Aug 13, 2017 News
In January 2016, the National Assembly passed the Coroners (Amendment) Bill. To date, no coroner has been appointed. This issue was raised by former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall during a recent press conference.
Nandlall, a vocal figure when the amendments were being made to the Coroners Act, said that in 2016, the APNU+AFC government had pushed the amendment Bill through parliament with much haste. He said that the government had argued that the amendments were necessary, since President David Granger had promised the people of Guyana during the 2015 campaign that more inquests must be held, and that too many deaths were unaccounted for.
Nandlall said that government had indicated its haste to pass the Bill so that it can get the needed inquests started.
“Well we passed that thing about two years now and not a single coroner has been appointed. In fact, the structure which the amendment contemplates to make it work has not been established.”
During the parliamentary debates on the amendments to the Bill, Attorney General, Basil Williams had said that there was one amendment to the Coroners Act which was cited in the Bill as Section 3A.
That amendment speaks to the appointment of persons to be coroners. The section reads, “(1) notwithstanding anything in Sections 2 and 3, the Judicial Service Commission may appoint fit and proper persons as coroners. (2) In the county of Demerara, there shall be at least three coroners, in the county of Berbice at least two and in the county of Essequibo, at least one….”
It was explained by Williams that presently, the magistrate of the magisterial district where an unnatural death occurs, is the coroner. However, he said that if that magistrate for some reason is unable to act conveniently or cannot be found, the nearest Justice of the Peace who can act, shall be the coroner.
Further, he said that the amendments do not change the law, but merely widen the definition of a coroner. According to the amendments, the Judicial Service Commission is to appoint fit and proper persons to be coroners in Guyana.
Meanwhile, Nandlall had argued that there is proper infrastructure in place to support the administrative responsibilities that will follow as a result of the amendments.
He had said that coroners are essentially magistrates and are answerable to the Chief Magistrate. However, the former AG explained that since coroners will be given the responsibility to handle inquests, they will have to report to the Chief Justice.
“It is an unnecessary burden to place on the office of the Chief Justice. It makes no administrative sense. Hence we are asking for a department within the Magistrate’s office to deal specifically with the matters relating to the coroners. It will bring greater administrative ease.”
At the time of the debate, the opposition had called for the Bill to be sent to a select committee for further consideration. However, it was passed without so doing.
According to the amendments that were made to the principal Act, there shall be at least three coroners in the county of Demerara, at least two in Berbice and at least one in Essequibo. Further, coroners shall have all the powers, privileges, rights and jurisdiction of a Magistrate and justice of the peace that are necessary for the performance of their duties.
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