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Police want Inquest Act reviewed

Botswana Police Commissioner Keabetswe Makgope

The Botswana Police Service (BPS) together with government participants have resolved to appoint a task team to review the ‘outdated’ Inquest Act of 1954.

An Inquest is an investigation held to determine a person’s cause of death, normally conducted by a magistrate or a judge and it usually involves an autopsy by a medical officer or a coroner, in other jurisdictions. Inquests are typically ordered in unnatural or suspicious deaths.

The current Act; promulgated in 1954, long before the country saw independence is said to have been surpassed by events, is ambiguous and obstructs the work of Police Forensic Science Services (FSS).

Deputy Commissioner of Police, David Mosetse said that he believes the inquest process as outlined in the 1954 Act has been surpassed by times because the only deaths processed by FSS are ones reported to the police. He said that this then means the department can only take up cases after an inquest docket has been opened or where there is suspicion that criminality has occurred.

Mosetse also seemed to hint that the 1954 Act gave District Commissioners (DC’s)too much power as de facto coroners, urging stakeholders to “look at today’s landscape and ask ourselves whether we still wish the DC to continue ordering post mortems, exhumations, and deciding whether deaths are natural or not”.

“During that time (1954) when the Act was enacted, the District Commissioner was a British Representative, a man with enormous powers. According to the Inquest Act, this gentleman was a de facto Coroner who was empowered to make a decision as to whether to order an inquest hearing, to issue a certificate of death or whether to order a medical examination on a deceased body or to order burial,” Narrated Mosetse.

It also emerged that in some instances, hospitals decline to perform autopsies as they deem the cases to be for the police, while the FSS also declines to conduct them unless it has been reported to the police and in others, cases which are clearly natural deaths are referred to FSS merely because no one will issue a death certificate.

Pathologist Dr Shathani Mugoma also said that the old Act strips pathologists’ powers as it has consolidated all powers to determine deaths on the hands of Police.

“Pathologists rarely go to the scene; we are just watching the game and the Police do everything,” he lamented.

He also said that families of the deceased often times pressurise pathologists and the police to hurriedly issue a death certificate in order to claim insurance payouts.

He continued to say that what then happens next is that the cause of death is then labelled as ‘unknown’, something he said denies the country true audited mortality data.

Mugoma further asserted that the Act is also silent on who should be present when autopsies are conducted and pathologists are often at the mercy of commandeering attorneys.

He said that recently a contingent of Zimbabwean state security agents filled his autopsy room in Francistown, videotaping the procedure in progress.

“Powerful lawyers would insist on being present in the operating room.” He continued, “A few weeks ago 5 Zimbabwean CIO (Criminal Investigations Organisation) agents from Bulawayo and 3 from Plumtree crammed into the autopsy room, videotaping the procedure on a Zimbabwean body,” he said.

He also said that now that the Bogosi Act has also changed, there is also need to align it with the Inquest Act and that the role of the Botswana Health Professionals Council (BHPC) needs to be made clear in the new Act.

High ranking government stakeholders including Forensic pathologists, Police officers, district commissioners and directors, also converged on the proposition that, autopsies should be made compulsory and the decision to conduct the procedure no longer be a prerogative of the next of kin.

They proposed that the new Inquest Act should include mandatory post-mortem, replacement of District Commissioners with legal officers, clear definition of who should be present in autopsy rooms and compulsory tests on dead bodies before cremation.

They also proposed the need of a coroner, involvement of pathological personnel at crime or accident scenes as well as the provisions of medical records when conducting autopsies.

They also called for the new Act to be in the clear, in terms of who should conduct autopsies and the role of medical officers as well as the police’s ability to conclude whether the death is unnatural or not.

The FSS Director Baboloki Tumediso-Magosha is expected to appoint the task team to review the Act.

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Free at last: Ian Kirby Speaks Out

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WeekendPost: Why did you move between the Attorney General and the Bench?

Ian Kirby: I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers three times- first in 1969 as Assistant State Counsel, then in 1990 as Deputy Attorney General (Civil), and finally in 2004 as Attorney General. I was invited in 2000 by the late Chief Justice Julian Nganunu to join the Bench. I was persuaded by former President Festus Mogae to be his Attorney General in 2004 as, he said, it was my duty to do so to serve the nation. I returned to the Judiciary as soon as I could – in May 2006, when there was a vacancy on the High Court Bench.

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Civil society could rescue Botswana’s flawed democracy’ 

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Bangwato in Serowe — where Bamagwato Paramount Chief and former President Lt. Gen Ian Khama originates – disagree on whether they must send a delegation to dialogue with President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s family in Moshupa. Just last week, a meeting was called by the Regent of Bamagwato, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane, at Serowe Kgotla to, among others, update the tribe on the whereabouts of their Kgosi (Khama). 

Further, his state of health was also discussed, with Kgamane telling the attendees that all is well with Khama. The main reason for the meeting was to deliberate on the escalating tension between Khama and Masisi — a three-year bloodletting going unabated.

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