Mother of dead inmate seeks court order to compel coroner to re-open inquiry

Mother seeks court order to compel coroner to open inquiry into son’s death (Photo courtesy of Dinesh's sister)
Mother seeks court order to compel coroner to open inquiry into son’s death (Photo courtesy of Dinesh's sister)

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The mother of Dinesh Raman s/o Chinnaiah has filed an affidavit in the High Court to seek a Mandatory Order to compel the Coroner to re-open and continue his inquiry into Dinesh’s death while in police custody.

This follows her earlier letter on 15 August to the Attorney General requesting the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) to direct the coroner to complete the Coroner’s Inquiry into Dinesh’s death. (See here)

Dinesh Raman died in Changi Prison on 27 September 2010.

A Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) statement on 19 July 2013 following the conclusion of an investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department - almost 3 years after the incident - said “the deceased was being placed in a prone position on the ground where he died due to breathing difficulties.”

A investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department into the death found deputy superintendent, Lim Kwo Yin, guilty of committing “a negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide” which led to the death of Dinesh Raman.

A statement of facts was presented to the court at Lim’s hearing on 19 July, whereby Lim pleaded guilty and was fined S$10,000.

The cause of Dinesh Raman’s death was declared to be “positional asphyxia”.

Following the findings of the criminal inquiry, and the guilty plea of Lim and the fine imposed on him, the Coroner exercised his discretion and discontinued his inquiry on 24 July 2013.

The Attorney General, in his statement on 25 July, said, “This discretion conferred on the Coroner by section 39 of the Coroners Act ensures that while all unnatural deaths are investigated and looked into, there is no multiplicity of proceedings that would be a drain on the state’s resources.”

However, Dinesh Raman’s mother, Selvi Narayanasamy, is contesting the Coroner’s exercise of his discretion in this instance. Under Section 39 of the Coroner’s Act, her Originating Summons say, “the Coroner has to continue with an inquiry unless a finding has been made by a trial judge as to the cause of death and [the] circumstances of a deceased who died in lawful custody.”

Mdm Selvi disagrees that there was any finding made by the District Judge in Lim’s court proceedings as to the cause of and the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.

“All that was presented to [the] Court was a short agreed statement of facts which were agreed by the Prosecution and Lim Kwo Yin,” Mdm Selvi’s affidavit says. “There was therefore nothing for the District Judge to make a finding on.”

She explained that “the case would have been completely different” had Lim Kwo Yin contested the charge.

“In such an event, full evidence would have had to be called by the Prosecution and the Defence,” said Mdm Selvi, who is being represented by lawyer M Ravi. “The full facts and circumstances of my son’s death and his cause of death would have been ventilated and tested, after which, the District Judge would have had to make a finding on the cause of and circumstance of my son’s death.”

She says that since there was no such hearing in the courts, Section 39 of the Coroners Act does not apply and the Coroner has no discretion to discontinue the inquiry.

“In fact, as the death occurred in legal custody, it is mandatory for the coroner to proceed with the inquiry to determine the cause of and the circumstances [of] my son’s death.”

In a media statement, M Ravi said, "The coroner has failed to discharge his duty in law law to continue with the inquiry as there was no finding made in the criminal proceedings into the cause and circumstances of Dinesh's death."

He said in his earlier letter to the AGC on 15 August, “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.”

He also 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.”

The AGC has not responded to the family’s request for him, with the power vested in him under the law, to direct the Coroner to re-open the inquiry into Dinesh Raman’s death.

The family now hopes the court will order the Coroner to re-open the inquiry.

Read also: “Family of dead inmate asks AGC to direct coroner to re-open inquiry into death”.