Saturday 27 July 2013

AGC clarifies why no Coroner's Inquiry was held for prison inmate's death

By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2013

THERE was no coroner's inquiry into the death of prison inmate Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah because criminal proceedings had already shown how he died, the Government's main legal adviser said yesterday.

The 21-year-old suffered breathing difficulties after being placed chest down on the ground in an isolation cell.

Senior prison officer Lim Kwo Yin, 36, was later fined $10,000 for causing death by negligence. The coroner's inquiry was then discontinued - prompting questions online and in media reports about why this happened.

Yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) released a statement saying that some of the commentators "appeared to have misunderstood" how the process works.

It said the coroner is required to hold an inquiry into any death that occurs in official custody.

But if criminal proceedings have already shown the cause of death and circumstances surrounding it, he can bring the inquiry to an end.

"The coroner has a discretion to discontinue the proceedings before him if he determines that there is no longer a need for an inquiry to take place to determine the cause of and circumstances connected with the death," it said.

Dinesh died on Sept 27, 2010, while being restrained after he carried out an unprovoked attack on an officer at Changi Prison.

The inquiry was discontinued after his family's lawyer and officers from the AGC met State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid in his chambers on Tuesday.

This led to questions in the media over why the proceedings were halted, with one commentator describing the way the case unfolded as "quite uncommon".

Yesterday, however, the AGC said it is not unusual for inquiries to be adjourned or discontinued when someone is prosecuted over the death - although the prosecution has no powers to compel the coroner to do this.

It added that the coroner will then consider the findings of the criminal proceedings, and decide if an inquiry is still needed.

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