NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Attorney General Carl Bethel yesterday dismissed a suggestion by Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis to amend the law to expedite death certificates.
“That would then create a presumption of death and no person should be presumed dead by act of Parliament, merely because of convenience,” Bethel said in an interview with Eyewitness News Online.
“It’s important where there is sudden or unexplained or unnatural causes that there be judicial eyes on that before anything is expedited.”
Bethel said: “So, I disagree with the leader of the opposition on that.”
Davis, who was contributing to the debate on the proposed amendments to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, suggested the government turn its focus to amending other relevant laws, like death certificates for missing people.
He suggested an amendment to allow for people declared missing from Hurricane Dorian to be presumed dead after the passage of six months from the date that the person was last seen, but noted that time period could be adjusted based on consultation and best practices.
Under the current law, there is a seven-year period before anyone can be declared dead in absentia.
However, Bethel yesterday shut this proposal down.
The attorney general insisted there are already methodologies in the country’s law for death certificates to be obtained in an expedited fashion with judicial oversight and “not by virtue of some artificial parliamentary presumption after six months”.
“Good heavens, people may have been washed away and picked up on a boat and taken somewhere else and not caught themselves in time,” he continued.
“You don’t know.”
Hurricane Dorian battered parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco for three days, leaving thousands displaced and at least 61 dead.
Of that number, officers recovered 52 people from Abaco, of which 35 have been identified and nine people in Grand Bahama, of which all have been identified.
Bethel has previously said the government will expedite the death certificates of people lost during the storm.
Asked about the matter yesterday, he said, “The coroner’s courts and I have discussed and agreed a methodology. Now it’s up to the coroner’s court and it’s up to the people to bring the matters to the coroner’s court.”
Bethel explained, “Persons who wish, for whatever reason they may have, whether it’s claims on an estate, whether it’s insurance, whether it’s just to get closure, to do that must first of all make a statement to police, giving the evidence that they have that someone is dead in their view.
“Then it’s to be referred to the coroner’s court. The police will do an investigation and send it to the coroner.
“…The coroner will engage in a process that will allow for the issuance of a death certificate, within a period less than seven years.
“Seven years is a presumption of death.
“The coroner can issue a death certificate at any time, whether it’s sudden or unexpected or unexplained death after an inquest, which may be held with or without a jury, as the circumstances will permit.”
To date, the number of persons still missing or unaccounted for is 1,003 in Abaco and 205 in Grand Bahama, according to the Department of Social Services.