam where Teoh died, a 22-year-old insurance claims executive named A. Kugan was arrested by the police. He died 6 days later while still in police custody.

Photographs and videos of his bruised and battered body then flooded the internet to huge public outcry.

Unfortunately, the methods of enforcement of criminal law against Kugan's murders seem to be non-existent as to date, no one has been arrested despite the Attorney-General classifying the case as murder.

How then can we speak about the quality of our nation's civilisation in positive terms?

Some may say that these cases bear elements of race and politics. But no one can deny that the sanctity of life and personal liberty of all Malaysians is at the heart of the issue.

Anyway, if someone dies in your house and you were there, you become the one of the prime suspects. It should be no different if the house belongs to an agency of Government.