Redundant for DPP to represent ministry in Adib inquest, says lawyer

*FMT) – A lawyer says it would be redundant for two government lawyers to appear in the inquest into the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, as put forth following the controversial withdrawal of Syazlin Mansor as the housing and local government ministry’s representative last week.

M Visvanathan told FMT that a deputy public prosecutor (DPP) representing the ministry would not be able to go against the facts of the case, as presented by the conducting officer who is also a DPP.

“The DPP representing the ministry cannot be seen as taking a confrontational approach to the case put forward by the conducting officer, which is based on the police investigation,” he said.

At best, he added, the DPP or lawyer appearing for the ministry would only be able to play an advisory role.

“The DPP or lawyer can be present to take notes, and if need be, put forward questions through the conducting officer.”

Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said last week that Attorney-General (AG) Tommy Thomas had agreed it was in the best interest of both the ministry and the Fire and Rescue Department to be represented by its own DPP in the matter.

She said the new counsel would be independent of the DPP assisting the coroner, who is conducting the inquest.

“It is agreed that the ministry will appoint a senior DPP from a list provided by the AG to represent the ministry and fire department,” she said in a statement.

The new DPP will adopt all evidence and submissions adduced and raised in the Coroner’s Court by Syazlin, including the evidence of Shahrom Abd Wahid, a former forensic doctor who had testified at the inquest.

Visvanathan said problems had arisen because Syazlin had appeared for three parties: the ministry, the fire department and Adib’s family.

“Nobody raised and rectified the problem of potential conflict of interest which Syazlin was in at the outset of the inquest,” he added.

Visvanathan, who has represented families in a number of inquests, referred to the fact that the conducting officer had put forward the findings of doctors from the health ministry while Syazlin advanced an opposing view.

Conflicting testimonies had arisen from Shahrom, a retired pathologist, and Dr Ahmad Hafizam Hasmi of Hospital Kuala Lumpur, the forensic doctor who performed the post-mortem on Adib.

Visvanathan said parties could go up to the Court of Appeal if they were unhappy with the verdict delivered by coroner Rofiah Mohamad.

“Adib’s family could also file a civil suit based on the coroner’s findings,” he added.

Another lawyer, SN Nair, said it was unheard of for the AG to appoint a DPP to represent a ministry when his officer is the conducting officer in the inquest.

“It gives the perception that he does not trust the conducting officer to carry out the task,” he told FMT.

He added that the investigation into Adib’s death had flouted the guidelines laid down in a 2007 court guideline on inquests.

“An inquest is not a trial. There is no accused person, merely a collection of evidence processed by the coroner.

“The police and the AG can only take the next step based on the outcome of the verdict,” he said.

He said any lawyer appearing for interested parties can only hold a watching brief and speak with the court’s permission.

Giving the example of deaths in custody, he said the police do not appoint a lawyer. Instead, he said, they sent a senior police officer to represent them.

“In Adib’s case, a senior officer of the department would be a better representative as he would be able to appreciate the standard operating procedure of the agency,” he added.

Adib was seriously injured early on Nov 27, when he and his team responded to an emergency call at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple where a riot was taking place.

He died on Dec 17.