The death of a relative or friend can be a traumatic experience. When the death occurs overseas, family and friends can feel additional distress as they are often unfamiliar with procedures in the country where the death occurred and this distress can be made worse by practical problems or foreign judicial policy. Should a death occur in Mauritius, the British High Commission and the Consular Directorate of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is ready to help in any way we can.
You may be uncertain about what to do, or who to contact for advice. These notes are designed to help you through the practical arrangements you will need to make. You should be aware that some local procedures differ from those in the UK and that while we understand your need for arrangements to be made quickly, this might not always be possible.
The information contained in this document is not a statement of the law, nor is it to be taken as a substitute for independent legal advice.
FOR CONSULAR SUPPORT
• In the UK, please call Consular Directorate at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London on 020 7008 0168
• In MAURITIUS, please call the Consular Section, British High Commission on (230) 202 9400. Office hours are: Mon – Thurs 07:45am – 15.45 – Friday 08.15 – 13.30. If you are calling out of our normal office hours, you should call the emergency number (230) 202 9423 or if calling from the UK, call +442070083353
If a death involves a British National and is accidental or suspicious, the Mauritius Police will be involved and they will usually, but not always, inform the British High Commission in Mauritius. When a person dies from a sudden, violent, unnatural death or where the cause of death is not known, a doctor cannot issue a death certificate.
We do not have a coroner system as such in Mauritius, therefore every unnatural/unexplained death is referred to the police. The Police request the authority of a magistrate to perform a post-mortem examination (autopsy) to ascertain the means, manner and cause of death. A Police Medical Officer (PMO - holder of a specialist degree in Forensic Medicine) is contacted by the Police to perform the post-mortem examination. Upon their findings and laboratory results, the PMO can advise the Police whether it is a natural or unnatural death. In the case of natural death the Police will file the case. In the case of suspicious or unnatural death, a judicial enquiry will be held by a District Magistrate (this can take months), normally in the district where the death has occurred. In case of homicide, a preliminary enquiry is carried out (within 1-2 years), where the District Magistrate decide to which higher court (either Intermediate Court or Assizes) to refer the case while taking into consideration the elements (i.e. witnesses, scientific evidence, laboratory results etc) from the Police enquiry. How the case progresses thereafter will depend on the result of this enquiry.
The Police Medical Officers are directly answerable to the Commissioner of Police. The Post Mortem report is submitted to the District Magistrate. If all laboratory results are available, the final report can be ready within six (6) weeks.
WILL THERE BE AN INQUEST?
Most deaths reported will not result in an inquest. If the District Magistrate is able to consider all available evidence, such as medical reports and witness statements, and is satisfied that there are no outstanding matters to be determined, they can decide an inquest is not necessary.
An inquest must be held where the deceased has not been identified, the cause of death has not been determined, or the person died as a result of a homicide or in certain other circumstances.
Mortuary facilities, including storage, are available in Mauritius.
There are mortuaries at all major hospitals.
Amongst other services offered, Elie & Sons, Funeral Directors (listed below) also offer private refrigerated room facilities for up to nine (9) bodies.
POST MORTEM (AUTOPSY) EXAMINATION
Unless a doctor has certified the cause of death and the death is a natural one, the police will request a magistrate’s authority for a post-mortem (autopsy) examination to be carried out. This is the only certain method of determining and recording the cause of death, and is necessary to ensure an accurate finding as to the cause of death.
Post-mortems are normally carried out within 24 hours of death, or as soon as possible thereafter.
An interim post-mortem result is usually available within a few days but the final cause of death may not be known for some time, because it may depend on the results of toxicology tests. Next of kin are entitled to receive a copy of the final post-mortem report, but need to request this in writing.
IT IS ADVISABLE THAT THE FAMILY REQUEST A COPY OF THE POST MORTEM IN WRITING BEFORE LEAVING THE COUNTRY. This request must be addressed to the Commissioner of Police, Line Barracks, Port Louis. The British High Commission can also request this on your behalf but we must have written authorisation to do this.
CAN THE BODY BE SEEN?
The police may ask a family member or friend of the deceased to view the body for identification purposes before a post-mortem takes place. Arrangements will be made for the deceased to be taken to the mortuary where the body may be viewed by any of the next of kin.
REPATRIATION AND BURIAL
Even when a post-mortem has not yet taken place, you can still begin to make funeral arrangements. A funeral director may be appointed by the family of the deceased.
If the deceased had travel insurance, you should contact the insurance company as soon as possible. They can significantly reduce the stress on family and friends by providing advice and taking care of most of the arrangements and costs associated with a local funeral or repatriation to the UK. However, you should be aware that in some cases the insurer might wish to use its preferred funeral directors. Therefore it is better to consider talking to the insurance company before you appoint a funeral director.
The following local funeral directors have previously been used by British families, both for local burial/cremation and for repatriation to the UK. But please note that we supply their names without any recommendation:
The funeral director will make the arrangements for local burial/cremation or for repatriation to the UK (or another country should you wish it) for burial/cremation there. They will attend to all the documentation required. In the case of repatriation to the UK, they will need the contact details of the funeral director in the UK who will be responsible for receiving the deceased. This may also be a funeral director appointed by the insurance company.
Estimated costs for the funeral options will be obtained from the chosen undertakers.
All funeral directors will take care of administrative formalities on your behalf.
Please note that Elie & Sons Ltd is the only company which now has their own cold room and standard Mortuary. They also have three new chapels where relatives can view their loved ones before the cremation or repatriation takes place. They have an embalmer qualified from Australia and an embalming machine for arterial embalming which needs to take place before repatriation can take place. An arterial embalming allows more than 30 days before cremation or repatriation is required. Elie & Sons Ltd can also practice Mortuary make up and if needed, cosmetology for trauma cases (e.g. death occurring in road accidents).
If not embalmed, burial must take place within 24 hours. Embalming is compulsory for delayed burial or for repatriation.
The funeral directors should be aware of the documentary and other requirements for repatriating the deceased to the UK.
Following a local cremation, the next of kin can carry the ashes back to the UK if they wish. They should be in a sealed container, and be accompanied by the death certificate and a statement from the funeral director or crematorium that the contents are ashes only. Please note that the ashes can be carried as hand luggage if they meet the requirements above. It is nevertheless better to advise the airline before doing so.
When the deceased is repatriated to the UK for burial or cremation, the UK Coroner in whose area this will take place is obliged by law to open an inquest into the death if it was unnatural or violent, even if it occurred overseas. This inquest may be delayed pending the UK Coroner receiving the necessary documents from the appropriate authorities in Mauritius. This is why the next of kin, if present at the time of death, is advised to request a copy of the post mortem report (see above).
Local cremation is possible. A certificate of cause of death signed by a doctor and a cremation permit is necessary. A fee of Rs 2,000 (without coffin) or Rs 3,000 (with coffin) is payable for the use of the crematorium burner.
As local customs and religious beliefs tend to see more burial than cremation, the facilities for cremation are very basic. Please be prepared and do not expect the same standard as available in Europe. There are five crematorium burners on the island, two of those, at Phoenix Cemetery and Bigara Cemetery in Curepipe, have a room where the coffin can be placed before it is sent into the burner. These two crematoriums do not show the coffin being placed in the burner. A religious ceremony can also be arranged upon request if required. The other three crematoriums consist of a burner only and you will see the coffin being placed directly into the burner. This can add to what is already a very distressing time.
REGISTRATION OF THE DEATH
We can register deaths at British High Commission in Port Louis, Mauritius but this is not a compulsory process as the local death certificate is acceptable. To register the death of a British citizen whose death occurs in Mauritius with the British High Commission, you need to contact:
British High Commission,
7th Floor, Les Cascades Building
Edith Cavell Street, Port Louis
Tel: (230) 202 9400 or (230) 202 9416 (Consular)
Website: www.gov.uk/government/world/mauritius A death certificate is not issued automatically; an application must be lodged and a fee of £105 paid for the registration and if you want a copy of the death certificate, you need to pay an additional fee of £65. All fees are payable in cash and in local currency.
RETURN OF PERSONAL EFFECTS
Personal effects are normally returned to the next of kin, or their authorized representative, without any formalities. If the police have been investigating the death, they have to authorize the return or retrieval of personal effects.
The Police investigate all accidental or suspicious deaths. As well as examining the scene of the death, they will take statements from witnesses, and also interview family and/or friends of the deceased who are present in the country.
Mauritius’s legal system is similar to the UK’s. If the police apprehend a suspect in a case of suspicious death, he/she will probably be remanded in custody whilst the police conduct an investigation. It usually takes several months (sometimes years) before a case comes to court for a full hearing.