Meeting with the MJC on the high case load experienced by FPS in the Metropole
Statement by the Western Cape Government Health following the meeting with the Muslim Judicial Council on the extremely high case load experienced by Forensic Pathology Services in the Metropole
At a meeting with the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), hosted by the Health MEC Minister Nomafrench Mbombo, the following was confirmed:
The Department is committed to the established practice of prioritising the autopsies of Muslim bodies, in recognition of Islamic law. This practice of prioritisation has always been balanced with the prioritisation for legal and clinical priorities, such as the gathering of evidence for medic-legal cases (e.g. rape cases). The essential mandate of Forensic Pathology Services (FPS) is to conduct medico-legal investigation into unnatural deaths, in support of the justice system. The quality of this investigation forms the basis of the medico-legal investigation and needs to be intact and stand up to scrutiny. The right to justice and a proper investigation are rights afforded to all citizens, and prioritisation needs to be weighed with this in mind.
Recently, this practice of prioritisation has come under pressure due to the extremely high caseload of unnatural deaths in the Province. Despite recent interventions of appointing more staff (six Forensic Pathology Officers; and a sessional Medical Officer), the Department has not been able to maintain the expected 24-hour release period for Muslim bodies. The current average period for the release of bodies is 6–7 days.
The MJC made it clear that the average period of 6-7 days is unacceptable and appealed to the Department and the Minister to shorten this time-frame to a more mutually acceptable period.
The Department committed to an internal review of its procedures in an attempt to shorten the current average period for the release of bodies, with weekly communication updates to the MJC. The Department also confirmed that it will remain in contact with families to communicate the expected dates of the release of bodies.
Minister Mbombo committed to escalate the matter to the Provincial Cabinet on Wednesday, 18th October 2017, in an attempt to secure additional resources to assist the Department to shorten the current average period for the release of bodies.
The parties agreed to meet in one month’s time (30 days) to review the situation. Both parties affirmed their commitment to working together to find solutions during this challenging time.