Judicial Inquiry into the Murder of Soopramanien Kistnen
* ‘An expert has no right to give an opinion that distorts the factual findings or misleads the Court’
With the conclusion of the judicial enquiry proceedings into the murder of Soopramanien Kistnen, an MSM activist in No. 8 constituency, Lex shares his views on some of the surprising elements that have surfaced around the autopsy findings and the likely cause of death.
* What’s the purpose of a judicial inquiry? How far can it go and what are its limits, if any?
A judicial inquiry is held to ferret out the truth when a person committed suicide or was killed by another person, by an animal or by machinery or accidentally. It’s also held when death occurred in circumstances which raise reasonable suspicion that some person has committed an offence; or died whilst in prison or in custody of the police.
* What exactly is the role of an expert witness?
The main role of the expert witness (a person whose opinion by virtue of education, training, certification, skills or experience, is accepted by the judge as an expert) is to assist the court in reaching its decision by providing independent expert or technical information and opinion on an issue based on the information provided by those instructing him or on information that he independently collects.
The expert should provide as much information in an honest way in order to convince the investigating magistrate that his opinion is well founded.
* In the course of the judicial inquiry into the death of Soopramanien Kistnen before the Moka Court, we have heard the evidence of two expert forensic doctors on the cause of death of the victim. It would appear that the two doctors have been diametrically opposed on the cause of death. How could that be possible?
Expert evidence has two strands: collection of data and forming an opinion. Opinions may differ, but they must be based on the facts gathered. An expert has no right to give an opinion that distorts the factual findings or misleads the Court.
* In the light of the conflicting medical evidence on the cause of death of the victim, what can the magistrate do?
It will be up to the magistrate who heard the two doctors to evaluate their interpretation of medical evidence from the autopsy and determine which opinion is nearer to the truth on the basis of these and other relevant facts gathered at the scene where the body of the victim was found.
* Isn’t it strange that Dr Parsad Jankee who examined the body of the victim on the spot was not the one who carried out the first autopsy as the body was sent to Dr Jeetoo Hospital instead of Candos where autopsies are usually carried out?
This is the whole mystery of the case. One would have expected that Dr (Ms) Parsad Jankee, who examined the body at the spot where the body was found, to carry out the autopsy. Since the body was transported to Dr Jeetoo hospital and the autopsy done by Dr Sunnassee who, it has been reported, would be related to two main witnesses who testified before the inquiry, this opens the door to wild speculations.
On the assumption that the body had to be transported to Dr Jeetoo Hospital, one would like to know who took the decision to have the autopsy performed by Dr Sunnasee…
* It would appear that the doctor who carried out the autopsy stated in court that he might have been mistaken. There is no suggestion of conspiracy in this matter, but Mauritius being a small knit society bound together with close and intimate social ties, professional mistakes or dereliction of duty are often ascribed to such ties. What’s your take on that?
Dr Sunnassee should have refused to perform the autopsy so that the risk of a blurred judgment could have been avoided. Unfortunately, he fell headlong into the trap.
* If it is established that those who investigated into this case might have conspired with others to build the case file or to give the evidence that they did, what would be the consequences?
If there is such evidence, it will be up to the DPP to order a police investigation in the hope that an independent and honest investigation will be carried out by the police.
* Once the inquiry is over and the case file is submitted to the DPP, what action can be taken against any party, who it has been established, misled the court?
If no evidence is found against any author of the homicide, the case will be filed subject to the DPP ordering investigations on other aspects of the case like perjury or conspiracy.
* There have been so many cases – not necessarily high-profile ones – where the relatives of persons who died in mysterious circumstances or are believed to have been murdered have had recourse to private forensic experts although those in the public service have generally performed their duties beyond all suspicion. We are heading towards a problem of trust breakdown here, isn’t it?
The trust breakdown has been here since a long time. It’s resurfacing now. The people have remained passive observers without even a whimper of protest coming from their ranks.
* Would it be advisable in light of the heavy workload on the police having to track and investigate an increasing number of crimes, some of which are very complex ones and in different fields, to detach the Forensic Crime division from the responsibility of the police and have a separate, independent body with the head appointed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission?
Dr Arvin Boolell has in the course of a press conference suggested the establishment of a coroner as in the United Kingdom. In the UK, a coroner is a government or judicial official who is empowered to conduct or order an inquest into the manner or cause of death. Normally a coroner is a qualified legal person. He may also be a forensic expert. It would be a good move to establish such an office here and have the coroner appointed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission with security of tenure.
* 11 months have elapsed since the body of Soopramanien Kistnen was discovered. A first investigation apparently ascribed the death to suicide. Public and media pressure has kept the issue alive, and the DPP instituted a judicial inquiry into this case. At the end of the day, the question that arises is: has the truth emerged?
If only the police did not rush to judgment by ascribing the death to suicide, matters might have been different. The question that remains unanswered is why was the suicide theory brandished? Was it due to ignorance or incompetence? Or did it have to do with an urge to shield the truth?
The truth will not emerge from the judicial inquiry unless there is clear evidence or evidence from which inferences can be drawn that one or more persons were linked to the homicide. Nor will it emerge from a police investigation, even if a further inquiry is ordered by the DPP, given the record of the investigating agencies. This is the stark reality of the Mauritius of today. It is tragic.
* Published in print edition on 7 September 2021
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