Coroner’s Bill to be Tabled First Quarter


Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator A. J. Nicholson has given a commitment for the tabling of the amended Coroner’s Act during the first quarter of the new legislative year.
The Senator said the new Act would make provisions for improved efficiency in the disposition of cases, which would strengthen confidence in the administration of justice.
Mr. Nicholson was responding to a private member’s Motion in the Senate yesterday (March 19), put forward by Opposition Senator, Shirley Williams who called for a review of the Coroner’s Act to make it more relevant to the needs of the society.
Senator Williams also called for the relevant legislation governing principles and rules relating to post mortem procedures and crime scene investigations involving violent or unnatural deaths.
Pointing out that legislation was already far advanced in this regard, Senator Nicholson outlined that Cabinet had taken steps to deal with the concerns of bereaved families on the matter of their presence at post mortem examinations and having professional representatives observing these exercises.
He explained that the Bill would have already been tabled, were it not for the fact that a closer look was being taken of the Act in order to deal with some other issues that called for consideration and the decision to undertake any further amendments now, rather than following a piece by piece approach.
The Senator acknowledged that the backlog cases were unacceptable, and noted that in 2001, the arrears for the Corporate Area (Kingston and St. Andrew) were 1,288 and that at the quarter ending June 30, 2003, the number of inquests being carried forward for these two parishes were 380.
Reminding that the Coroner’s Act required deaths that were sudden, of unknown cause or that occurred as a result of violence, to be reported to the Coroner, Senator Nicholson said changes were to be effected in the law to impose the duty on a designated Police officer to make these reports within a specified time. This, he said, would enable the Coroner to exercise control over the matters within his jurisdiction from an early state.
He pointed out that not all cases reported to the Coroner would result in an inquest and that the Coroner had to make a decision as to whether or not to hold an inquest and whether it should be with or without a jury.
The Senator said efforts would be made to ensure that where the Coroner decided to abstain from holding an inquest, that the required particulars of the deceased and the circumstances of death were forwarded promptly to the Registrar General in order for the death to be registered.
“This is an area of weakness in the system that has caused much hardship for the families of the deceased persons who are anxious to proceed with the administration of their estates and other important matters,” he said.
The Bill will make provisions for the admissibility of statements of witnesses at the inquest, where a witness has died, cannot be found or is unable to attend for any of the reasons enumerated in the evidence Act, which now permits this method in the trial of criminal and civil cases.
Senator Nicholson noted that this provision was not expected to be used often, since the scheme of the new provision would see the holding of an inquest within as short a time as possible.
After the amendments were in place, government intended to immediately establish a task force in each parish to examine files that had been awaiting inquests, Mr. Nicholson said, adding that this would be done in order to ascertain the reason for delays and where appropriate, use the new provisions to bring about swift disposal of those matters so that the Registrar General could issue death certificates.
In addition, the Bill will provide for the Coroner to make available to interested parties, documents or other items produced as material evidence at the inquest. “It is interesting to note that an interested party will be defined to mean persons ranging from the deceased’s next of kin to an insurance company that had issued a policy of insurance on the life of the deceased,” he Senator said.
The issue of jury service in a Coroner’s Court is also to be addressed in the amendments to the Act. The Attorney General pointed out that while the practice had been to select jurors from the general jury list, there was no specific provision under the Coroner’s Act to do so.
A time frame would be stipulated during which the Registrar of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal must inform the Coroner of the results of criminal proceedings, Senator Nicholson noted, as in the majority of cases, the Coroner was not informed and was therefore unable to forward a certificate to the Registrar General.
Under the Coroner’s Act, the Director of Public Prosecutions may apply to quash an inquisition, and effectively the findings of a Coroner’s jury and the Supreme Court may grant his request and order another inquest to be held.

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