January 4, 2013

PM dissatisfied with slow pace of coroners’ inquests

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says that he is not satisfied with the slow pace at which coroners’ inquests take place.{{more}}

“I don’t like the idea that they take long,” he said.

Speaking to members of the media on Wednesday, the prime minister said that there was very little he could do, however, to bring about change, saying that the only leverage he has is to speak to the Commissioner of Police, or the Attorney General.

“Coroner’s inquests are in the hands of the judiciary, because from the moment a person dies in a sudden or unnatural manner, the coroner for the district is taken there and that should be on the coroner’s calendar to enquire what the state of this investigation is,” Gonsalves said.

He explained that the coroner’s inquest, while it is a judicial proceeding, is not a prosecution, although the Director of Public Prosecutions has a role in the process.

Gonsalves continued, saying that throughout his career as a lawyer, this was something he complained about and often pushed for inquests to be held within a reasonable time frame.

“A human being when he dies, is not a bird; the law says that you must find out how the person died and under what circumstances – that’s the law,” he said.

Gonsalves referred to the recent case which involved the deaths of customs guard Abdon Whyte and three Venezuelan nationals off the coast Union Island in June last year.

“The coroner’s inquest on Union Island, has it been heard? No – it should be heard,” the prime minister reasoned.

“We need to have closure as to how Mr Whyte met his death and how the Venezuelans met their death, apart from what some official says.”

Gonsalves said that the court needed to have a ruling on whether or not the verdict is inconclusive, if someone is culpable or if it was death by misadventure. (DD)