AN INQUEST IS AN ENQUIRY INTO THE CAUSE OF DEATH. orAN INQUEST IS A LEGAL INQUIRY INTO THECIRCUMSTANCES AND THE CAUSE OF DEATHOF A DECEASED PERSON IN CASES OFSUDDEN, SUSPICIOUS AND UNNATURALDEATHS.
TYPES OF INQUEST1.POLICE INQUEST2.MAGISTRATE INQUEST3.CORONER’S INQUEST4.MEDICAL EXAMINER’S INQUEST.
At present, in India two types of inquest are followed,1.POLICE INQUEST2.MAGISTRATE’S INQUEST.
POLICE INQUEST. Conducted by an officer in charge of a police station. Its usually conducted by an officer of the rank of sub inspector of police. The police officer making the inquest is known as investigating officer(I.O.).
Police inquest is conducted under S.174 of Cr PC if the police officer in charge receives information that a person has committed suicide, or has been killed by another or by an animal or by machinery or by an accident, or has died under circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence. Before the inquest is done by police it should be informed to the executive magistrate of the area. The inquest report prepared by the police is known as Panchnama. In case of any doubt regarding the cause of death or in case of any unnatural the body of deceased is sent by investigating officer for autopsy to the concerned medical officer with the inquest report.
MAGISTRATE INQUEST This is empowered by a district magistrate, sub- divisional magistrate or any executive magistrate especially empowered by the state government such as collector, deputy collector or Tahsildar . In case of any death a magistrate may conduct an inquest instead of or in addition to the police inquest (S.176, Cr.P.C.).
Magistrate inquest is conducted in case of Death in prison Death in police custody and while under police interrogation Death due to police firing Death in a psychiatric hospital Dowry deaths Exhumation (S.174(4) and 176, S.CrP.C)
CORONER’S INQUEST. According to Coroner’s Act 1871 coroner’s inquest existed in Mumbai. Coroner used to be a special officer appointed by the government to inquire into causes of unnatural deaths. The Coroner was required to have a legal qualification and is usually an advocate, attorney, pleader, or first class magistrate, or a transferred metropolitan magistrate (all of whom must have a minimum of five years experience in the legal field). He held the rank of a First Class Judicial Magistrate. The coroners court was a court of inquiry and not a trial court. After conducting an enquiry into the cause of death, if the Coroner found ample evidence against some suspect, he would forward a copy of his inquisition report to the Commissioner of Police, and he would take further action in this regard Coroner’s court was discontinued on 29 July 1999.
Medical examiners system.In countries like USA, Canada and Japan, medical examiners system is practiced. In this system all sudden, unnatural, unexpected or unexplained deaths are investigated by a medical examiner who is a forensic pathologist.
PROCEDURE UNDER A POLICE INQUEST.Police inquest: In accordance with S. 174 of Cr PC, all over India an officer, usually of the rank of a sub inspector of police in charge, on receiving information of any accidental or unnatural death of any person immediately informs the nearest Executive Magistrate and proceeds to the place where the body of the deceased person is. There in the presence of two or more respectable persons (panchas) makes an investigation (S.175, Cr.P.C.).
He prepares report of the apparent cause of death. Thereport contains (i) Brief facts of the case (ii) statements andopinions of two or more relatives or neighbors or friends ofthe deceased (iii) a sketch of the scene where the body islying (iv) a form filled up by the police officer himself, givingdetails of injuries as visualized by him describing wounds,fractures, bruises
,and other marks of injury found on the body and stating in whatmanner or by what weapon or instrument such injuries appear tohave been afflicted. (v) any treatment records, if the person was undertreatment for some disease or injury prior to his death (vi) a copy of theMLC, if this was made at the time the patient was brought to the hospital(vii) statement of the deceased prior to his death regarding his cause ofdeath(viii) suicide note of the deceased if this was found (ix) a copy of theFirst Information Report (FIR), if this had been lodged with the police .
The inquest report(panchnama)is then signed by theinvestigating police officer and by the witness.If no foul play is suspected, the dead body is handed overto relatives for burial.In cases of suspected foul play or doubt the body is sent forpostmortem examination to the nearest authorizedgovernment doctor together with a requisition and a copy ofinquest. The report is forwarded to the magistrate.
According to s 162 of Cr Pc, when the investigating officer asks fora statement, the medical officer has to give it unless otherwisedirected by any other rule prescribed by the state government.After preparing the post-mortem report, the original is given tothe investigating officer and the duplicate is kept in the officerecords for subsequent reference. It is studied by the doctor atthe time the he is summoned in that case by the court of law. Discrepancy between the inquest report and postmortem report. When the medical officer finds grave differences between the inquest and the autopsy, he can inform the investigating officer through the police constable to meet him at the earliest. Even if there is some discrepancy between the inquest report and the postmortem report, the list of injuries mentioned in the inquest report cannot prevail over the details of the postmortem report.
The police officer may summon the persons who appear toknow the facts of the case for investigation purposes. Thesummoned person is bound to attend and answer questionput to him. Refusal to answer questions put to him ispunishable with imprisonment up to six months, underS.179, I.P.C.