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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