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Jan 18, 2023

Validating Findings of the Gap Assessment of the Medico Legal Death Investigation System

Gian Cho

The first phase of the process which occurred back in 2022 looked at a gap analysis and needs assessment on the strengths and weaknesses of Belize’s death investigation system. It is being carried out by a consulting team, consisting of a local attorney and international attorneys from a firm in the Philippines. The third step, which will take place in March of this year, is the drafting of legislation to look at strengthening specifically the coroner’s act that stipulates how deaths are investigated by the police department.  Director of the National Forensic Science Service, Gian Cho shares some of the findings of the medico-legal death investigation system, which is separate from clinical cases.


Gian Cho, Director, National Forensic Science Service

“The coroner’s act, it was last amended maybe a couple decades ago, but it was built on a coroner system – coroner meaning from the crown. So most former colonial systems still have a coroner system – those that have not moved to update their death investigation system. So that’s the main one just bring it up to 2022 realities. We have under the NFSS, a medical examiner’s office. So those are the two types of systems that exist across the world. Some systems are strictly coroner’s base where it is a judicial officer that oversees death investigations, issues the warrants for a post-mortem, a burial warrant, etc and other systems where it is a medical professional, typically a chief medical examiner as they have in other countries. In Belize, currently we have a hybrid of the two of them in practice, but on the books, on paper, on the laws, it is still a coroner’s system so we need to update the legislation to reflect what the practice is where our medical examiners of the NFSS working in tandem with the police investigators are actually the ones that go and find the reportable deaths, gather the information, issue the death certificate, the cause and manner of death. And then the police or the investigators along with the prosecution now are ones that take criminal charges.”



“What are some of the shortcomings that come as a result of using this outdated system?”


Gian Cho

“Coordination, interagency coordination is one of the main challenges because like I said, the coroner’s act, if you look at it, there is no mention of National Forensic Science Service. The NFSS act was passed about 2004/2005 and so the coroner’s act wasn’t really updated with the oncoming of the NFSS, so we do need to write into the laws that there is interagency coordination, stipulating how that coordination should occur and making sure that if a step is missed, we have on paper the repercussions. If a certain procedure was not carried out or if a certain order wasn’t issued to bury a body for instance, we need to ensure that the laws are enforceable.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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