Thursday, December 18, 2008

Telegraph Journal Editorial Supports Call for Inquest

Seek the Best Inquest Process
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The parents of seven Bathurst teens who died in a van crash last winter are seeking a coroner's inquest. Their request has led to renewed calls to rewrite the 104-year-old Coroner's Act.

Public Safety Minister John Foran seems reluctant to do so, and we don't understand why. New Brunswick's legislation should be benchmarked against the best practices in other jurisdictions.

When the Coroner's Act was proclaimed, the science of forensic investigation had barely begun. Plane and automobile accidents were a thing of the future. Officials sorting through investigators' reports today need to understand the science of death investigation and the process of accident investigation. Coroner's juries need access to a range of expert opinion. The Coroner's Act, in its present state, does not demand the rigour an inquest requires. That's why the Canadian Bar Association and this newspaper have pushed frequently for changes.

To be effective, the coroner's office needs:

*Professional staff with forensic credentials.

*Legal standing for interested parties. In other provinces, lawyers representing victims, relatives or parties with a stake in determining what went wrong can cross-examine testimony. This ensures inquests are rigourous and thorough.

*Effective legislation. The provincial government has promised minor changes, including mandatory inquests for workplace deaths, placing the child death review committee under the coroner's office and establishing a domestic death review committee. The Act must require mandatory inquests for deaths of students on school property, engaged in school activities or otherwise under the guardianship of the education system.

Mr. Foran must ensure the inquest process is as strong in New Brunswick as it is in other provinces.

Grieving parents should not be forced to fight for a thorough review, and the quality of the inquest should not be left to chance.