HC Deb 14 April 1842 vol 62 cc491-3
Captain Polhill

in moving for leave to bring in a bill to empower county and all other coroners to admit of bail in cases of manslaughter, said, that; if the respectability and legal knowledge of coroners were generally not such as to justify the placing of such a responsibility into their hands, it would be a fair ground of objection against his bill; but as their respectability and legal knowledge were such as to justify him in seeking to give them that responsibility, he hoped no opposition would be offered to it. The hon. Member entered into a statement to show the great antiquity and respectability of the office, and the great consideration in which that office was held in former times. With respect to the crime of manslaughter, it consisted of various degrees of criminality. Manslaughter was defined to be the killing of another without malice expressed or implied. A case had come under his notice at the last Bedford Assizes, which he considered one of great hardship. It was the case of an individual who had committed manslaughter on his brother, and who had been in prison for seven months before his trial came on, because the coroner had not the power to release him on bail. Another case of the kind occurred at the Huntingdon Assizes, in which a man had been imprisoned for thirty-two weeks before his trial came on because the corner had not the power to take bail for his appearance. It might be said that there was a remedy for this, either by habeas corpus or certiorari; but his answer to this was, that that course was both inconvenient and expensive. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to introduce a bill to empower county and all other coroners to admit of bail in cases of manslaughter.

Sir J. Graham

said, it was not his intention to oppose the motion of the hon. and gallant Member; but he wished to call the attention of the House to the bill which the hon. Member proposed to introduce, and which involved considerations of great importance. The hon. Gentleman rested the necessity for his measure upon one or two particular cases of great hardship which he had mentioned. He must remind the House, that the offence to which the motion of the hon. Member referred was next in magnitude to a crime of the deepest dye; the distinctions between manslaughter and murder were extremely nice; and great discrimination was frequently required in distinguishing between the two offences. He did not wish to speak disparagingly of the office of coroner, or of the gentlemen by whom that office was held; but he certainty considered it a great advantage, as the law now existed, that the coroner, whose duty it was to sum up to the jury the evidence adduced before him, and who might be influenced by a particular bias, should not have the power of granting or refusing bail in cases in which it might be demanded. As the law now stood, a person charged with murder or manslaughter could not obtain his liberty without hawing his case investigated by its removal by habeas corpus before a judge. He would not now enter into the question; hut he wished it to be understood, that although he did not oppose the introduction of this bill, he was not prepared in its future stages to give it his assent.

Mr. Wakley

said, coroners did not ask for the power which the bill of the right hon. and gallant Member proposed to give them. It would, indeed, be attended with some convenience in a public view; but it would add considerably to the duties of coroners. By an act of William and Mary, coroners had the power of taking bail; but in 1824, when an alteration was made in the law-, this power was inadvertently lost.

Leave given.