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SENATE HANSARD 17 DECEMBER 2019 29-14

PARLIAMENT OF ZIMBABWE

Tuesday 17th December, 2019

The Senate met at Half-past Two o’clock p.m.

PRAYERS

(THE HON. PRESIDENT OF SENATE in the Chair)

ANNOUNCEMENTS BY THE HON. PRESIDENT OF SENATE

OFFICIAL HAND-OVER CEREMONY OF TRACK SUITS

THE HON. PRESIDENT OF SENATE: I have to inform the

House that the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Sport Club, ‘The Patriots’ is cordially inviting all paid up members of the club to the official hand-over ceremony of track suits donated by the Tobacco Industries Marketing Board (TIMB) on Wednesday, 18th December 2019 in the Members’ Dining Room at 1000 hours.

ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH SERVICE

THE HON. PRESIDENT OF SENATE: I also have to inform

the Senate that there will be a Roman Catholic Church service tomorrow, Wednesday, 18th December, 2019 at 1230 hours in the Senate Chamber.  All Catholic and non-catholic Members are invited.

SECOND READING

CORONER’S OFFICE BILL [H. B. 5A, 2019]

First Order read: Second Reading: Coroner’s Office Bill [H. B. 5A, 2019].

THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LEGAL AND

PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS (HON. ZIYAMBI): Thank you

Madam President.  I rise to present the second reading speech on the

Coroner’s Office Bill, [H. B. 5A, 2019].  Issues to do with suspicious deaths are presently governed by the Inquests Act, a colonial era piece of legislation enacted in 1951. That Act has a most unsatisfactory, cumbersome, expensive and reactive procedure for dealing with such deaths. It was a system designed by a minority for a minority that no longer serves the needs of our people.  The proceedings under the Inquest Act are directed almost exclusively to ascertain who the deceased was, how, when and where the deceased came to his or her

fate. The steps to this final determination by the Inquest court are not at all formalised and somewhat rough and ready.

The question of the establishment of a Coroner system in Zimbabwe has been under consideration for over two decades, generally amongst the ministries responsible for health, justice and home affairs, the concept having been first mooted in 1998. At that time, consultative meetings were held between the ministries concerned and interested stakeholders, especially in the medical field. A task force was formed by the Ministry of Health as far back as September 2003 which recommended the establishment of a Coroner’s Office, which was eventually accepted by the Cabinet, and the result is what we see today in this Bill. Hon. Senators, the reason for the long delay in bringing this Bill forward was a dispute between a Coroner system that is basically a medico-legal investigation system to determine the cause and manner of death in certain cases of homicide and accidental death. It brings to bear the expertise of forensic pathology to explain unnatural, unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths and deaths in jail or police custody.

The underlying objective of the system is to safeguard lives through timely investigation of preventable deaths with a view to determining the cause and circumstances of their occurrences, thereby securing accountability of those responsible for such deaths and preventing their repetition. The ministries responsible for health, justice and home affairs, as to which Minister should be responsible for it, Cabinet eventually resolved that the processing of unexplained deaths is ultimately a legal and judicial matter, and that therefore the Minister of Justice must administer the legalisation concerned.

A Coroner therefore, is a Government official who confirms and certifies the death of an individual within a jurisdiction, however defined. He or she has the primary responsibility to conduct a medicolegal investigation to determine the cause and manner of death. The main components of the operation of a Coroner’s office follow the sequence of, firstly registration or notification of all suspicious deaths, secondly, investigation of the same where required, usually after a postmortem examination by a medical practitioner independent of the Coroner, and finally the confirmation of the cause of death and its certification.

I will go into detail on how the Corner-General and Deputy

Coroner-General will discharge their public duties. In that respect, I urge

Hon. Senators to read the Explanatory Memorandum appended to the Bill.  I will however, draw the attention of Hon. Senators to the fact that the Coroner’s Office is a devolved institution in which responsibilities are equally divided between the Coroner General, based in Harare, who has jurisdiction over all suspicious deaths happening in the eastern region of Zimbabwe and the Deputy Coroner General, based in Bulawayo, who has jurisdiction over all suspicious deaths happening in the western region of Zimbabwe.  Madam President, I urge Hon. Senators to support and pass this very progressive vital law to secure the safety of our people against avoidable deaths and tracking down and holding accountable those who may be responsible for such deaths.  I submit and move that the Bill be read a second time.  Madam President,

I thank you.

Motion put and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

THE HON. PRESIDENT OF SENATE:  Hon. Senators, all the

members of the Chairperson’s panel are not present.  I therefore call upon the Senate to elect a Senator to perform the functions of the Chairperson in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order Number 10, Subsection 5.  I call for nominations.

HON. SEN. MUZENDA:  Thank you Madam President.  I call upon Hon. Sen. Dr. Sekeramayi.

HON. SEN. MAKONE:  I second.

Motion put and agreed to.

Committee Stage: With leave, forthwith.

COMMITTEE STAGE

CORONER’S OFFICE BILL [H.B.5A, 2019]

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 to 2 put and agreed to.

On Clause 3;

HON. SEN. SHOKO:  Hon. Chair, I am looking at Section 3 (2).  If you look at that and then look at subsection 4, why do we not say the operations of the office shall subject to this Act, be controlled and managed by the Coroner based in the eastern regional office at Harare.  Down there, you are also talking about the eastern region, so I thought you will need to then put the regions because there are only two regions.  The clause says: based in the regional office in Harare.  Why can we not put eastern regional office in Harare, instead of simply saying the regional office at Harare?  When you look at subsection 4, the Coroner General shall serve areas defined from time to time as the eastern region under the Magistrates court and the Deputy Coroner General shall serve the area defined from time to time as the western region.  That eastern must appear for the Harare area.

THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LEGAL AND

PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS (HON. ZIYAMBI):  Thank you Hon.

Chair.  Hon. Chair, if you look at Section 3 (2), it is defining where the regional office will not be the magisterial district.  It is speaking about where it is based but if you go to subsection 4, which is where you are referring to, it is now an area that is defined in the Magistrates Act.  So when you read this - when you speak about the eastern and the southern region, it is an area that is defined in another area, the magisterial districts that are defined in that regard.  So it is okay as it is.

Clause 3 put and agreed to.

Clauses 4 to Clause 16 put and agreed to.  

On Clause 17:

HON. SEN. MAVETERA: On Clause 17, it is said the Minister may give the Coroner such general instruction. I think on this clause, actually remove the “independent”. We think this is a very important office. This office of the Coroner and that person should practice independently but here we see that this Bill is trying to give the Minister power to control what the Coroner does and it goes on to say on Clause

2 (2) of the same clause, “the Coroner General shall take necessary steps to comply,” which means actually he has no discretion but he has to comply with what the Minister has said. So I do not think this is actually a good piece of legislation if we are to put it this way.

What we need is actually an independent office which cannot be controlled by politicians and this clause actually removes that. I propose that we need to relook at it. Probably, if we want to go to subsection 2 and say “may” instead so that we give discretion to the Coroner to make an independent decision otherwise we are creating another sub-office of the Minister. It is actually the Minister who is the Coroner here because he can give any directions and mind you, this piece of legislation will also handle very sensitive information where the State is a major player, especially in terms of inquests. So when the holder of the office is then mandated to just comply with what the Minister says then we cannot. In other words, it means the Government maybe a part to this contestation then we have a Minister who is appointed by the Government to give directions as to how this office should operate. So I think this is not proper in a democratic society. Thank you.

THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LEGAL AND

PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS (HON. ZIYAMBI): Hon. Chair, one

of the critical functions of a Minister is to give policy direction in matters of compelling public interest. When you are giving a policy directive, it is of a general nature not specific to a particular case. So where you find a directive saying stop doing this, it is no longer a policy.

There are policies that are needed and that is the function of a Minister. You cannot take away that from them, that is what democracy is all about. Where there are issues of public interest, the Minister must give policy directions but it does not mean that the Minister must then be seen to be giving specific directives as to what the Coroner General does. So I submit, this is a very standard and needed clause that you will find in any legislation where it says the Minister can give policy direction on matters that are of public interest.

HON. SEN. MAVETERA: I have gone through this Bill and I have to submit that this is a very important Bill which will actually touch the lives of each and every one of us. Probably then if the Minister is going to respond and that makes standard, we need to have a clause where the independence of this office is respected because from going through this Bill Hon. Chair, it leaves us with no freedom or independence of this office when it comes to very pertinent issues.  I did not see any clause that really ensures or gives us confidence that we are putting up or coming up with a piece of legislation that will actually make sure that the citizenry are at peace without being potentially abused by the Executive.

So I think probably the Minister then has to find somewhere where he has to guarantee that independence of this important office because throughout there is nothing like that. Are we deliberately leaving it or we need to do something else because I strongly feel that Members of this august House should really know what this really entails. We need to make sure that we do not want to come and relook at this piece of legislation to say it does not have the control to ensure that we get justice from this important office because as it is it is just a sub-office of the Minister where he can actually tell you. When things come to show, it may be a matter of technicality to say is this a policy direction or it is a specific issue. So can we just make it simple for everyone to be at peace with this legislation? I thank you.

HON. ZIYAMBI: Hon. Chair, if you go to the functions of office of the Coroner General, the Coroner General is supposed to conduct his work independently and impartial in Clause 4. Again, if you go on to the appointment of the Coroner General, there are stringent requirements.  If the President wants to remove the Coroner General, that insulates again the Coroner General against arbitrary removal and that will insulate him to say when he is doing his job he will have the comfort that I cannot be removed summarily. There are procedures that are needed, a tribunal that will be set and all that. You will find out that throughout the Bill   the independence of the Coroner can be seen and there will not be that interference from the Minister in so far as the Coroner is doing his specific duties as defined in the Act.  I submit Mr. Chairman.

Clauses 18 to 21, put and agreed to.

First and Second Schedules, put and agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendments.

Third Reading:  With leave, forthwith.

THIRD READING

CORONER’S OFFICE BILL [H. B. 5A, 2019]

THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LEGAL AND

PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS (HON. ZIYAMBI):  Madam

President, I move that the Bill be now read the third time.

Motion put and agreed to.

Bill read the third time.

MOTION

PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH:  DEBATE ON ADDRESS

Second Order read:  Adjourned debate on motion in reply to the

Presidential Speech.

Question again proposed.

HON. SEN. MUZENDA:  I move that the debate do now adjourn.

HON. SEN. MKWEBU:   I second.

Motion put and agreed to.

Debate to resume:  Wednesday, 18th December, 2019.

MOTION

REPORT OF THE DELEGATION TO THE 45TH PLENARY

ASSEMBLY OF THE SADC PARLIAMENTARY FORUM HELD IN

MAPUTO

Third Order read:  Adjourned debate on motion on the Report of the Delegation to the 45th Plenary Assembly of the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

Question again proposed.

HON. SEN. MUZENDA:  I move that the debate do now adjourn.

HON. SEN. A. DUBE:   I second.

Motion put and agreed to.

Debate to resume:  Wednesday, 18th December, 2019.

On the motion of THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR

MASHONALAND CENTRAL PROVINCE (HON. SEN.

MAVHUNGA), the Senate adjourned at Ten Minutes past Three o’clock p.m.

 

 

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