By Andrew Loh
The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) has turned down a request by the family of Mr Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah to direct the Coroner to reopen an inquest into the death of Dinesh Raman while in police custody.
“[As] your letter has raised no new matters that require further investigations, and as the cause of and circumstances connected with the death of the Deceased have already been placed before the Court in the criminal proceedings, the Public Prosecutor is unable to accede to your request to direct the Coroner to re-open the inquiry,” the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) replied to Mdm Selvi Narayanasamy in a letter on Thursday.
Mdm Selvi, who is the mother of deceased inmate Dinesh, had on 15 August requested the AGC to direct the Coroner to reopen his inquiry into the death of her son.
Dinesh had died on 27 September 2010 while in the custody of the Prison Service. A criminal investigation by the authorities had determined that the cause of his death was “positional asphyxia”. A statement of facts was presented to the court on 19 July 2013 in the proceedings against prison officer, deputy superintendent Lim Kwo Yin, who was charged with “committing a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide that caused the death of Dinesh Raman.”
Lim, who was the only one charged so far with regards to the incident, pleaded guilty and was fined S$10,000.
Subsequently, 4 days later – on 23 July – the Coroner discontinued his inquiry, citing as reason “the conclusion of [the] criminal proceedings,” according to press reports.
Dinesh’s family then lodged an appeal with the AGC to direct the Coroner to reopen a Coroner’s Inquiry to ascertain the cause of death in fact.
“In the case of the unnatural death of Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah,” the family’s letter to the AG said then, “there has been no forensic finding on how, when and where the deceased came by his death, which is the stated purpose of an inquiry into the death, according to Section 27(1)(b) of the Coroner’s Act.”
“We find that Section 25 (1) (a) of the same Chapter 63A makes it obligatory for a Coroner’s Inquiry to be conducted when a death has occurred in official custody.”
The AGC, however, said in his response today that since the Coroner’s Inquiry was discontinued on 23 July this year, “there have been no new matters raised that, in the view of the Public Prosecutor, require further investigations to be carried out, nor a re-opening of the inquiry for that purpose.”
In his reaction to the AGC’s decision to deny the family’s request, lawyer M Ravi, who is representing the family, said, “The AG’s response is shocking to the conscience in view of the demands of natural justice and the plea by the family to open the inquiry. Dinesh’s family was devastated to hear the AG’s decision.
“The Coroner is wrong in law to discontinue his inquiry as there was no finding into the circumstances of Dinesh’s death. There is no information as to how the other 7 officers were involved in Dinesh’s death. In fact, it is the AG who should be calling for a full inquiry in the public’s interest and not Dinesh’s mother having to do so.
“This is a serious human rights violation and this marks a black day for human rights in Singapore.”
On Wednesday, Mdm Selvi lodged an application with the court for a Mandatory Order for the court to compel the Coroner to reopen the inquiry.
In her affidavit, she said, “All that was presented to [the] Court was a short agreed statement of facts which were agreed by the Prosecution and Lim Kwo Yin. There was therefore nothing for the District Judge to make a finding on.”
“The coroner has failed to discharge his duty in law,” M Ravi said, “to continue with the inquiry as there was no finding made in the criminal proceedings into the cause and circumstances of Dinesh’s death.”