Stakeholder Consultations on the Coroner’s Office Bill

On the 15th and 16th of March 2017, the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs (MoJLPA) and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, held the second stakeholder consultation workshop on the Coroner’s Office Bill at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Bulawayo. The meeting which was organised in partnership with the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Legislative Alignment (IMT) and with support from the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR), was attended by a total of 56 participants drawn from the country’s southern region. The meeting followed the first consultation which was held in Mutare from the 31st of August to the 1st of September 2016.

The Bill under consideration seeks to establish an effective legal framework for a Coroner’s Office in Zimbabwe for the purposes of investigating unexpected, unnatural and unexplained deaths as well as providing expert evidence of forensic pathology in the investigation of the circumstances surrounding such deaths.

The objective of this stakeholder consultation workshop was to gather stakeholder views and technical input on the draft Coroner’s Office Bill and to solicit key recommendations for the establishment of an effective and functional Coroner’s Office in Zimbabwe.

Mr Charles Manhiri the Chief Law Officer, Policy and Legal Research Unit of the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Unit who represented the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, opened the meeting and outlined inter alia, the historical background to the development of a draft Coroner’s Office Bill in 2015, and the reasoning behind the proposed law. Mr Manhiri emphasised how vital it is that Zimbabwe has a system that adequately secures domestic pathology services as it is currently relying on expatriate forensic pathologists.

Mr Manhiri also indicated that the Inquest Act currently governing the investigation of unexpected, unnatural and unexplained deaths, is not only inconsistent with the constitution but also lags behind modern developments applicable at the international level.

Further presentations were made by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Judicial Services Commission and the Zimbabwe Republic Police which highlighted the peculiar perspectives and challenges faced by these respective institutions with the current Inquest system. These institutions also made recommendations for the establishment of the necessary legal and institutional framework to support a new Coroner’s Office for Zimbabwe

In his presentation, Dr Hove the Director of Pathology in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, bemoaned the negative effect of the obtaining adversarial court system in inquest proceedings which he indicated, is often hostile to pathologists when they testify in court which has led to a number of them especially the foreigners, being unable to testify in court. He also pointed out that the Coroner’s Office Bill seeks to curtail this aggressive system and provide a more friendly system which among other things, effectively protects Pathologists in the course of their work, thus making the profession more attractive.

There was a general consensus by participants at the meeting, that the country needs a more effective system for ascertaining the causes of all unnatural deaths and which in the same vein, works to uncover dangerous practises that put the lives of people at risk.

Mrs Aminata Ruwodo from CALR, gave an analysis of the Bill which highlighted aspects that will require further attention in the Bill. Some of the issues she raised included the fact that the bill must provide for the decentralisation of the Office of the Coroner, and that it must set out the qualifications requirements for appointment to the office of the Chief Coroner. She further pointed out that the while the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, is the lead ministry as reflected in the Bill, it should however go a step further to provide a framework for consultation and active participation by the other critical ministries such as the Ministry of Health and Child Care. Related to this, she further recommended that a representative from the forensic section of the police and representatives from the Health and Justice Ministries should be present in the proposed Coroners Board. Mrs Ruwodo also stressed on the need for the Bill to provide for training in forensic pathology of medical Coroners as well as medical practitioners who conduct post-mortems and who are not qualified pathologists.

Participants at the meeting included representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Allied Health Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe (AHPCZ), Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers, Office of the Registrar General, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Law Society of Zimbabwe and the Media.

In closing, Mr Manhiri indicated that the views of the stakeholders were of paramount importance and that as a Ministry, they value these recommendations which will be incorporated by the drafters before the Bill is tabled before cabinet enroute to Parliament.