AGC turns down dead inmate’s family’s request to re-open coroner’s inquiry

[UPDATE 22 August 8:30pm: Added details on the Attorney-General’s Chambers turning down the request from the dead inmate’s family to reopen the coroner’s inquiry]

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has turned down the request from dead inmate Dinesh Raman s/o Chinnaiah’s family to direct the coroner to complete the coroner’s inquiry into his death.

In a statement issued on Thursday, AGC said, “Since the inquiry was discontinued, 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.”

It added that the cause of and circumstances connected with the death of Dinesh have already been placed before the court in the criminal proceedings, thus the public prosecutor is unable to accede to the family’s request.

On 15 August, the family of Dinesh, who died in Changi Prison on 27 September 2010, requested the AGC to direct the coroner to complete the coroner’s inquiry into Dinesh’s death.

Dinesh, who was 21-years old in 2010, was determined to have died from “positional asphyxiation”, according to a statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on 19 July 2013. The MHA said “the deceased was being placed in a prone position on the ground where he died due to breathing difficulties”.

Deputy Superintendent Lim Kwo Yin was charged for and pleaded guilty on 19 July 2013 to committing “a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide that caused the death of Dinesh Raman”.

Lim was fined S$10,000.

Following this, on 24 July, the Coroner decided to stop his inquiry into Dinesh’s death. This was after the family’s lawyer and officers from the AGC had met State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid in his chambers on 23 July.

An AGC spokesman told the media, “In view of the conclusion of criminal proceedings, the inquiry has been discontinued.”

In Parliament on 12 August, Second Minister for Home Affairs, S Iswaran, told the House that “MHA has initiated disciplinary action against the superintendent, supervisors and other officers involved in the incident.”

The minister disclosed that the “AGC has informed the family and its lawyer in writing that the Government accepts liability and will compensate the family”.

The investigation “took 28 months from the commencement of police investigations to the Attorney-General’s decision to prosecute”, the minister told the House. “This was due to the complexity of the case,” he said.

Dinesh’s family, however, is still unclear about how Dinesh had actually died and is asking for the coroner’s inquiry to be re-opened.

In a letter to the AGC on Thursday, the family’s newly-appointed lawyer, M Ravi, cited Section 25(3)(c) of the Coroner’s Act, which says that the Coroner “may have regard of the desire of any member of the immediate family of the deceased that an inquiry should be conducted”.

[Read the statute here]

“In this case, our clients, the parents and sister of Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah, have instructed us that they are asking the Coroner conduct an inquiry into their loved one’s unnatural death,” Ravi said.

“The family members are certain,” Ravi said in his letter to the AGC, “that they [Dinesh’s family] have never given any instruction that it was their wish to terminate the Coroner’s Inquiry.”

In its media statement on 25 July, the AGC had said, “The Prosecution does not have powers under the law to compel the Coroner to adjourn or discontinue an inquiry.”

“However,” Ravi wrote, “in accordance with Section 26 of the Coroner’s Act, the Public Prosecutor may, in any case where a Coroner has jurisdiction and the Public Prosecutor is satisfied that an inquiry is necessary or desirable, require the Coroner to hold an inquiry into the death of any person.”

Further, Ravi said, “In the case of the unnatural death of Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah, 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.”

He added, “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.”

There have been questions raised about Dinesh’s death by members of the public since the matter came to light.

When Dinesh’s body was returned to the family in September 2010, the family noticed what appeared to be bruises and blood clots on various parts of his body – including on Dinesh’s right hip, right collar bone area, left collar bone area, left cheek, left eye, left shoulder, right cheek, left knee, left hip/crotch area, right arm, right wrist, back of left shoulder, top of his left shoulder and his left chin.

It is, however, unclear how these apparent injuries were sustained. According to news reports, there was a “fierce struggle” which lasted for “30 minutes” when Dinesh was being restrained by “eight prison officers” prior to his death. (Straits Times)

Ravi told Yahoo Singapore, “Given the gravity of the matter, it is only in the interests of transparency and justice that a public and independent inquiry into the death of Dinesh be allowed to run its full course. The family of the deceased deserves nothing less.”