The Coroner's Inquest
8/13/2012 6:15:07 PM -
With I. K. Gyasi
Ever since President John Evans Atta Mills passed away, there have been, and continue to be, rumours and speculations about the time, the cause, and circumstances leading to his death.
According to the so far unconfirmed accounts or rumours, President Mills had turned away an official who had gone to him with some papers related to oil.
Some of his relatives had visited him at the Castle. The President had complained of some pains in the neck, and a younger brother of his had been sent to buy a neck collar or brace for him. This was after his doctors had attended to him and left.
Minutes after his relatives had left, a loud shout was heard. The President was found with blood oozing from his mouth and nose. He had been rushed to the 37 Military Hospital, where he was initially taken to the Maternity Ward. Those who had taken him to the hospital had lied about his identity, saying that it was a senior government official who had been involved in an accident.
Later, the Chief of Staff at the Castle, Mr. Henry Newman, told the nation that the President had died at the 37 Military at exactly 2:30 p.m.
It is true that other people had an earlier time than the 2:15 p.m. announced as the time of the President's death? Is it true that that there was no doctor at the Castle? Is it true that the key to the ambulance could not be immediately found? Is it true that there were no police outriders, because they had been asked to convey the President's relatives out of Accra? And is it true that the President was actually dead before he was taken the hospital?
What did the President die of? Natural causes? Death by accident? Murder? Cancer of the throat or any other part of the body?
It is on the basis of this 'Ye se', 'Ye se' ('They say, they say') that there have been calls for a coroner's inquest. What is a coroner's inquest? Who is a coroner?
Under the Coroners Act of 1960 (Act 18), 'The District Magistrate is a coroner for the area of jurisdiction of the District Court to which the Magistrate is appointed.' (Section 1).
'Where a Coroner is unable, through illness or any other reasonable cause, to perform the functions of a coroner, a Justice of the High Court may appoint a person to act, instead of the coroner, generally or in regard to a specified function, or for a particular inquiry. '(Sub-section 2).
Section 2 titled NOTIFICATION OF THE DEATH, states: (1) 'Where a dead body is found or where a person has died a violent or any unnatural death, or a death of which the cause is unknown, a person finding the body or becoming aware of the death shall give notice of the death to the officer in charge of the nearest police station.
(2) 'The person in charge of a prison, lock-up, a psychiatric hospital or public institution, other than a hospital, shall forthwith give notice to the coroner for the district of the death of a person detained in that place.
(3) 'The person in charge of a hospital, in which a person has died an unnatural death, shall forthwith, give notice of the death to the coroner for the district.'
A person who fails to comply with the requirement of Section 2 commits an offence, for which the penalty, upon summary conviction, is a fine not exceeding two hundred penalty units, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or the fine and imprisonment.
If the officer has reasonable cause to suspect death by violence, or through an unnatural cause, he must inform the coroner forthwith.
The officer should then carry out an investigation, and draw up a report stating his conclusion respecting the time, place and circumstances of the death.
The report, together with the statements taken from persons in the course of the investigation, forthwith forwarded to the coroner (Section 4).
Unless a person has died while detained in a prison or lock-up, the coroner is given the discretion not to hold an inquest, if he is satisfied as to the cause of death, whether with or without an examination; that the death was due to mere accident or mischance of reasonable care on the part of a person while the deceased was under an anesthetic or was undergoing a surgical operation, or that of a public benefit is not likely to result from an inquiry. (Section 5 (2) (a) (b).
Even though the coroner has that discretion, he shall carry out an inquest if, in the opinion of the Attorney-General, such an inquest should be held (Section 5 (3)).
Again, the High Court, of its own motion or on an application made by or on behalf of the Attorney-General, may order an inquiry where there has not been one, or hold an inquiry to set aside a finding in an inquiry, or substitute for the finding set aside the proceedings and finding in an inquiry and order a new inquiry to be held.
The High Court also, on its own or on the application of a coroner, order an inquiry to be held by a coroner other than the coroner within whose district a dead body has been found, or a death has occurred (Section 18 (1) (a) (b) (c).
Is the President such a private and an ordinary person like me that his death should not be of concern to anyone except his family?
Attributing its source to the GHANA NEWS AGENCY (GNA) the GHANAIAN TIMES issues of Thursday, April 24, 1997, reports Mr. Kofi Totobi Quakyi, former Minister of Information, as saying:
'Although a minister has a fundamental right to privacy, it would be unrealistic to expect that this will not be restricted. Because, as long as the minister's life is within the same societal environment in which he holds the high office of minister, it is not possible to divorce the minister from the private man. Every major decision he makes becomes a public choice to be reported and discussed in the media.
If Mr. Quakyi acknowledges the fact that even a minister's private life is not his own, what about the private life of a person who occupies such a high-profile position of the President of the Republic?
Those who keep throwing a cordon around President Mills should realise that when a vacuum is not promptly filled with truthful and accurate information, dangerous rumour and speculation will rush in to the fill vacuum.
On Tuesday, August 7, 2012, I heard Mr. Kwesi Pratt, Managing Editor of THE INSIGHT newspaper, say on PEACE FM's Kokrokoo programme that two days after the President's death, a team of pathologists conducted an autopsy (post-mortem examination) to ascertain the cause of death.
Even if President Mills did NOT die a violent or unnatural death; even if we can safely assume that he did not die in a prison, a lock-up or psychiatrist hospital, shall we not be told the cause and the circumstance of his death? After all, he was our President.