HC Deb 29 July 1835 vol 29 cc1227-31

The House went into Committee on the Bill for regulating County Coroners.

On the Clause providing that fees should be paid to the medical men who were called upon to give evidence before a Coroner's Jury,

Mr. C. Barclay

moved an Amendment, to the effect that the fee to be given should in no case be less than 1l. or more than 2l.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that this part of the Bill would open the door to the widest jobbing. The Amendment might as well propose at once that the fee should be always 2l.; it might be regarded as certain, that no Coroner would give his cousin less than 2l. He hoped that the House would reject the Clause altogether.

Mr. Cripps

said, that the Amendment was not his, and that he objected to it entirely.

The Attorney-General also objected to it, and said, that the Clause was not of his framing.

An Hon. Member said, that at present no remuneration was allowed to medical gentlemen for the performance of the duty in question—which was one of much danger; many surgeons had lost their lives by dissecting exhumed bodies, and yet medical men were by this Bill liable to be called before a Coroner's Jury at any time. Ought they not then to be remunerated? The remuneration might be accorded by the Jury, and thus all jobbing, so far as the Coroner was concerned, would be avoided.

Mr. O'Connell

Such an amendment would only lead to greater jobbing; for the Coroner would in that case have to summon such a Jury as he thought would readily grant to the surgeon (in all probability his cousin, or some other near relation) as large a sum as could possibly be granted.

An Hon. Member said, that the Coroner had nothing to do with the summoning of the Jury—it was the constable who summoned it.

Mr. O'Connell

Yes, nominally the constable, but no one could reasonably doubt that it was the Coroner's Jury, for it was he who signed the panel, and the inquest was in fact his.

Mr. Warburton

considered that 2l. was but small remuneration for a respectable surgeon, when it was necessary to open a body.

Mr. Wakley

hoped that this Bill, which was a subject of great consequence, and which affected the interests of all classes of persons, would be allowed to proceed. He could not help expressing his sorrow that a proposition for giving but inadequate remuneration to those without whose testimony a Coroner's inquest would be a mere farce, should be received at his side of the House in the tone and temper with which it had been met. The hostility which the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had displayed to the proposition really surprised him, because his hon. and learned Friend must be aware that there was an Irish Act called one of the Grand Jury Acts, which empowered the Coroner to give the surgeon four guineas. But his hon. and learned Friend was apprehensive that if the surgeon who attended inquests was fairly paid for his services that jobbing would ensue. He knew not in what manner these inquests were held in Ireland; but from the mode in which they were conducted in this country, he felt perfectly convinced that no jobbing whatever would take place under them. He considered the fee of 2l. too small a remuneration for the performance of so exceedingly disagreeable and painful a duty. It was most dangerous to life; and the Insurance Offices required a higher premium to be paid on effecting an insurance on the life of a surgeon on account of this circumstance; and some offices, in consequence of their having to perform such a duty, refused to insure the life of the person liable to it at all. In many instances the surgeon had to examine cutaneous diseases, of which there was some danger of contagion, and he had frequently to examine the whole of the organs of the human body, and even after this examination it was not a very uncommon occurrence that he was at a loss to account for the cause of death. When such were the means obliged to be taken by a surgeon to acquire information as to the cause of death, it was quite impossible that any other person connected with the inquest could know anything of the matter considered as a medical subject. He objected to the Amendment which had been proposed, not because it directed that too high a sum should be paid to the surgeon, but because he considered it too small. He was of opinion that the surgeon ought to receive instead of 1l. 3l., and in no case less than 3l. If he were paid 10l., it would not, in some cases, be extravagant. He knew a post mortem examination to last eight hours, and even then the inquiry was not considered satisfactory. Would any man say, that a respectable surgeon in extensive practice would be overpaid, if on such an occasion he received 3l.? The House should bear in mind that, whenever any proposition for the payment of Barristers was made, it was acceded to without the slightest hesitation. Thus Barristers were, for instance, sent on Commissions of Inquiry throughout the country, travelled in their coaches-and-four, enjoying the scenery and prospects which the country displayed, and received their travelling expenses besides five guineas a day. But if the surgeon travelled twenty miles to an inquest he was not allowed a farthing. It had been said, that the Coroner generally called in his cousin, who was a surgeon. The Coroner had not the power to do so; for the medical man who was known to possess most skill in the district in which the occurrence which gave rise to the inquest took place, was generally called in. If the House bestowed the slightest calm consideration on the subject, they could not, he thought, refuse to give to the medical man, who had so onerous and painful a duty to fulfil, a fair and just compensation.

Captain Pechell

thought that the hon. Member for Finsbury's proposition of substituting 3l. for 1l. would be a great improvement. But there was such a circumstance as the case of an inquest having sat on the body where the party turned out afterwards not to have been dead. A person had been supposed to have been drowned, an inquest sat on the body, and the verdict was "Found drowned." The exertions of the Humane Society restored that supposed lifeless body to animation again, and life continued for twenty-fours afterwards. What would the hon. Member for Finsbury propose that the surgeon who had attended should have in such a case as that?

Dr. Bowring

No post mortem examination could take place until after death.

Mr. Wakley

Oh, yes, there can; I know an instance in which there were three inquests held on the body of a woman in the London Hospital. The Coroner was an attorney, and I am informed that, after holding the first inquest, on proceeding to hold the second, the woman was discovered eating oysters.

Mr. O'Connell

Talk of Irish jobbing after that! At this side of the Channel it appeared that a person might die three times. Surely no Irish lawyer could boast of getting such a fee, and all for nothing. With the high opinion entertained by his Friend, Mr. Wakley, of the services of a medical man, he did not think any one would employ him on an inquest. He was present at 200 trials where medical men were examined, and paid for their attendance; and his opinion was, that they were not overpaid for their services, as they furnished material information. They talked a great deal of sinciput and occiput, and extravasations, but they gave, after all, no more information than the Jury could arrive at without their learned aid; in most cases every one could tell the cause of death.

The blank in the Clause was filled up with the words "two pounds."

On the proposition that the expense be paid out of the county rate the Committee divided.

Ayes 117; Noes 23, Majority 94.

An objection being made to the mode proposed by the Bill, it was given up.

The House resumed.