Indeed we were overwhelmed by a paroxysm of bewilderment when, in the 3rd January, 2015 edition of the Voice of Saint Lucia, we read the following: “ MANSLAUGHTER verdict in Hannah Defoe’s death at V-Fort Hotel”. This was the verdict of an inquest into the seemingly untimely terrestrial demise of Ms. Defoe. It is to be noted, and as mandated by Law, the pool of jurors in an inquest cannot exceed seven (7) persons and should have no less than five (5).
In contradistinction, and in the High or Supreme Court and where determinations of Guilt or Innocence are arrived at in relation to the offences of Murder or Manslaughter (contextually speaking) the pool of jurors must be a mandatory twelve (12) persons.
The question that comes to the fore is this: Why on the Supreme Court level is a pool of twelve persons required to arrive at a verdict of Manslaughter but at an Inquest and for the very same verdict a pool of at most seven (7) persons suffices?
Instructively, in the Bahamas twelve (12) jurors are needed at an Inquest.
The answer to the above question is simply this: A verdict of Manslaughter is outside the jurisdictional purview of an inquest held in Saint Lucia. The possible conclusions that could be arrived at in a verdict in this State are the following:
(1) Death by Natural Causes
(2) Death by Suicide
(3) Death by Negligence
(4) Death by Misadventure
(5) Death by a Lawful Act
(6) Death by an Unlawful Act
(7) Death Undecided
Section 11(5) of our Coroner’s Act 2008, reads thus:?“At a Coroner’s Inquest into the death of a person who came by his death by Murder or Manslaughter or Infanticide, the purpose of the proceeding?shall (and the word “shall” is imperative) not include the finding of any person guilty of murder, manslaughter or infanticide, and accordingly a Coroner’s
inquisition shall in no case charge a person with any of those offences.”
Supporting the thrust of this section is Section 15(1) of the same Act which reads as follows: “If before the conclusion of an Inquest, a Coroner is informed that some person has been charged before a Court with Murder, Manslaughter or Infanticide of the deceased person, the Coroner shall, in the absence of reason to the contrary, adjourn the Inquest until after the conclusion of the
A determination of Manslaughter is a conclusion of a criminal proceeding and falls outside the purview of an Inquest. It further is to be noted that in a criminal proceeding, and in a matter before the Supreme Court, the Law of Evidence is rigorously and strictly applied. And this obviously applies to the offence of Manslaughter.
Inthis regard Section 33 of the Saint Lucia Act reads:
“Subject to sections (2) and (3) a Coroner may . . . admit as evidence, whether or not admissible as evidence in any Court, any oral testimony and any document or other thing relevant to the purpose of the inquest.”
This position is supported by relevant sections in the Antigua, Barbuda and the Bahamas Coroner’s Acts. The former reads as follows: “Normal rules of evidence are followed in general at Inquests, however the strict rules of evidence of a criminal court do not apply to the Coroner’s Court.”
The Bahamas Coroner’s Act, Section 33 states: “In holding an Inquest the Coroner’s Court is not bound by the Rules of Evidence and may inform itself on any matter as it thinks fit; and (b) must act according to equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of the case without regard to technicalities and legal forms.”
And so having arrived at a verdict of MANSLAUGHTER, who is the guilty person(s)?
In our considered opinion our verdict based on our limited knowledge of this incident would have been DEATH BY NEGLIGENCE (criminal or otherwise).
It further must be noted that Negligence and Intentional Wrongdoing, regardless of its scope, are mutually exclusive.
The writer Velon John is a former Magistrate. who has served in Saint Lucia and the BVI. He is also a former mp who represented Laborie under the Saint Lucia Labour Party.