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Why are there no coroners

Sandy Grant
It has long troubled me that there appears to be no independent legal mechanism to investigate when people in this country die unexpectedly, without obvious cause, or in obviously strange circumstances.

The Motswaledi ‘accident’  is one obvious instance, as are other well-known occurrences. But there must be many others who die of neglect, of bungled hospital operations, by misadventure – being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or by being hit by a falling rock or tree.  In many such instances, the police will be unaware of these deaths. But if they were aware, they would feel no need to be involved without some suggestion of criminal involvement. 

As a result, those who are surprised, puzzled and aggrieved by a death – perhaps family members – seem to have nobody to whom they can address their concerns. In Botswana, only the police have the responsibility of investigating accidental death. In most cases, their conclusions will be accepted as final. But there does need to be some mechanism by which those conclusions can be legally challenged other than by having to sue. Would someone in the legal profession be good enough to describe this process? Similarly, would that person explain why in this country there is no coroner system so that an enquiry into an unnatural death can be held independently of the police? As I understand matters, the police here investigate and report to themselves. And more or less, that’s that.

To help give emphasis to my query, I now cite Wikipedia on the coroner system in England, and on the somewhat different system in Scotland and, ask firstly why there is no comparable system here and secondly what is holding us back from initiating one as soon as possible? Wikipedia reads: ‘The coroner’s jurisdiction (in England) is limited to determining who the deceased was and how, when and where they came by their death. When the death is suspected to have been either sudden with unknown cause, violent, or unnatural, the coroner decides whether to hold a post mortem examination and, if necessary, an inquest. The most common verdicts include death by natural causes, death by misadventure, accidental death, lawful killing, suicide, unlawful killing, occupational disease, drug dependence, attempted abortion, lack of care/neglect. The coroner’s court is a court of Fatal Accident Inquiry and accordingly, the coroner may summon witnesses, and people found lying are

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guilty of perjury. 

 Additional powers of the coroner may include the power of subpoena and attachment, the power of arrest, the power to administer oaths, and sequester juries of six during inquests. There are no inquests or Coroners in Scotland, where sudden unnatural deaths are reported to, and investigated on behalf of, the Procurator Fiscal for an area. The Procurator Fiscal has a duty to investigate all sudden, suspicious, accidental, unexpected and unexplained deaths and any death occurring in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern. Where a death is reported, the Procurator Fiscal will investigate the circumstances of the death, attempt to find out the cause of the death and consider whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry is appropriate. In the majority of cases reported to the Procurator Fiscal, early enquiries rule out suspicious circumstances and establish that the death was due to natural causes.

Deaths are usually brought to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal through reports from the police, the Registrar, GPs or hospital doctors. However, anyone who has concerns about the circumstances of a death can report it to the Procurator Fiscal. There are certain categories of deaths that must be enquired into, but the Procurator Fiscal may enquire into any death brought to his notice.’ End of Wikipedia

I have long assumed that the absence of a coroner system here has to be attributed to its use of Roman Dutch law. But Wikipedia notes that the coroner system has its origins in the Europe of a thousand years ago and that this would presumably have been spread throughout the world by the British and perhaps by the French. 

The result would be that large parts of the world, including the Commonwealth and the USA, use some variation of the coroner system whilst the rest, including this country, doesn’t. But if they do not do so, how many are left with no system by which the causes of unnatural death can be independently examined, facts verified and conclusions reached? If Europe, found it necessary to institute such a system so long ago, how has it happened that this country today has felt no such need? Would some kind person please explain.



Etcetera II

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