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Syazlin must be reinstated as counsel in Adib inquest immediately

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process is concerned with the current turn of events pertaining to the inquest of into the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim.

It has been reported that independent counsel Syazlin Mansor who was appointed by the Housing and Local Government Ministry to represent the fire and rescue department has announced her withdrawal from the inquest allegedly of her own accord, but seemingly due to pressure exerted upon her from various quarters.

We believe the circumstances leading to her withdrawal from the case to be fraught with anomalies, giving rise to reasonable suspicion that the inquest is being tampered with. This is especially so in light of testimony by forensic specialist Prof Dr Shahrom Abdul Wahid who was called by the said counsel.

Evidence tendered by him at the inquest had contradicted the position taken by Attorney-General (A-G) Tommy Thomas that the late fireman’s death was not by assault and battery leading to murder, but a mere accident, as contained within an affidavit sworn by a representative of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (A-GC) when the same opposed the application to intervene by the Seafield temple committee made a few months ago.

We have had opportunity to peruse statements issued by Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin and that of the attorney-general in respect of this affair and verily believe their justifications in respect of Syazlin’s role in the inquest to be superficial and unsatisfactory.

The question of whether it is right and proper that Syazlin should have been appointed in a capacity representing the ministry should have been addressed at the beginning of the appointment.

The appointment was made by the ministry itself, and not by Syazlin or her husband, which was cited as a reason why Syazlin is in a position of conflict of interest over the said appointment.

We are mindful that is not unknown practice for government departments and ministries to engage counsel independent of the A-GC in handling legal matters, including representing them at inquests, and there is no need for a fiat issued under the Government Proceedings Act 1956 for this as the said department would be represented in a private and not public capacity.

This was indeed done in respect of the late Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed who was a Customs officer found dead within the premises of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 is a statutory body. MACC is on record appointing Shafee Abdullah as their independent counsel for that matter.

The instruction by the A-G with respect to Syazlin’s withdrawal threatens to derail the whole process, casting asunder the noble goal of attaining justice for the late Adib and torpedoing any attempt at clarifying the whole Seafield temple fracas for the interest of the public.

This observation is further solidified by the position taken by the A-G, the government forensic expert Dr Ahmad Hafizam Hasmi and by extension, the government as a whole, that the late Adib’s death was not murder, but a mere accident.

There is also the A-G’s grave and partisan assertion, made in his statement that Syazlin’s active partaking in the inquest contradicts the position taken by the various DPPs assigned by the A-GC in respect of the case. It is abundantly clear to all within the legal profession that is not the duty nor responsibility of independent counsel to take instructions or directions of any manner by the attorney-general as this would threaten their independence and negate their responsibilities towards their client, as well as prejudice their duties as officers of the court.

Syazlin must be allowed to perform her role freely and without interference by the state, as required by the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Principle 16, of which requires that the government ensure that lawyers are free to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference, as well as being free from suffering the consequences of or being threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.

We thus call upon the attorney-general to rescind immediately his instruction to the housing and local government ministry in discharging Syazlin as independent counsel and make appropriate restitutions by ensuring her immediate reinstatement thereto and give her due guarantees in respect of her safety and security.

It is also manifestly clear that by instructing Syazlin’s withdrawal, the A-G has been interfering with the process of the inquest, a power not conferred by him by any provision of law.

We have perused the statement of the Malaysian Bar made on June 1 in respect of this matter and note with deep regret and concern that the Bar has, despite acknowledging the inquisitorial nature of an inquest, chosen to side with the attorney-general and has made a poor attempt at justifying his instruction to dismiss Syazlin from her capacity representing the ministry at the inquest.

This indefensible partisan act and favouritism on the part of the Malaysian Bar runs afoul of its statutory duty to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour pursuant to section 42(1)(a) of the Legal Profession Act 1946 and calls into question the commitment of the Bar to its role as an independent check upon arbitrary exercise of power by the authorities.

The position of conflict between the role of the A-G as counsel to the government and his prosecutorial duties that come with the office of public prosecutor must quickly be resolved, and these events have shown that indeed, we believe that the attorney-general once again finds himself in a position of conflict of interest with respect to these two fundamentally irreconcilable roles.

We call upon the Malaysian Bar to reaffirm the need for the two offices to be separated and ensure that independent, reputable persons with no conflict of interest be appointed thereto so that rule of law may be upheld.


Azril Mohd Amin, Chief Executive, CENTHRA and Chairperson, MACSA or the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process.

Associate Professor Dr. Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, President of The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) and Co-Chairperson, MACSA.

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process (MACSA) is a coalition of civil society organisations with the specific aim and object to look into, as well as advocate, human rights issues in Malaysia for the UPR Process.

*Published in New Straits Times and MalaysiaKini

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