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Report No. 206

Proposal for Enactment of New Coroners Act Applicable to The Whole of India

Introduction

Serious concern has been expressed at various quarters on account of recent abnormal spurt in the unnatural deaths, especially at places like hospitals, police firings and police encounters, railways and other vehicles, and even in the household by way of dowry deaths, raising suspicions of adoption of illegal means with a strong possibility of the complicity of the officials of the State. It has also been found that in criminal cases, the divergent post-mortem reports and the statements of witnesses have led to an alarming rate of acquittal in criminal cases.

Moreover, scope of Article 21 has been enormously expanded by the Apex Court, so as to include the right to know or right to have the correct information and this will also include the right to know the correct cause of death of any person.

It is also clear that public interest will be greatly subserved and the moral fabric of our democratic government would be considerably strengthened, if the correct and true cause of the death of any person is known, especially when the death is unnatural or there are surrounding suspicious circumstances.

At present, in the entire country, the existing Coroners Act, 1871 applies only in respect of very limited territorial jurisdiction, namely, the ordinary original civil jurisdiction of the High Courts of Calcutta and Bombay and thus the entire territorial boundaries of even these two States have not been covered under the said Act.

Suggestions have also been made from many quarters, including by way of judicial decisions that such an Act should be framed for the entire country. In Writ Petition No. ( C ) 6179/2007 between Social jurist, a Civil Rights Group & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. , a Division Bench of Delhi High Court by its order dated 12.10.2007 has recommended to the Law Commission to examine whether a Legislation like the Coroners Act, 1988 prevalent in United Kingdom is needed in this country and whether a suitable proposal for this purpose should be made to the Parliament in this regard.

However, the observations of the Hon'ble Delhi High Court in the aforesaid case in paragraph 25 that " there is admittedly no comparable legislation in India nor has our attention been drawn to any by learned counsel for the parties" do not appear to be correct and it is clear that the learned counsel for either of the parties did not draw the attention of the Hon'ble Delhi High Court to the existing Coroners Act, 1871, which was a Central Act and it was already operating in India, although within very narrow territorial limits.

The cause for recommending a legislation like Coroners Act in the country had arisen before the Delhi High Court on account of the fact that a child of a tender age of five months had died in England, but in spite of the various valiant efforts taken by the parents of the child in England, the exact cause of death of the child could not be ascertained in England in spite of the two reports submitted in England - one based on post-mortem examination and another by Department of Forensic Medicine & Science, University of Glasgow, England.

The parents were not satisfied with the said report, but they could not prove the medical negligence of the doctors in the United Kingdom, because, according to them, the true cause of death could not be found out and after a lapse of long seven years, the parents had brought the body of the unfortunate child in India in the year 2007 and after making several correspondence with the governmental authorities, a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Delhi High Court.

However, the Delhi High Court after analyzing the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure came to the conclusion that if the death had occurred in England, unless there was any request made by the Government in England or by any authority in that country, a post-mortem examination of the dead body of the unfortunate child could not be conducted de hors an investigation into criminal offence under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

It has been further held by the Delhi High Court that in cases involving offences committed outside India by Non-Indian citizens, such jurisdiction is limited to and dependent on whether the country of the authority competent in the country where the offence is committed has requested the Central Government to have the matter investigated under 166B of the Code of Criminal Procedure. If there is no such request, a police officer in India cannot register a case or investigate the commission of any offence that has taken place outside India.

With a view to have uniformity of the law applicable throughout India, it may be considered that the extant Coroners Act, 1871 should be repealed in order that the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, viz., sections 174 to 176 govern the field in the aforesaid territorial jurisdictions of Calcutta and Bombay also, besides the rest of India. Further, enactment of a new Coroners Act applicable to the whole of India, in addition to the said provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, is felt to be the need of the hour.

In view of the aforesaid, it has been decided to suggest to the Government of India that a necessary independent authority may be constituted to inquire into the true and real cause of death of a person, even if such a person dies outside the territorial limits of the country. In order to attain this objective, we recommend a model Bill to the Government of India in the form given in the Annex.

Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan
Chairman

Prof. Dr. Tahir Mahmood
Member

Dr. D.P. Sharma
Member-Secretary

Dated: 10th June, 2008.



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