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PPPC lays down demands for Coroners; slams talks with AG as “gaff”

Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall has labeled as “cosmetology” consultations on two Bills that he was invited to by his successor to discuss, Basil Williams.

Nandlall questioned whether Justices of Peace would be competent enough to preside over inquests across Guyana, and he also recommended that they hold certain qualifications.

Nandlall said when he turned up for consultations on January 4, 2016, the Attorney General told him that Bill No. 11 of 2015: Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2015 and Bill No. 12 of 2015: Law Reform Commission Bill 2015 would not be sent to a  Special Select Committee for stakeholders to contribute to the crafting of better bills.

“The Attorney General rejected our request. More importantly, he indicated that the two (2) Bills were approved by Cabinet and no consultation can go beyond the scope of those Bills. I quickly realized that what we were engaged in was an exercise in cosmetology and not meaningful consultation,” he said.

Representing the PPPC at the meeting, Nandlall said his party’s firm position s that no “gaff session” of any subject minister can be used as a substitute for the Special Select Committee mechanism of the National Assembly regarding Bills which require review and public consultations. “It is nothing but an attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy under the thin guise of conveying the impression of public consultation,” said Nandlall.

Among the PPPC’s concerns is whether a Justice of Peace could “competently perform the functions of a Coroner.”

He added that the qualifications of Coroners must be fixed by the Bill and not determined at the discretion of any commission or authority. “At a minimum, a Coroner should have a university degree, preferably, in Law” and they “should be persons performing the functions of the coroner on a full-time basis in each magisterial district.”

The PPPC wants the Coroners Act to state specifically that all magistrates must hold inquests in their areas of geographic responsibility. “In this regard, special considerations must be given to the Georgetown Magisterial District which has several magistrates exercising jurisdiction over the same geographic area. In the end, the Bill must make it clear to each magistrate that they have a duty to carry out their responsibilities under the Principal Act,” he said.

As part of the structure, the former Attorney General wants either a Coroner’s office or a Coroner’s department attached to each magistrate’s court office to administer the business of the Coroner. He observed that one of the major problems with the current system is that there is no administrative structure in place which regulates, separately, the business of the coroner. He argued that the business of the coroner should be administratively delinked from the ordinary business of the magistrate’s court. This will augment greater efficiency and accountability.

Other requirements should be the setting of suitable time frames for the conclusion of inquests or inquiries from the time they are commenced.

If Nandlall gets his way, the Coroner should fall under the supervision of the Chief Magistrate and not the Chief Justice as the Bill prescribes.

Further the PPPC wants investigators who are independent of the Police to be assigned to the Coroners office or department to assist in the investigations of unnatural deaths and to generally assist the Coroner in the discharge of his functions.