Police can’t take law into their own hands
SHAH ALAM: Police cannot take the law into their own hands and question children without parental consent. They too have to observe a duty, although implied, to inform the parents if they want to quiz a child.
The police should understand that a child of tender years will not be able to understand or discern the questions posed, which may turn out to be incriminating.
So the question arises: can the police haul up a child and grill him or her in the absence of the parents?
The Bar Council does not think the police can do that, with its president Christopher Leong (pix, below) saying:
"There is an implied obligation or duty on the police to inform the parent or guardian of a child and obtain their presence when questioning a child."
This, he explained, is implied in Section 111 of the Criminal Procedure Code which provides that a person being questioned by the police has the right to refuse to answer incriminating questions.
Section 111(4) also requires the police to inform that person of the right to refuse to answer incriminating questions.
A child, said Leong, enjoys at the minimum the same rights as any adult person.
However, he argued that it should be obvious to any normal adult that a person of tender years would not readily understand his/her right or discern which questions may be incriminating to answer.
"Given this, it is clear that the police have a duty to inform the parent or guardian of the child and to have them present when intending to question or interview a child," he told theantdaily.
The presence of parents or guardians, he contends, is necessary to give effect to the substance and intent of Section 111.
"The police are obliged to satisfy themselves that the child understands this right. This statutory duty imposed on the police under Section 111(4) is not a mere mechanical exercise," said Leong.
He posed some pertinent questions:
• Did the police tell the children of their rights and satisfied themselves that the children understood their rights?
• If so, how did the police explain the rights to the children, and how did the police satisfy themselves that the children understood?
• Are police officers who questioned or interviewed children trained to deal with them so as not to traumatise them?
• What is the necessity of questioning or interviewing the children without the presence of their parents or guardians?
However, Leong admits that implied duties aside, there are no express or specific legal provisions obligating police to inform the child's parents or obtain the permission of the parents to question the child.
He was asked to comment on Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar's statement on Sept 5 that no law bars his officers from questioning children without the presence of their parents.
Khalid was referring to police officers who had quizzed pupils of SK Seri Pristana, Sungai Buloh, without the consent or presence of their parents last week.
"Why can't we [question without the parents' presence]? There's nothing in the law that says we need to get their consent... who said we can't question children?" Khalid asked.
The school made headlines a month ago when a parent took and uploaded photographs of children taking their meals in the school’s shower room during the fasting month.