Kaieteur News – Nothing would satisfy those protesting the death of Quindon Bacchus other than an outcome charges against the policemen accused of his killing. The issue of a fair investigation, in such a scenario, only becomes fair if it results in an outcome favourable to the protestors.
But is there prima facie evidence to establish a case of an extrajudicial execution? If the fleeing Bacchus did fire shots at the pursuing rank, then the return of fire may have been justified. In such a scenario while the death of Bacchus would have been unfortunate, it would not amount to an extra judicial execution.
Notwithstanding this fact that the protestors may not be satisfied with findings which do not accord with their narrative, there is still merit in the suggestion of an open and transparent process for investigations into shooting deaths of civilians by the police. This call has been made by A New and United Guyana.
Unfortunately, ANUG falls into the trap of predetermining the outcome of the very process for which it is calling. As the basis for its call, ANUG uses four examples of persons killed and, according to reports, contends that in all of these cases, justice was not done.
But why was the justice not done? Was it because the findings of these reviews were not made public or was it because the findings were not consistent with certain narratives?
And justice for whom? Is ANUG assuming that in all of these cases that the police were at fault? So what happens to the presumption of innocence?
There exists an independent mechanism for investigating unnatural deaths. It is a Coroner’s Inquest.
The law provides for coroner’s inquests to be held into all cases of unnatural deaths. A Coroner’s Inquest is an inquiry to determine the identity of the deceased, where death occurred, how it happened and what was the cause of death.
In making a determination as to the cause of death, coroners are usually required to specify the actual cause of death and the factors that contributed to this cause.
The findings of a coroner, however, do not create criminal culpability. But it can eventually lead to criminal charges being instituted and is one of the main benefits of having such inquests. Another is the openness of the process.
Coroner’s inquests, however, do not necessarily deliver justice. The inquest into the death of Walter Rodney found that he died as a result of misadventure.
A few years ago, a senior police officer, Leon Fraser, was lured into a wooded area and shot and killed by what was believed to be sniper fire.
He was believed to have been shot by criminals hiding in the wooded area. The inquest into his death, however, found that his colleagues took too long to get him to the hospital.
Coroner’s Inquest can also drag out for months and years. There is no guarantee that the outcome of an inquest can be concluded swiftly.
Unfortunately, the human resources are simply not there for undertaking such inquests into all unnatural deaths. Magistrates are already overworked and overwhelmed with their caseloads. To ask them to conduct Coroner’s Inquest would be too taxing.
The APNU+AFC amended the Corners’ Act in order to allow for the appointment of Coroners in the magisterial districts. Unfortunately, this was never done and there is backlog of inquests ordered by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The holding of coroner’s inquest into unnatural deaths should be done in a more timely fashion. In fact, the laws should be amended to ensure that within three months of an unnatural death, an inquest commences. This will help to restore public confidence in the system and ensure that there can be no police cover-ups because any such attempt will be quickly intercepted by the coroner’s inquest.
The need for more and more timely Coroner’s inquests does not preclude the obligation of the police to investigate unnatural deaths, including killings by the police. If the police cannot investigate its own ranks, then the system of law enforcement is in a greater crisis than is presumed.
The police have in the past investigated its own. And policemen have been charged with indictable offenses. Guyana must not go down the road of substituting one form of investigation – be it Coroner’s Inquest or Special Investigation – for a routine police investigation.
There is no harm in having both an inquest and a police investigation. But the need for an open and transparent process should not result in an abandonment of the police’s duty to investigate all unnatural deaths, including homicides and those resulting from accidents.
The system, however, lacking in confidence, must be allowed to work.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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