The National Assembly last evening passed the Coroners Amendment Bill 2015 after a heated and lengthy debate between the Government and Opposition. The Bill which was examined clause by clause in Committee during last evening’s sitting was passed as amended. The Bill was presented by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams.
According to the amended Bill, at present the magistrate of the magisterial district in which an unnatural death occurs is the coroner. If that magistrate cannot conveniently or speedily be found or is unable to act, the nearest justice of the peace who is able to act shall be the coroner. A coroner is defined as a public official who investigates by inquest any death not due to natural causes.
The amendments effected by the Bill to the Act do not affect the law as it stands except that they widen the meaning of a coroner. According to the explanatory memorandum, the amendment provides for the Judicial Service Commission to appoint fit and proper persons to be coroners for the country.
A coroner shall also have the powers, privileges, rights and jurisdiction of a magistrate and justice of the peace as are necessary for the performance of his duties.
In his presentation, prior to the Bill being deliberated on, Attorney General Basil Williams stated the government is moving to have this bill passed since there are a number of families who need closure on the death of their loved ones.
“Families are still grieving, and it is against this background that the motion came to the House, to widen the category of persons to perform the functions of coroner,” the Attorney General advised. It is the intention that these persons will become fulltime coroners since, the magistrates are already faced with several challenges, one of which remains clearing of the backlog of various cases within the court system.
The opposition argued against appointing persons who are not magistrates to be coroners within the respective magisterial district and asked that the Bill to be further deliberated at a Special Select Committee.
The Coroners Amendment Bill was revised to allow for at least four coroners in Demerara, three in Berbice and two in Essequibo. These persons will be full time coroners. Every person appointed as a coroner under the act shall take and subscribe to the oath of office taken by a magistrate with whatever modifications are necessary.
The Bill was passed as amended.