UGANDA: How doctor was acquitted in case of teenage mother death

January 2017 TheMonitor; A doctor spent the better half of 2015 on remand in Luzira prison after being transferred from an upcountry prison. However, on December 17, 2015 a magistrate acquitted the doctor of all the three charges that the Director of Public Prosecutions had indicted the doctor of.
The charges were neglect of duty and abuse of office contrary to the Anti-Corruption Act and doing a rash or negligent act causing death.
The charges arose from the death of a 17-year-old mother that occurred in a government hospital in 2011.
The teenage mother was carrying a twin pregnancy. The prosecution alleged that the doctor had kept the teenage mother in his private clinic for about one week without giving her due care and that the doctor only referred the mother to the main hospital when her condition deteriorated.
The doctor denied this and instead told court that he referred the patient the same day he saw her. The case failed primarily due to lack of corroborative evidence.

Charges
The doctor was dragged before the Anti-Corruption Court purportedly for neglecting his duty and abusing his office.
These charges meant that the doctor appeared before the special Anti-Corruption court located in Kampala. The case was transferred from an upcountry station to Kampala and subsequently the doctor was remanded to Luzira prison.
Prosecution shot itself in the foot when it brought forth these charges against the doctor.
The onus was on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the acts of the doctor were criminal. The prosecution failed to do this in all the three charges.
In some jurisdictions, the doctor would have been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence. This is a much easier charge to prove than that of doing a rash or negligent act causing death.
There was glaring disparity between the dates in the charge sheet and those arising in the evidence adduced before court. Prosecution did not think to resolve in good time the controversy in the chronology of the events.

Postmortem
The fact of the death of the mother was not in contention. And neither was the date of the death. However, as no postmortem examination was carried out, the cause and subsequently the circumstances of death were not established. An expert witness told court that in the absence of a postmortem, there could have been other possible causes of death, some of which were natural. Court ruled that it would be unwise to speculate that the death of the deceased was caused by any action, rash, negligent or otherwise of the accused doctor. A maternal death audit was not carried out at the time the mother died and this impacted on the case.
In an ideal situation, an inquest should have been carried out in this death. An inquest is a legal inquiry into a death and the findings are extremely persuasive in a criminal trial, especially if independent experts are called to testify.

Medical records
Medical records are vital in the prosecution of an offence of a medical nature. Prosecution did not present any documentary evidence to show that the deceased was at the doctor’s clinic for seven days where the neglect of duty was said to have occurred. There was no note or record of admission of the deceased for these dates. Even when the police got some documents from the doctor’s private clinic, the way and manner in which the documents were got was in total breach of the Police Act governing a search. And as if to add insult to injury, court found that the documents were clearly tampered with.

Other factors
The doctor was arrested and charged four years after the death of the patient and police investigations into the case started when the doctor was arrested. It was, therefore, difficult to establish what really happened four years earlier and this led to incomplete and inconclusive investigations. Contradictory evidence was brought before court and this was resolved in favour of the doctor.
Different people gave court different accounts of what happened. A key witness, the husband of the deceased, vanished without a trace. Another witness turned hostile and the court subsequently dismissed his evidence.
The million dollar question was the motive of this prosecution; why the case was resurrected at that particular time and prosecuted the way it was.

17 the age of the dead teenage mother.

 

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