Coroner’s independence in doubt as executive takes key slots

Experts have cast doubt on the independence of the proposed agency to investigate deaths due to dominance by senior government officers.

The National Coroner's Service was established last year through an Act of Parliament and approved by President Uhuru Kenyatta in June.

Its mandate is to probe mysterious deaths.

The NCS council, which performs the oversight role, comprises of PSs in charge of coronal services – Interior, matters related to justice, Health and Treasury.

Other members of the council include the Inspector General of Police, Director of Public Prosecutions and two representatives of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union and the Clinical Officers Council.

But lawyer Mbungua Mureithi said the dominance of the NCS council by "executive heavyweights" will lead to "evaporation of its independence".

"If the death of Robert Ouko happens [under the same circumstances] after establishment of the service, will the service be trusted with the investigations?" Mureithi asked.

He spoke at a consultative meeting convened by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit at Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi on Wednesday.

He further pointed the failure to place funding of the service under the consolidated account leaves it at the mercy of the Parliament which further undermines the its independence.

"We have seen Judiciary being denied financial resources as a way of intimidation. If, for instance, NASA demands investigations into the deaths of its supporters, then Aden Duale [National Assembly Majority Leader] says there is no money [for the coroner], what will happen?" Mureithi asked.

Concerns were also raised about possible collisions between police and the coroners.

Mureithi said the law did not repeal other legal provisions that mandate the National Police Service to investigate murders.

The NPS's Directorate of Criminal Investigations has a Homicides Division which carries out investigations into murders.

The absence of clear demarcations between the mandate of the NCS and other institutions could lead to conflicts and duplication of roles.

Mureithi also said the Act does not set investigations timelines. The law only requires the service to forward its findings to IG, DPP within seven days upon conclusion.

It shall also share its findings with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority should police officers be implicated in killings.

The Act also does not allow the Coroner General to initiate judicial process upon conclusion of the investigations.

IMLU's Ann Kamau said attempts to correct the Bill that bore the Act were futile and cited frustrations from the Attorney General's office.

Also read: Police killed over 36 during August, October polls – IMLU

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