A consideration of Syarizan Sudirman & Ors v Abdul Rahman Bukit & Anor  3 CLJ 877 and the extent of a policeman’s duty of care towards a suspect.
At about 9.15p.m. on 9 September 1999, Syarizan bin Sudirman, 15 years old, was doing what kids his age in the rural areas usually do – joy riding a motorcycle. With him that evening was Zuraidah binti Umar who rode pillion. The motorcycle was owned by Sani bin Ahmad who lent it to him. Naturally, when Syarizan on the way to Teluk Nipah saw a police road block, he made a u-turn and headed towards Pangkor town because he was not wearing a crash helmet and did not have a license to ride a motorcycle.
This is understandable because he could have been charged under section 26(2) of the Road Transport Act 1987 (RTA) for not having a valid license which attracted a maximum penalty of RM1,000.00 fine and/or 3 months imprisonment. He could also be charged under section 39(1) RTA which provides no person under 16 years may operate any motor vehicle. Penalty for this is RM2,000.00 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment. There is also the offence of not wearing a motorcycle helmet which is punishable with a fine.
When Abdul Rahman Bukit saw this, he jumped on to his motorcycle and gave chase to Syarizan. When he was next to Syarizan, Abdul Rahman kicked twice at his motorcycle, the first time he hit Zuraidah’s thigh but the second kick to the right read of the motorcycle sent them sprawling to the ground causing them serious injuries and loss.
As a result of this, Syarizan is now a paraplegic and will be wheelchair dependant all his life.
Abdul Rahman, denied those version of events claiming that Syarizan lost control of his own because he was riding too fast. He claimed that any fault was caused by Syarizan himself.
However, his own witness, Chief Inspector M.D. Amirthalingam, the investigating officer into the incident testified that there was sufficient evidence to frame a criminal charge against Abdul Rahman pursuant to section 338 of the Penal Code, i.e. causing grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others. It is punishable with 2 years imprisonment and/or fine of RM2,000.00.
VT Singham J therefore rejected Abdul Rahman’s testimony and accepted the Plaintiffs’ version of events. This certainly has an effect on Abdul Rahman’s credibility because he told a different version of events, which was untrue. I would certainly be surprised if he still remained on the force. After all, the Royal Malaysian Police website says “Integriti Amalan Kita” (i.e. Integrity is our Practise). Where is this integrity in Abdul Rahman’s testimony or attitude?
This case is an excellent illustration of the excessive use of force by the police in apprehending suspects on a more regular and discreet basis. Where is police’s integrity in apprehending suspects? Was it in chasing Syarizan down and kicking his bike for an offence that would only result in a maximum of 6 months imprisonment and a RM2,000.00 fine?
Why couldn’t Abdul Rahman just jot down the plate number and then issue the summons to the owner and have him disclose who was riding the motorcycle at the material time? What is obvious from these facts are that Abdul Rahman behaved maliciously and violently?
The judge’s ruling is worth setting out more fully:
A policeman in pursuit does owe a duty of care to the suspect he is pursuing. The stanard of care on such a policeman and in such situations “is to exercise such care and skill as is reasonable in all the circumstances.” The act of the first defendant in kicking the first plaintiff’s m/cycle who was riding at a fast speed and even though he was attempting to escape police detention for a traffic offence in the considered view of this court was most unjustified and unlawful. … It would be an affront to justice to condone such high handed manner as committed by the first defendant for a mere breach of traffic regulations … which had caused the first plaintiff, a minor at the time to be a wheel chair dependant for the rest of his life and suffer loss of amenities, and experience and such unbearable discomfort.
This is a correct and good decision because the force used to arrest a suspect must always be reasonable not only in light of the prevailing circumstances but the offence itself. Do you really have to pull out a gun or resort to violence for a failure to renew your road tax license?
An operational issue that arises is: Isn’t there a standard operating procedure by the police in terms of how suspects are to be apprehended where traffic offences are concerned? And why was only Abdul Rahman sent to apprehend them when there were 5 more police officers available?
It is laudable therefore that despite finding that Syarizan was contributorily negligent (by being unlicensed and not having a helmet), his Lordship went ahead and awarded exemplary damages against the first Defendant in addition to compensatory damages to show that “the first defendant cannot do that sort of act with impunity and it was out of all proportion to the circumstances of the case.”
Syarizan was finally awarded approximately RM536,796.07 for damages, compensation, and the cost of his medical care. Zuraidah was awarded RM4,250.00 as damages. But is there justice here?
This is one of those cases where everybody loses despite one party winning – we may have one policeman less, another stain on the Royal Malaysian Police Force, a young man is paralysed for life, the damages awarded to him would not take him very far even with prudent investment. So much time, effort, and expense is wasted for the criminal trial and also for the civil trial.
But this is what happens when you have mediocrity in government – everybody loses, including the government.