JIS News

The Coroners (Amendment) Act 2008, which establishes the Office of the Special Coroner, was passed by the Senate on December 5.
“This office is mandated to deal specifically with inquests arising from incidents where persons have died and there is reasonable cause to suspect either violent or natural death, sudden death, the cause is unknown and the security forces or agents of the state are involved with a view to bring about a speedy resolution,” Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who piloted the Bill, explained.
Senator Lightbourne further explained that under the Coroners Act, the Resident Magistrate for each parish is the exofficio Coroner of that parish and the Coroner conducts inquests into such deaths within the parish.
“This means that the Resident Magistrate carries on his or her regular case load in the Resident Magistrate’s Court and then must also find time to conduct such inquests within the parish. So, there has been discontent, because of the backlog and delays in cases being heard,” Senator Lightbourne said.
She added that over a number of years, there has been a large increase in the number of deaths of a suspicious violent or natural nature. Moreover, Coroners, who are also Resident Magistrates, face increased judicial duties, “making their tasks increasingly more difficult to perform,” the Minister said.
“The result is that many Coroners’ cases are left unattended to the discontent and dismay of all of us,” Senator Lightbourne said.
The Attorney General informed that the Office of the Special Coroner would exercise jurisdiction as Coroner, in relation to deaths where agencies of the state are involved and will have jurisdiction in all parishes.
She also noted that the administration of the Office of the Special Coroner would be dealt with in the same way as the courts are currently administered.
The Office of the Special Coroner will also be provided with staff as is necessary, for the efficient administration and operation of the office as determined by the Special Coroner.
Opposition Leader in the Senate, A.J. Nicholson, noted that even though the passage of the Bill itself would not cause any “great movement in the reduction of the matters that are before the courts, it is a start, and other mechanisms have to be put in place to assist with the real burden of these coroners – the witnesses.”
Meanwhile, Senator Nicholson queried when a National Council on Justice would be established, as was recommend by the National Task Force on Justice Reform.”The year is fast coming to an end let us see if we could have this Council established to begin its work in January. The functions would include keeping the family, criminal and civil justice systems under review. It is also to advise the Government on the form and manner of implementation of all proposed justice reforms and to make recommendations to the Government for reform on its own initiative,” Senator Nicholson said.
In her response, Senator Lightbourne informed that a National Council is necessary and noted that a consultant is now preparing a Vision Paper, “which will buy into the National Council on Justice, so that we see where we want to go, as a vision for the whole justice system.”
“We should now move into the National Council together with the vision paper, to see where we are going, as there is no point in having a Council and there is no vision. So, the two will buy into each other and I have been able to get funding from our partners, so I can move forward,” Senator Lightbourne said.
As at November 27, 2008, the backlog of cases in the Coroner’s Court was at 687, and of this number, 182 were deaths in which the Security Forces were involved.