Inmate's death in custody: Bid for judicial review dismissed

A court bid by the mother of a prison inmate who died in custody to reopen the coroner's inquiry was thrown out on Wednesday.

In the hearing held in chambers, Justice Tay Yong Kwang dismissed her application for a judicial review of the coroner's decision not to proceed with an inquiry, and ruled that $1,000 in costs were to be paid to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).

A review would involve court scrutiny of the public authority's decision-making process.

Madam Selvi Narayanasamy, 45, will be contesting the High Court's decision, said her lawyer M. Ravi on Wednesday.

"She's disappointed and wants to take the matter to the Court of Appeal," Mr Ravi told The Straits Times on Wednesday. "She wants to seek redress at the highest court of the land to seek justice and transparency."

Madam Selvi, who is also represented by Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, has vigorously disputed the official account of the circumstances surrounding the death of her son Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah, 21, on Sept 27, 2010.

Senior prison officer Lim Kwo Yin, 36, pleaded guilty in July to causing his death by negligence, and was fined $10,000.

Following this, the state coroner met with the state counsel and the family's lawyer then, Mr M. Mahendran, and made the decision to discontinue the coroner's inquiry.

During Mr Lim's hearing, the court heard that Dinesh, who was in prison for rioting and theft, died of breathing difficulties when he was placed chest down and left in an isolation cell. He was restrained by eight officers after he become violent.

In August, Madam Selvi penned a four-page letter through her new lawyer to the AGC asking for the inquiry to be resumed in the interest of transparency and justice. In it, Mr Ravi argued the Coroner's Act makes it "obligatory" for inquiries to be held when people die while in official custody.

He also said it was in the public interest, because drawing attention to the circumstances of the death may reduce the likelihood of similar deaths in future.

But the AGC turned down the request, saying there had been "no new matters raised" that warranted further investigations.

A spokesman said the state coroner was exercising his discretion not to resume the inquiry because the cause of and circumstances connected to Dinesh's death had already been placed before the court.

On Sept 11, Madam Selvi launched a separate civil suit against the Government for general and aggravated damages, alleging that Dinesh had died from "intentional assault".

The Government had made an offer of compensation a day earlier based on "established principles of liability", said the Home Affairs Ministry.

A spokesman added that the claim "contains serious allegations that are false and which cast aspersions on the integrity of the prison service, police investigations and the criminal justice system".

No dates have been set yet for this matter.

On Aug 12, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said in Parliament the Government accepted responsibility for Dinesh's death.

waltsim@sph.com.sg