The implementation of a crucial law meant to help solve mysterious deaths in Kenya has failed to kick off because a key office has not been established.
Now, two years after the National Coroners Act was signed into law, the country still grapples with mysterious deaths, deaths as a result of police action and deaths in custody as the government and non-governmental human rights organisations push for the law to be put to effect.
Among other things, the law provides for the establishment of the Office of the Coroner General, tasked with investigating violent, sudden and suspicious deaths.
The office will provide complementary forensic medical science services to police investigations involving dead bodies and crime scene management. But even after President Uhuru Kenyatta signed it into law, several mysterious deaths have been recorded and are currently being investigated by the police.
“It has been very difficult for us to even lobby for the establishment of the coroner’s office. There is no ministry in place and so even allocating resources for its establishment has been hard for the government,” said Mr Kevin Mwangi, the Independent Medico Legal Unit’s programme officer for redress.
Lawyers are divided under which ministry the Office of the Coroner General should fall, with some pointing at the Ministry of Health, while others believe that since the office will be an investigative one, it should be under the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government.
Section 68 of the Act Provides for the establishment of the National Coroners Council which will consists of, among others, the Principal Secretary for Justice, the Inspector-General and Principal Secretary for health services. Kenya, however, does not have a Ministry of Justice.
If it had been in place, the deaths of David Mwai, the main suspect in the shooting of former Garissa County Finance executive Idriss Mukhtar and who died in the Parklands Police Station cells a year ago; a female suspect, Magdaline Ombango Chapya, 29, who died in custody at Kayole Police Station; another suspect in the Embu Police Station cells; and even that of businessman Tob Cohen should have been handled by the Coroner General’s office.
In Mwai’s case, pathologists Sylvester Maingi, Grace Midigo and Peter Ndegwa said after conducting a post-mortem exam that the suspect died by hanging. The three scientists, however, made it clear that they could not establish immediately whether it was suicide or homicide. To date, his death is still roiling investigators and family members. Innumerable other mysterious deaths continue to be reported in Kenya. Several remain unresolved and interested groups are made to rely on police reports, which have for ages been questionable, especially when colleagues are involved.
Had the coroner’s office been in place, all the bodies in these cases and even that of Simon Nduro Gitahi — the inmate who died at the Naivasha GK Prison — would not have been touched or tampered with until the arrival of the coroner.
“A police officer or any person who is present at the time of death or who finds a dead body, shall in addition to reporting the death under this Act or any other written law, preserve the scene of crime until the coroner or a member of the service presents himself or herself at the scene,” Section 39 of the Act states.