Justice for Victims: The Urgent Need for a National Coroner’s Service in Kenya

By Sarah Nyakio

The National Coroner’s Service is a public agency that is responsible for investigating and determining the cause of death of individuals who die suddenly, unexpectedly, or as a result of unnatural causes. The primary mandate of the service is to ensure that every death is thoroughly investigated, and the circumstances surrounding it are determined. In addition, the service is also responsible for the identification of the deceased, the notification of their next of kin, and the proper disposition of their remains.

One of the primary reasons why Kenya needs a National Coroner’s Service is to improve the accuracy and reliability of death investigations. Currently, death investigations in Kenya are carried out by the national police service. However, these investigations are often inadequate, due to a lack of training, resources, and oversight. As a result, many deaths go uninvestigated, and those that are investigated are often not done so properly.

In the case of the recent mass killings in Kilifi where 90 bodies have been exhumed in mass graves by crime scene investigators who are essentially police officers. A National Coroner’s Service would be able to provide independent and impartial investigations into such incidents, providing much-needed clarity and accountability. By conducting thorough and standardized investigations, the service would be able to ensure that all deaths are properly documented, and that the causes of death are accurately determined.

Another reason why Kenya needs a National Coroner’s Service is to improve the handling of mass fatalities. When a large number of people die suddenly, as in the case of a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a mass shooting or in the case of the Shakahola massacre the response can often be chaotic and disorganized. In such situations, it is crucial to have a coordinated and effective response to ensure that the deceased are properly identified, their families are notified, and their remains are disposed of in a dignified and respectful manner.

The recent mass killings in Kilifi provide a stark example of the challenges of handling mass fatalities. According to reports, the bodies of the victims have been left lying in the open for hours. A National Coroner’s Service would be able to provide a centralized and coordinated response to such incidents, ensuring that the handling of mass fatalities is carried out in a timely and efficient manner. The service would be responsible for coordinating with the police, the medical examiner’s office, and other relevant agencies to ensure that all aspects of the response are properly managed.

Lastly, a National Coroner’s Service would also help to improve public trust in the justice system as such the government should prioritize the establishment of the service.