By Martin Muleya.
The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs is holding a two day workshop in a bid to gather views as well as obtaining technical advice from stakeholders in drafting the Coroner’s Office Bill.
The workshop which kicked off yesterday is comprised of representatives from all Zimbabwe Government line Ministries who have been seized with the duty of initiating the alignment of laws with the Constitution of 2013. this following from the fact that Zimbabwe uses the inquest system as espoused in the Inquest Act (Chapter 7:07) which was operationalized in 1951.
In his welcome remarks at a local hotel in Mutare, Director, Policy and Legal Research Unit in the Ministry of Justice, legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mr. Charles Manhiri noted that the current inquest system in the country was failing to meet the current trends in he investigations of violent, unexpected or suspicious death; hence the need to overhaul the complete system through the introduction of the Coroner’s Office.
“The Government of Zimbabwe, through the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Alignment is in the process of aligning legislation with the Constitution. The Coroner’s Office draft Bill finds itself amongst the pieces of legislation that are part of alignment exercise. It goes without saying that the inquest system which we currently rely on, is inadequate to meet the current trends in the investigations of violent, unexpected, suspicious or unnatural deaths; hence the need to overhaul the complete system through the introduction of the Coroner’s Office,” remarked Manhiri.
Manhiri expressed optimism that by establishment of the Coroner’s Office will see to it that those who die in unnatural circumstances are allowed a decent burial and the hassle to invite expatriate forensic pathologists to give evidence will be a thing of the past, as the nation will be having its own forensic pathologists.
He raised concern that while the nation currently rely on Cuban forensic experts , there has been of late diplomatic concerns as the expatriate forensic pathologists would not be willing to testify in courts of law without approval from their respective Embassies.
“It is not in doubt that forensic pathology services in Zimbabwe have been a challenge which has led to resort being to expatriate forensic pathologists with further diplomatic concerns being raised when these expatriates have been called to give evidence. Hospitals including the Prison and Correctional Service are burdened with corpse that have not been identified and end up receiving paupers burials. This proposed system will surely go a long way in reducing these burdens and also allowing decent burials for our deceased,” he said.
Coroner system is a more formalised system of investigations of violent, unexpected, unexplained or suspicious and unnatural deaths. This is the oldest medico-legal investigative system whose origins dates back to 1194 in England and is operative in most parts of the UK.
The earlier consultative meetings were of the view that the Coroner’s Office would be better placed under the Ministry of Home Affairs but after the realisation that most deaths requiring the attention of the Coroner’s Office were occurring in police custody, it was proposed in 1999 that the office should be superintended by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
The matter was shelved due to several challenges that included movement of personnel dealing with the issue, non attendance of meetings among other challenges. The concept was approved in 2000 where Cabinet Committee directed that a legal framework be put in place.
The Coroner’s Office Draft Bill stakeholder consultation is the first to be held after the Legislative Drafting Division of the Attorney-General’s Office produced the draft bill this year and participants have been drawn from Northern region which includes Manicaland, Mashonaland West, East, Central and Harare.
Due to financial constraints another similar stakeholder consultation on the Coroner’s Office Draft Bill will be held in Southern Region with participants coming drawn from Midlands, Matebeleland South, North and Masvingo.
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