Inquests Act, 1938
- Commenced on 6 January 1939
- [This is the version of this document at 31 December 1996.]
Part I – Preliminary
1. Short titleThis Act may be cited as the Inquests Act.
2. InterpretationIn this Act, unless the context otherwise requires—"building operation" has the meaning assigned to that expression by section three of the Factories Act;[Cap. 441]"coroner" means any person empowered or appointed to hold inquests under this Act;"factory" has the meaning assigned thereto by section two of the Factories Act;[Cap. 441]"medical practitioner"* means any person registered or licensed as a medical practitioner under the Medical and Allied Professions Act;[Cap. 297]*See section 56 of the Medical and Allied Professions Act (Cap. 245)"mine" has the meaning assigned thereto by section two of the Mines and Minerals Act;[Cap. 213]"work of engineering construction" has the meaning assigned to that expression by section three of the Factories Act.[Cap. 441][As amended by No. 14 of 1957 and G.N. No. 303 of 1964]
Part II – Powers and duties of coroners
3. Who may hold inquests
4. When inquest to be heldWhenever a coroner is credibly informed that the body of a deceased person is lying within his jurisdiction, and that there is reasonable cause to suspect that such person has died either a violent or an unnatural death, or in prison or in police custody, or in any place or circumstances which, in the opinion of the coroner, makes the holding of an inquest necessary or desirable, such coroner shall, except as otherwise provided in this Act, hold an inquest on such body as soon as is practicable.
5. Power to dispense with inquest in certain casesWhenever it shall appear to the coroner, either from the report of a medical practitioner rendered under section fifteen or otherwise, that the death is due to natural causes, and that the body shows no appearance of death being attributable to or of having been accelerated by violence or by any culpable or negligent conduct either on the part of the deceased or of any other person, it shall thereupon be lawful for the coroner at his discretion (except in the cases specified in section eight) to dispense with the holding of an inquest.
6. Postponement and adjournment of inquests in certain cases
7. Power to order exhumationNotwithstanding any law or custom to the contrary enacted or obtaining, whenever it shall appear to any coroner that the body of any person, who has died in circumstances requiring the holding of an inquest thereon, has been buried without being viewed or without such inquest having been held, or where such inquest, although held, has been quashed or reopened, it shall be lawful for such coroner by his warrant in Form 1 in the Schedule to order the exhumation of such body; and he shall, after such exhumation, proceed to hold an inquest on such body and thereupon direct the reinterment thereof; and the expenses of such exhumation and reinterment shall be paid, upon the coroner's order, from the general revenues of the Republic:Provided that such exhumation shall not be ordered in any case where, in the opinion of the coroner, it would be injurious to public health, or where there is no reasonable probability of a satisfactory result being obtained thereby.[As amended by S.I. No. 72 of 1964]
Part III – Holding of inquests
8. Inquest on persons in prison or custodyNotwithstanding anything contained in this Act, where—
9. Inquest to be held by coroner of place where body lyingA coroner only within whose jurisdiction the body of any person, upon whose death an inquest ought to be held, is lying shall hold the inquest, notwithstanding that the cause of death arose elsewhere; and if any body is found in any river or in any inland waters, the inquest shall be held by the coroner within whose jurisdiction the body is first brought to land:Provided that where it appears to a coroner by whom an inquest has been commenced that, owing to special circumstances to be entered upon the record of the inquest, it is expedient for the inquest to be continued by another coroner, he shall, after viewing the body (if such view is necessary in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) of section seventeen) and making such entry upon the record as is required to be made under the provisions of subsection (4) of section seventeen, refer the record to such other coroner; and such other coroner shall thereupon, whether or not the body is lying within his jurisdiction and subject to any directions in that behalf which may be given by the High Court and which the High Court is hereby empowered to give, continue the inquest and conclude the same in accordance with the provisions of this Act.[As amended by No. 3 of 1963]
10. Inquest where body destroyed or irrecoverableWhen a coroner has reason to believe that a death has occurred in the area within which he has jurisdiction in such circumstances that an inquest ought to be held, and that owing to the destruction of the body by fire or otherwise or to the fact that the body is lying in a place from which it cannot be recovered, an inquest cannot be held except by virtue of the provisions of this section, he may, if he considers it desirable so to do, hold an inquest touching the death, and the law relating to inquests shall apply with such modifications as may be necessary in consequence of the inquest being held otherwise than on or after view of a body lying within the coroner's jurisdiction.[As amended by No. 3 of 1963]
11. Coroner may postpone burial or cremation till after inquestA coroner may prohibit the burial or cremation of any body lying within his jurisdiction until an inquest shall have been held.
12. Notice of deathWhen any body is found or a person has died in such circumstances as to make the holding of an inquest under this Act necessary or desirable, it shall be the duty of any person finding the body or becoming aware of the death forthwith to inform either a coroner having jurisdiction or a police officer or a chief or headman or district messenger, and upon receiving any such information such chief or headman or district messenger or police officer shall notify a coroner having jurisdiction to hold an inquest. Any person who fails without good cause to inform the chief or headman or district messenger or police officer as required by this section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding seven hundred and fifty penalty units.[As amended by Act No. 13 of 1994]
13. Coroner may call for statements recorded by police officers
Part IV – Post-mortem examination
14. Coroner may direct post-mortem examination
15. Medical practitioner to make an examination and reportEvery medical practitioner upon the receipt of such order shall, unless he procures the services of some other medical practitioner to perform the duty, immediately make an examination of the body, with a view to determining therefrom the cause of death, and to ascertaining the circumstances connected therewith, and shall make a report in writing to the coroner describing the appearance of the body, and the conclusions which he draws therefrom touching the death of such person. The examination shall extend, when the medical practitioner considers it necessary but not otherwise, to such dissection of the body as he may think requisite. The report shall be in Form 3 in the Schedule, and shall state the cause of death, and shall be signed and dated by the medical practitioner. Such report, on being read at the inquest by the coroner, shall be prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated without further proof, unless it is proved that the medical practitioner purporting to sign the report did not in fact sign it:Provided that the coroner may, if he shall consider it necessary or desirable, call such medical practitioner to give evidence at the inquest.
Part V – Procedure at inquest
16. Evidence at inquestThe coroner shall at the inquest examine on oath in regard to the death all persons who tender their evidence respecting the facts and all persons having knowledge of the facts whom he thinks it expedient to examine.
17. Provisions regarding the viewing of body
18. Coroner may summon witnesses
19. Coroner not bound by rules of evidenceA coroner holding an inquest shall not be bound by any rules of evidence which may pertain to civil or criminal proceedings, but if any witness objects to answer any question on the ground that it will tend to incriminate him, he shall not be required to answer the question nor be liable to any penalty for refusing so to answer.
20. Evidence: how recordedThe coroner shall take down or cause to be taken down in his presence the evidence of every witness and such evidence shall be read over to such witness and shall be signed by him and by the coroner.
21. Statements recorded by police officers may be admitted as evidence in inquestWhere, upon hearing the evidence of a police officer having charge of or concerned in an investigation into the death of the deceased person, the coroner is satisfied that—
22. Examination of witnesses
23. Power to take evidence of witness unable to attend
24. Inquest on Sunday, etc., or in private
25. Adjournment of inquestA coroner holding an inquest in any place may adjourn the inquest to another day and may order the adjourned inquest to be held in the same or any other place.
26. Coroner to adjourn inquest in certain cases
27. Issue of summons or warrantIf during the course or at the close of any inquest the coroner is of opinion that sufficient grounds are disclosed for making a charge against any person in connection with the death, he may issue a summons or warrant to secure the attendance of such person before any subordinate court having jurisdiction, and may bind over any witness who has been examined by or before him on a recognizance with or without surety to appear and give evidence before such court.
28. The inquisition
29. Where guilty party unknownIf, at the close of any inquest, the coroner is of opinion that there is ground for suspecting that some person is guilty of an offence in respect of the matter inquired into, but cannot ascertain who such person is, he shall certify his opinion to that effect and transmit a copy of the proceedings to the Commissioner of Police.
30. Where guilty party cannot be foundWhere the proceedings upon any inquest have been transmitted to the Commissioner of Police under section twenty-nine and the guilty person remains undiscovered, and if, in the opinion of the Commissioner of Police, there is no probability that such person will be discovered, he shall certify his opinion to that effect and transmit the copy of the proceedings to the Director of Public Prosecutions.[As amended by S.I. No. 72 of 1964]
31. Return of inquisitions
32. Copies of documents to be suppliedA coroner or the Registrar of the High Court in the case where the original records of an inquest have been received by him in accordance with the provisions of section thirty-one—
33. Powers of High Court
Part VI – Miscellaneous
34. Penalty where body is buried without authority
35. Obstructing medical officer, etc.Any person who obstructs a medical practitioner, police officer, chief, headman or district messenger in the execution of any duty imposed upon him by this Act shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be liable to a fine not exceeding seven hundred and fifty penalty units.[As amended by Act No. 13 of 1994]
36. RegulationsThe Chief Justice, with the concurrence of the Minister responsible for finance, may, by statutory instrument, make regulations prescribing the scale of fees to be paid by persons applying for a copy of any depositions taken by the coroner at an inquest, or of any report of a post-mortem examination or of any note of evidence or of any document put in evidence at an inquest, and prescribing the scale of fees to be paid to medical practitioners for any post-mortem examination or other service required of them under this Act, and the scale of fees to be paid to witnesses and other persons.[No. 26 of 1955 as amended by G.N. No. 303 of 1964]
37. Prescribed formsThe forms set out in the Schedule shall be used for the several matters to which they relate with such variations as circumstances may require. The Chief Justice may, from time to time by statutory order, amend, revoke or add to the Schedule.[As amended by G.N. No. 303 of 1964]
History of this document
31 December 1996 this version
06 January 1939