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Accidents without culpability!

Sandy Grant
I have previously sought the help of anyone in the legal community who was willing to explain the procedures involved here when death occurs in unusual circumstances.

But without avail. So I am now trying yet again because it continues to worry me that people can so easily find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly dead but without need of any sort of public inquiry.

Elsewhere, people die in unusual circumstances and there is an inquiry, probably by a coroner, as was the case in Nigeria with TB Joshua’s collapsed building.

 In South Africa, Pistorius shot dead his companion having mistaken her for a burglar, and was routinely charged. In this country, a similarly high profile figure, Neo Moroka, CEO of De Beers Botswana and an ex Minister, shot dead, by report, one of his farm employees who he mistook for a dog. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions, according to Mmegi of 15.10.2014, has declined to prosecute stating that because the death was accidental, no one can be held criminally liable “for such an unfortunate occurrence” and that the case is therefore closed – but omitting anything which might suggest on what basis it came to this conclusion.

For those of us without experience of the legal profession, the DPP’s decision appears puzzling and disturbing because it excludes any possibility that when it is established by the police or the DPP that death has occurred as a result of an accident, no one can ever be held accountable.  In other words, there can never be any suggestion that death could have occurred as a result of negligence or malice.  If that particular dictum was applied in Nigeria it would automatically follow that those who died in TB Joshua’s collapsed building were also “unfortunate” and that no one there could ever be held culpable for what was obviously a straight forward, uncomplicated accident.

In addition, there has to be further concern because the DPP’s decision directly contradicted and undermined the conclusion earlier reached by the police that Moroka had indeed been negligent. The obvious implication which arises from those two very divergent views is, I am sorry to say, that the police in this instance were immediately labeled as incompetent because they had obviously been unaware of the DPP’s conviction that there can be no possibility of negligence in cases of accidental death. 

In practice, however, the policy position of the DPP and the police regarding accidental death appears to be broadly similar. When one or the other decides that death has occurred accidentally, the file

is immediately closed.  A counter view might be, and I suggest should be, that the file should never be closed until there is a public inquiry to establish firstly if death was, in fact, accidental and secondly, if there were circumstances involved which necessitated further legal procedures. 

I had vaguely assumed that its Roman Dutch legal system meant that this country’s legal system is similar, even identical, to that of South Africa and to some of our neighbours. I now know that I am hopelessly wrong. Somehow this country appears to have landed itself with a legal system that, in part, prefers the secretive bureaucratic process rather than one which is open and formally conducted. Does it not work against the best interests of the police that they are bound by tradition and past practice to limit to the absolute minimum the information they are willing to pass on to the public? As far as I am aware, the police stated of Motswaledi’s death only that it was an accident – but were unwilling to explain what might have caused it, perhaps a dog running across the road or an ambling donkey or even some kind of vehicle deficiency.

Nor have they been willing to indicate if anyone witnessed the vehicle leaving the road. But if the police are unwilling to be open with the general public and to communicate sensibly with it, how can they reasonably expect people to cooperate with witnesses, for instance, coming forward to testify?  This strange situation must surely be self defeating because once the general public becomes aware that there can be no legal culpability involved in cases that have been deemed to be accidental, the likelihood of anyone volunteering information must be remote. But if negligence here is never determined when accidental death occurs it must follow that nothing can ever be learnt which could save the lives of others who might find themselves in similar situations. The obvious example would be when a large modern building suddenly collapses here, as it did in Lagos. Reported concerns about the structural soundness of some public buildings suggests that it is not an impossibility. But if death were to occur, we should be aware right now that unless legal opinion changes, no one here could ever be held accountable. It’s a strange world isn’t it!



Etcetera II



Former BDP members

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