Are Police Reports a Public Document That Can Be Circulated?

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Have you ever lodged a police report in your life? A police report can be defined as a physical record or documents of any incident and/or fact and it is taken and/or recorded by a representative of a police department and filed accordingly. A copy of such report will be given to the maker of the report.

It is the general duty of a person to lodge a police report whenever you see an offence committed or if you are the victim of a criminal or civil act. At this point, being a millennial you would likely want to post the police report in social media and/or circulate it in your WhatsApp group.

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Do note that as per the Evidence Act, documents can be divided into two categories; public and private. According to Section 74 of the Evidence Act 1950, public documents are documents forming the acts or records of the acts of the sovereign authority, official bodies and tribunals, and of public offices, legislative, judicial and executive whether Federal or state or of any other part of  the commonwealth, or of a foreign country. As such, it can be said that police report is a public document as defined by section 74 of the Evidence Act 1950 (EA).

However, a police report is also a confidential document of the maker of the report and it is an offence to circulate or publish it without prior permission or consent obtained from the maker of the report. Only the maker of the report has the rights to go public with the report that he or she has made. However, it does not mean that the maker can publish or circulate his or her own police report without being accountable for any defamation action against them.

The Federal Court had ruled that the maker who lodges a police report could be held accountable for defamation if he or she repeats the contents of the report to the public. Justice Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed said that subsequent publication of the contents of a police report by its maker to the public would not be protected by the defence of absolute privilege save where the contents of the report were made in or in connection with judicial proceedings. As such, a maker of the police report shall demonstrate the necessity for him or her to publish and/or circulate the contents of the police report to the public at large.

Having said so, action such as circulating and reproducing a police report and publishing it on social media and public channels without the consent of the maker is an offence according to laws of the Penal Code. This offence is punishable under Section 203A of the Penal Code for “disclosure of information” with a year’s imprisonment or a fine not exceeding RM1 million or both if the offender is found guilty.

It is necessary and important to note the balance of freedom of expression against the interest of an individual. We should not extend the ambit of freedom of expression and take matters into our hand.

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