President Buhari on December 29, 2017 assented to the “Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act, 2017.” The Act makes it compulsory for every hospital whether (private or public) to treat a victim of gunshot wounds irrespective of whether the person has a police clearance or not[1]. It also imposes a duty on security agents and other persons to render every possible assistance to any person with gunshot wounds and ensure that the person is taken to the nearest hospital[2]. It further mandates the immediate and adequate treatment of the victim by any hospital without any initial monetary deposit being made[3].

It seems that the new legislation intends to change the current practice in the country where the police stereotypes victims of gunshot wounds as likely criminals; leading to the delay of treatment and inadvertent death of victims of gunshots in need of serious medical care. Many hospitals generally require a police clearance as a pre-requisite for their treatment for fear of harassment by the police.

The Act provides penalties for hospitals that fail to comply with its provision. A fine of N100, 000 is stipulated for payment as fines by hospitals that fail to give immediate and adequate treatment to victims of gunshot wounds while doctors directly involved in refusing to treat the victim may face 6 months imprisonment, a N100, 000 fine or both. There is an overarching principle to protect life as the Act prevents volunteers who assist victims of gunshots from being subject to embarrassing and unnecessary interrogation and penalises any person or authority including police officers, security agents or hospital whose failure to perform his duty under the Act leads to the unnecessary death of a person with gunshot wounds. In this instance, the defaulting party is liable on conviction to a N500, 000 fine, imprisonment of 5 years or both[4].

It also strikes a fine balance between the right of life of a victim as contained under section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which prevents the deprivation of life except a person has been found guilty of a criminal offence with the general principle of security.

Under section 3 of the Act, a hospital that receives a victim of gunshot wounds must inform the police within two hours of giving the person treatment. The police is also mandated to begin investigation of the circumstances under which the person was shot[5]. However, the police can only invite victims for investigation after the Chief Medical Director has certified him fit and no longer in dire need of medical care.

Nevertheless, there are some observable lapses within the Act. For example while the Act is generally commendable, the legislation can be criticised for being purely drafted from a public interest “altruistic objective”. This is because it is silent on how private-run hospitals with a profit-oriented objective can get re-imbursement when a victim brought to their hospital can not ordinarily pay or defaults on the payment of their services when they are compelled to treat him under the Act.

In addition to this are arguments that the newly passed legislation is unnecessary and would have been better served by making amendments to the more comprehensive National Health Care Act, 2014 which already provides for free healthcare in emergency situations in public and private hospitals. Section 20(1) of the National Health Care Act, 2014 states that:

A health care provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason.

However, as the Act does not come with an extra cost implication, it is arguable that the recent legislation should be viewed from the context of buttressing the importance of preserving human life and reserving judgment for the criminal justice system. Notwithstanding, the effectiveness of this law will be hinged on implementation.

 

 

 

[1] Section 1, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act, 2017

[2] Section 2 of the Act

[3] Section 3(a)

[4] Section 11

[5] Section 3 (2)

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