‘Unlawful death’ verdicts now possible
Cayman Islands coroner’s juries will soon be given a wider berth in ruling on the deaths of individuals, including the option to determine a death “unlawful” – even if police have not done so.
The changes come in amendments to the Coroners Law approved by Legislative Assembly members last week.
In explaining the changes, Attorney General Sam Bulgin noted that there has been some confusion, dating back to amendments made to the Coroners Law in the early 1990s, over what verdicts a coroner’s jury could pronounce.
“As it is, there are different opinions as to whether a verdict of unlawful death can be currently returned under this law and, in order to resolve this issue, the Grand Court rules committee has suggested an amendment to clarify the types of verdicts that can be returned,” Mr. Bulgin said.
The amendments require coroner’s juries to state only the name and description of the person who has died, when the death occurred, and “the cause and circumstances of the death.”
‘[This] wording will permit a wider range of verdicts than those which currently exist,” Mr. Bulgin said.
Under the Coroners Law [1995 Revision], juries are much more restricted in pronouncing verdicts. Their determination of the cause of a person’s death is limited to have been by natural causes, by misadventure, or by suicide.
According to the older version of the law: “When the evidence is insufficient to enable a conclusion to be reached, the verdict shall to that extent be an open one.”
Open verdicts have been returned in some recent high-profile death cases in the Cayman Islands. In one case, in February this year, a coroner’s jury returned an open verdict in relation to the May 2013 death of U.K. national Shakara Taylor, who fell from the Caribbean Club building on West Bay Road on May 29, 2013. A toxicology report showed no illegal drugs or alcohol in the woman’s system and also indicated no injuries or defensive wounds to suggest she had been assaulted prior to the fall.
In another case, in November 2013, Coroner Eileen Nervik returned an open verdict in the April 2012 death of Lija Godenzi, who was found by police hanging from a door in her Crewe Road home. A second inquest was ordered in that case, which began last week. On Monday, the coroner’s jury returned an open verdict for the second time. Details of that jury verdict can be found elsewhere on this page.
In addition to expanding the potential verdict options for juries, legal changes have left it to the Grand Court Rules Committee – chaired by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie – to make additional changes to coroner’s jury proceedings.
Under the previous law, those changes had to be approved by Cabinet.