HC Deb 01 March 1836 vol 31 cc1125-8
Mr. Wilks

presented a petition from a medical gentleman named Barker, in favour of the measure for granting compensation to medical men attending as witnesses on Coroners' Inquests. The petitioner stated, that on the 22d of July, 1834, he made a post mortem examination of the body of a person who was supposed to have been murdered by the administration of poison. The Coroner postponed the inquest until the next day, in order to give time for the petitioner to analyse the contents of the stomach—an operation which occupied him for several hours each day for several days. The Jury had expressed their gratitude to him for the trouble he had taken and the skill he had exercised on the occasion, and recommended the parish officers to compensate him for his loss of time. That ten guineas would have been scarcely sufficient to remunerate him, but that he was willing to accept of three guineas, and that even this moderate sum the parish officers said they had no power to give. The petitioner therefore thought that the Legislature ought to interfere in a case of such public importance.

Several other petitions had been presented on this subject.

Mr. Wakley

, in rising to ask leave of the House to bring in a Bill for granting compensation to medical men attending as witnesses at Coroners' inquests, said that after the favourable manner in which the petitions just presented to the House upon this subject had been received, he should detain the House only a very few minutes, to the Bill that was brought in during the last Session for regulating the fees of Coroners a clause was proposed to compensate medical men, but the clause was objected to, and in consequence the whole Bill was very properly rejected. It had been asked, why should medical witnesses be remunerated any more than any other class of witnesses? But there was no analogy in the cases. Medical men attended professionally at inquests, and not as mere casual persons who might have chanced to witness an accident by which the loss of life was caused. The duty, too, of medical witnesses on those occasions was of a most important nature, and often attended with great danger to themselves, as they were frequently obliged to occupy twelve, and not unfrequently fourteen hours in a post mortem examination; and yet after all this trouble, hazard, and loss of time, the Coroner had no power to award any compensation. He looked upon it that having no provision of this nature for such services was a much greater injury to the public than it was to the profession. It must be recollected that the Coroner's Court was a most important Court. It was not only one of the most ancient, but it was the only Court in which the people had the election of their own Judge, In all cases where the cause of the loss of life was involved in any doubt or mystery reports were often circulated injurious to individuals, and it was the evidence of medical men alone that could by a post mortem examination of the body, give satisfaction to the public mind. Within a very short period several lives had been lost under circumstances which could only be explained by men acquainted with medical science. He alluded to those unfortunate persons who had been destroyed by the use of quack medicines, and he lamented to say, that never in the history of this country was quacking so general or successful as it was at present, chiefly owing to the encouragement it received by advertisements in newspapers. He thought it was the duty of the Government to interfere, and he hoped they would interfere to prevent, at least, the circulation of those quack medicines under the sanction of a Government stamp. At an inquest which had lately been held, arising out of the use of those medicines, the ends of justice would have been defeated if the attendance of medical men could not have been procured. When the House saw the great importance of the question to the public interests, he was sure they would not refuse to grant the slight remuneration that would be sufficient to satisfy medical men. Having thus shortly stated the principle of the Bill, he would not detain the House longer, but reserve the details for the Committee. He should conclude by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to provide for the claims of medical witnesses at Coroners' Inquests.

The Attorney-General

said, he was favourable to the principle of the Bill, and had no doubt that it would prove a useful measure. He hoped, however, that the hon. Member would guard against the provisions of the Bill being converted into jobs, by enabling Coroners to call in some medical friend with a view to entitling him to compensation.

Mr. Warburton

supported the motion, and hoped that, the Bill would provide for the payment of medical men, not only as witnesses but also for any operation they might be called on to perform, with a view to ascertaining the cause of death. It must take a considerable time to analyse a poison, and to enable a man to do so he must have a knowledge of all poisons, and surely a man ought to be paid for his skill and trouble. The ends of justice would be defeated if medical men refused to attend and give their evidence.

Sir George Strickland

supported the motion; but, as the charge of remuneration must fall on the county rate, he hoped the remuneration would be as low as possible. He well knew the liberality of the medical profession, and he was sure that they would be satisfied with a very low rate of compensation,

Mr. Wakley

, in answer to an observation made by an hon. Member, begged' to observe that a Coroner might desire the overseers to have a medical man in attendance, but at the same time the medical man might refuse. He could not in case of refusal, be proceeded against for contempt of court. He hoped the Attorney-General would pay some attention to the progress of the Bill, and suggest such amendments as his professional experience would enable him to recommend in it. He understood there was in Ireland, under the Grand Jury law, a great deal of jobbing in the selection of medical men to attend at inquests.

Leave was given.