Call for specialised Coroner’s courts

Saturday September 15 2012

Bernard James
The Citizen Reporter
Dar es Salaam. Specialized coroner’s courts should be used to investigate violent or unnatural deaths like that of TV journalist Daudi Mwangosi, says attorney lobby group Tanganyika Law Society (TLS)
In an exclusive interview with The Citizen on Saturday, TLS President Francis Stolla said they think an official coroner’s inquest is the best approach to search for the truth on the Mwangosi murder.

The 1980 Inquest Act allows the minister for Justice and Constitution Affairs to establish a Coroner’s Court after consultations with the principal judge of the High Court of Tanzania.The court would be tasked with investigating the death of any person who is reasonably suspected to have died violently or of unnatural causes.

These courts can also initiate inquests when someone dies suddenly, when the cause of death is unknown, when an individual dies in official custody or when someone dies as a consequence of punishment meted out by the state.
Iringa-based journalist David Mwangosi was killed on September 2 in the village of Nyololo in Mufindi following clashes between supporters of opposition party Chadema and law enforcement.

Mr Mwangosi was caught in the cross fire as the police attempted to disperse Chadema supporters. An officer wielding a canon fired a gas canister at him tearing open his torso.

Amid public outrage and widespread condemnation, minister for Home Affairs Dr Emmanuel Nchimbi formed a five-person commission led by retired judge Stephen Ihema to investigate the killing.

Two days after the probe team was formed Chadema spoke out against it saying judge Ihema and the rest of the team are not competent enough to handle the inquest and that they are not impartial.

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There has been a floodgate of criticism over the reliability and independence of the investigative team which counts among its members a representative of the police force. Civil society has questioned the rationale of giving the police a seat on the team when they are “the prime suspects” in the Mwangosi incident.

“If we have reasonable doubt about circumstances surrounding Mwangosi’s death the Coroners’ Court is the best option to get at the truth,” Mr Stolla told this reporter.  
“It’s not for the minister or the president to form a commission,” he said, adding that it is unfortunate Tanzania does not utilize such courts when appropriate situations arise.