Lawyer Tells Pathologists Not to Get Defensive, Just be Honest over Controversial Deaths

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A senior criminal lawyer has taken pathologists to task over their defensive behaviour, especially in police investigations and inquests into controversial deaths.

  • Pathologists not doing a neutral job
  • Cover-up for the cops despite post-mortems indicate police abuse
  • Incompetency as in the case of Dutch model Ivana Smit

SN Nair, a former counsel to PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim, said for the most part, pathologists appeared constantly on the defence especially since the Teoh Beng Hock case in 2011.

Manan Vatsyayana/Getty Images

“I find this rather troubling,” he added. “They’re supposed to be doing a neutral job.

“I think there’s no need to be so defensive unless you want to perfect your trade and be the best in your field. But that’s not the way that pathologists, government pathologists in particular, should behave.

“It just leads to suspicion. Why delay providing the autopsy report to the family of the deceased? Why are you playing hardball? Are you hiding your own incompetency?”

Teoh, a former political aide, was found on the rooftop of a building adjacent to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office in Shah Alam where he had been taken for questioning over allegedly fraudulent disbursements of constituency allocations.

The three pathologists who testified in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into his death said the former journalist died of multiple injuries as a result of falling from a high place.

The inquiry ruled that Teoh had committed suicide, but this was quashed in a 2014 Court of Appeal decision which set aside the coroner’s open verdict in the 2011 inquest.

Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen recently claimed that pathologists in the past had sought to “cover up” for the police despite subsequent post-mortems indicating police abuse.

Paulsen, who is legal director of rights group Fortify Rights, cited four cases of death in custody and urged the health minister to intervene.

“Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad must put a stop to this. Speak to pathologists and get to the bottom of why, in previous cases, the pathologists were compelled to side with the police,” he said.

When asked if he agreed with Paulsen’s view, Nair, a former police officer, said it “certainly seems that way”.

“They’re constantly wavering about this,” he told FMT. “If you’re being cornered, what’s wrong with just presenting what you found?

“Just stick to being accurate and objective, and you should be fine. Never take sides,” he said, adding that it was the duty of the courts to judge the pathologists’ work, not the police.

In some cases, Nair said, the incompetency of the pathologists was to blame as many of them needed more experience.

He gave the example of the pathologist in the case of Dutch model Ivana Smit, whose family he is representing in the inquest into her death.

He said the pathologist who had conducted Smit’s post-mortem was “not ready”.

“Before I could really get into things during my examination of her, she wound up and said she wanted to withdraw her testimony,” he told FMT in between the inquest proceedings.

“This is a clear indication that she was not convinced about her report, and perhaps also of her inexperience and incompetence. The system certainly deserves better.”

He commended her for having the courage to retract her statements but added that this was “not the standard we want from our pathologists”.

He urged government pathologists to adhere to international standards, saying DNA labs in the country had improved significantly in recent years because of this.

He added that pathology itself was a “science of uncertainty” and that it was easy for pathologists to err in their conclusions on post-mortems.

However, there was nothing wrong with this, he said.

“There’s no reason to get defensive. Just be honest about things.” – FMT