On September 21, 2013, the body of a young man was found dangling in a police cell. He had apparently committed suicide by hanging. One of the sleeves of a blue jacket was tied very tightly around the neck of the deceased. He, however, had not been alone in the cell. It is also believed the young man had vital information about the murder of a prominent businessman.
The police called a crime scene officer who carefully photographed the body before it was taken for a postmortem. The doctor who examined the body concluded that the death was consistent with suicide by hanging.
This conclusion was strongly challenged by the relatives of the businessman. A lawyer was consulted and wrote to court requesting for an inquest into the death.
Court wrote to an independent doctor, directing the doctor to exhume the body and carry out another postmortem and report his findings to court. The court also summoned various other witnesses in order to establish the circumstances of the death.
The exhumation of the body and the subsequent postmortem did not reveal the cause of death; but the photographs taken in the police cell did. It was abundantly clear that the young man had died a few hours before his body was hanged up.
The doctor told court that based on the photographs, the body had started stiffening before it was hanged up and that the distribution of blood in the body after death was scientifically inconsistent with death as a result of suicide.
There was also evidence that the body had been lying on its side before it was hanged up.
The inmates who shared the cell with the deceased also had their own story to tell. One of the inmates told court that on the day the deceased was brought into the cells he had been severely beaten to the extent that he could not stand, let alone walk. The inmates were therefore baffled when they saw his body in a hanging position in the morning.
And something strange had happened the evening before; the police had brought the inmates first class food and even a big bottle of soda.
Immediately after eating the food and drinking the soda, the inmates all fell into a deep sleep only to wake up to find the body of their fellow inmate hanging in the cell.
The presiding magistrate concluded that there was more than meets the eye in this case and excluded suicide as the cause of death. The file was eventually submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for further action.
When an inquest is held
A legal inquiry into a death is technically referred to as an inquest. Amongst the Laws of Uganda is the Inquests Act, the date of commencement being August 31, 1935.
A person who inquires into such a death is referred to as a coroner. The law further empowers every magistrate appointed under the Magistrates Court Act to hold an inquest although any other person may also be empowered by the minister (not specified).
In the course of an inquest, the coroner is requested to examine all the records available relating to the death.
An inquest is supposed to be held whenever the coroner is credibly informed that a person has died within his or her jurisdiction and that there is reasonable cause to suspect that the person has died a violent or unnatural death or that the person has died in prison, or in police custody or while confined in any lockup or mental home.
An inquest should also be held if a person has died as a result of road traffic or an industrial accident. The coroner may also order the exhumation of a body or may prohibit the burial or cremation of a body within his or her jurisdiction.
TO BE CONTINUED