Case Overload Choking Coroner’s Court

THE island’s spe­cial coro­ner William Campbell says his office needs more resources in order to speed up the dis­pos­al rate of cas­es as the cur­rent two to three per month is not enough to address the back­log in the system.

According to the spe­cial coro­ner, at any giv­en time his office is han­dling 300 to 400 cas­es. He said although police fatal shoot­ings have fall­en “dra­mat­i­cal­ly” mov­ing from approx­i­mate­ly 21 per month to eight per month, there remains a high rate of shoot­ings and the resul­tant back­log. The Office of the Special Coroner was set up in 2009 to specif­i­cal­ly deal with inquests aris­ing from inci­dents where per­sons have died vio­lent­ly or sud­den­ly while inter­act­ing with the police, mil­i­tary and oth­er agents of the State. The office works close­ly with the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).

Campbell said in 2007 there were 272 per year (21 per month); 158 for the first nine months of 2008; 258 or about 21 per month for 2013; 115 or nine per month for 2014; while 101 or eight police shoot­ings per month were record­ed for 2015 and referred to the coro­ner. “But even with that fall, we still have sub­stan­tial back­logs. The dis­pos­al rate by way of pub­lic inquest is not more than two to three per month [so] you’re talk­ing about 30 a year. But the rate of cas­es [sent to the coro­ner] are going up not by 30 per year but by 100 per year, so we have to have more resources to have a faster rate of dis­pos­al,” he said. Campbell was speak­ing at a stake­hold­er forum last Friday host­ed by the Registrar General’s Department to out­line the steps that fam­i­lies should take from the time some­one dies until their death is registered.

He not­ed that some cas­es can be dis­posed of under Section 14 of the Coroner’s Act, which says that: if “… no fur­ther light would be thrown upon the case by hold­ing an inquest it shall be law­ful for the appro­pri­ate coro­ner in his dis­cre­tion to abstain from hold­ing an inquest”. But he argued that most cas­es that come to the spe­cial coro­ner can­not be dis­posed of in that man­ner, and require “fur­ther light to be thrown” on them. “Most of the cas­es that I have seen require a pub­lic inquest,” he stat­ed. Explaining why the Office of the Special Coroner was estab­lished, Campbell point­ed out that from 1983 to 2010, there were more than 5,000 police fatal shoot­ings, and a pile-up of cas­es. “It was felt (then) that the num­ber of deaths was trou­bling enough to require spe­cial atten­tion,” he remarked, empha­sis­ing that he was nei­ther ascrib­ing blame nor jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, but sim­ply out­lin­ing the facts.

Campbell said the vast major­i­ty of cas­es that end up in the Special Coroner’s Court are police shoot­ings. “They’re the ones who inter­act most fre­quent­ly with the pub­lic, so that’s not abnor­mal,” he said. INDECOM boss Terrence Williams told a 2013.
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