HC Deb 10 March 1841 vol 57 cc99-103

Mr. Pakington moved the second reading of the County Coroners' Bill. It contained the same provisions as a bill which had been introduced in that House in 1835, and which bore on it the name of the hon. Member for Bridport, namely, that the election of Coroners should be vested in those who were entitled to vote for Members of Parliament. He trusted, therefore, his bill would meet with ho opposition from that hon. Member.

Mr. Warburton

said, it did not follow that because the hon. Member who introduced the bill put upon the back of it the name of another hon. Member, that that hon. Member was bound by all the provisions of the bill. His objections were principally to the clause which proposed to render the electors of a county coroner the same as the electors of Members of Parliament; because, by adopting that mode, the magistrates would have a voice in the election, which he deprecated, because it ought to be remembered that the coroner had often to sit in judgment even upon magistrates themselves, and therefore he thought the election of that officer should be as little as possible connected with the magistracy. He though the election of coroner ought to approach as near as possible to universal suffrage. It was upon these grounds he opposed the bill, and would divide the House upon its second reading.

Mr. Fox Maule

hoped the hon. Member for Bridport would not insist upon dividing the House on the second reading of the bill. He thought, looking at the slate of the law with respect to coroners, the House was much indebted to the hon. Member who had introduced the measure. With respect to what had been stated as to Coroners' Courts being open ones, he thought there was great room for argument upon both sides; but his opinion was, that a large discretion should always be given to coroners to clear their Courts, or not, as justice required it.

Colonel Sibthorp

thought depositions ought to be taken before coroners as they were in courts of law. He hoped the House would let the bill go into committee.

Mr. Hume

said, that whilst he agreed with the hon. Gentleman that a bill ought to be passed to prevent fraud in the election of coroners, he could never agree to any measure which would narrow the suffrage. He dissented entirely from that part of the bill. He trusted, however, that his hon. Friend would not divide the House upon the second reading, but lei the bill go into committee, on the understanding that he would then oppose what he considered as objectionable. If the hon. Gentleman who moved the bill would leave the suffrage on the same footing as it had hitherto rested, he would support the measure.

Mr. Warburton

would not, after the appeal of the hon. Under-secretary for the Home Department, divide the House.

Sir G. Strickland

would give the bill his hearty support, because the system at present in force was very expensive, particularly in Yorkshire, where each coroner, although he was to act for only a district, was elected by the whole county, in which there were at least 50,000 electors. No one could go to that expense, and the consequence was, that the election was carried by a few freeholders near the county town. He did not agree to all the clauses in the bill, but he would support the second reading, in the hopes that it would be amended in the committee.

Mr. Wakley

would support the second reading of the bill as several of its provisions were very good, but he must decidedly object to the magistrates having anything to do with the election of the coroner—the coroner had often to sit in judgment on the conduct of the magistrates, and he must decidedly oppose giving them any more power over the coroner—they had too much already. Upon principle, and generally, the coroner's court ought to be an open court, but cases might arise, when, if the coroner had not the power to lake evidence in secret the ends of justice might be, and he had no doubt had been, defeated. It was said, that the murderer of Mr. West-wood was in the room where the inquest was hold, and afterwards escaped to America. In such a case, where no suspicion attached to any individual, it would be very injurious to the public interests, if the coroner had not the power of closing his court. With regard to the clauses relating to the franchise, the constituency in Middlesex and Surrey would be enlarged by them, and would not be so open to fraudulent practices. The registration would have a great effect in doing away with such practices. The constituency under the bill in West Middlesex alone, would amount to 25,000, whereas at present, in the whole county, they did not amount to 14,000. He objected to any change being made in the coroner's districts by the magistrates, without his consent. The districts in Middlesex, had been settled years ago, and his colleague and himself never interfered with each other. The coroner was one of the hardest worked and worst paid officers in the county. The gallant colonel was anxious to have the depositions taken at length. Now, as the enquiry was as to whether a person had died a violent or a natural death, many questions were asked which afterwards turned out to have no connection with the subject, and which would give great pain, if they were published He was glad his hon. Friend did not intend to divide against the bill. With regard to the deputy, the fifteenth clause provided that such deputy should be a barrister or an attorney. Why not a qualified medical practitioner? He had been coroner for a sufficient length of time to know that it was absolutely necessary that the person holding the office of coroner should have received a medical education. He believed, that when the hon. Gentleman moved that clause he would find a large majority against it. With respect to appointing deputy-coroners he was opposed to such a measure, unless the coroners appointed their deputies on the same terms that the sheriffs did—namely, that they themselves should be responsible, and not the deputies. Unless that were done, whenever any difficult or doubtful case occurred, the coroner would absent himself, and act by his deputy, and the decision made in such case would not be valid unless the coroner were unavoidably absent. The great inconvenience of that course must be apparent to all. There was another point in the bill to which he wished to advert—the table of fees to be paid by coroners as disbursements. By returns laid before the House relative to that subject, it appeared that the claims were not similar in all the counties of England. In the county of Middlesex, one farthing was not allowed to jurors who attended at inquests, whereas on the other side of the river each juror was allowed 1s. The clause which would amend that state of things would meet with his cordial support.

Bill read a second time.

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