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Suhakam to decide status of witness statements

KUALA LUMPUR, 2 Sept 2009: A Suhakam public inquiry into the detention of five lawyers for illegal assembly by the police will decide on 11 Sept whether Suhakam has the power to compel witnesses to have their statements recorded.

In today’s hearing, police counsel Supt R Munusamy said the power provided to record statements from witnesses under the Human Rights Commission Act 1999 was “vague, ambiguous and uncertain”.

He asked the commission to clarify the uncertainty, before calling other witnesses, so that it can serve as guidance for future public inquiries.

“Based on these situations, it would be undesirable to invoke adverse inference on evidence that would be given by witnesses who refuse to state the fact in their statements or who refuse to authenticate statements recorded from them,” he said.

He also said that such refusals should not be seen as a challenge to the powers of the commission but as guidance for future public inquiries.

Munusamy said in the absence of any power to record statements under the Act, any investigation carried out was just an “interview”.

“An interview does not require authentication and it is done on a voluntary basis. As such, it is respectfully submitted that when the police witnesses in this public hearing stated that they would give their evidence to commissioners in the public inquiry or refuse to authenticate the interview, their refusals were their right and did not  infringe any law or regulation,” he said.

The inquiry, which started on 14 Aug, is chaired by Suhakam commissioner Datuk Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and assisted by commissioners Datuk Dr Michael Yeoh and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria.

Five lawyers – Puspawati Rosman, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Murnie Hidayah Anuar, Ravinder Singh Dhalliwal and Syuhaini Safwan – were arrested at 9.30pm on 7 May after they tried to meet with their clients who had been arrested earlier. They were released the next day.

Counsel M Puravalen, representing the five lawyers, submitted that the commission had the power to receive all evidence, written or oral, and to examine all such persons as witnesses.

Another lawyer who represents the five lawyers, Andrew Khoo Chin Hock, said when there are no definitions in the Act, the witness can choose to give their statements verbally or in writing.

Khoo added that the commission can also appoint an officer to assist in the investigation. — Bernama

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