House Approves Amendments to Coroners Act


The House of Representatives on Tuesday (Feb. 8) approved amendments to the Coroners Act 2004, which seek to minimize delays in the procedures for coroners’ inquests, and further enhance the overall administration of justice.
Tabling the Bill, House Leader and National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, explained that the amendments “would take the administration of the coroners’ court to a new level” and result in significant improvements in the treatment of coroners’ matters. He noted further, that the legislation would serve to eliminate the “interminable delays” during pre-inquest procedures by establishing several time frames for investigation and the preparation and submission of autopsy reports.
With the new arrangements, pathologists are required to submit an autopsy report to the relevant official within 48 hours of completing the postmortem examination.
In cases where the designated officer orders an autopsy to be performed, a police and autopsy report is to be submitted within 21 days of the initial notification of death to the coroner, who is empowered to summon, and “examine on oath”, the designated officer if there is a failure to submit a report.
The Bill further proposes that designated officers ensure that notices giving details for the inquest are posted at select locations in parishes where the inquest is to be held.
To further minimize delays caused by the absence of witnesses required to testify at inquests, the Coroner would be empowered to appoint special bailiffs to serve witnesses with summonses.
Furthermore witnesses would be answerable to the coroner and their appointment subject to the approval of the Chief Justice. The legislation also allows for the admission of certain pre-hearing statements where the original witness is unavailable to testify.
On the matter of jury selection, the National Security Minister said jurors would now be selected randomly from the list of jurors, which is essentially the voters’ list, to eliminate the risk of persons serving too frequently or being excluded.
Opposition Spokesman on Justice, Delroy Chuck said the amendments were commendable and would go a far way in making the coroners court a respectable institution and acceptable to the families of victims.
He however, suggested that the provision stipulating the involvement of a designated officer be adjusted to specify alternative procedures in a situation where there is an alleged police killing. Mr. Chuck suggested that in such a situation, the process of investigating the matter, summoning witnesses and ensuring their attendance, be conducted by the Police Public Complaints Authority (PPCA) instead of an assigned police officer or superintendent.
This provision, he pointed out, would ward off inferences that cases were not properly investigated and that witnesses were not summoned in cases where the police were said to be involved.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Dr. Kenneth Baugh, lauded the amendments as another step in the process to ensure that justice was carried out and to “bring closure and a feeling of justice and security to surviving members”.
He urged that the proposed amendments to the provisions for the protection of a crime scene be given particular attention, as this issue continued to be one of concern to families, impinged on the integrity of evidence and the administration of justice overall.
Regarding concerns about police investigating other police, Dr. Phillips said that there were a number of checks and balances in the overall scheme whereby persons who were dissatisfied with investigations, could make applications to have the results quashed and request a hearing at the level of the Supreme Court or elsewhere.
Furthermore, he said, witnesses would be appointed by a bailiff specially appointed by the Court so that it is not left totally to the discretion of the designated police officer either in ordinary cases or where police were accused. Additionally, the Security Minister said there was further protection in that a senior officer of the Jamaica Constabulary Force would be assigned as the designated officer.

JIS Social