HC Deb 15 February 1866 vol 181 cc507-8

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether it is true that a counsel retained by the friends of some of the passengers lost in the London to attend the inquiry into the causes which led to the foundering of that ship, retired from the investigation because he was not permitted to cross-examine the witnesses; and, if so, what steps have been taken by the Board of Trade to elicit by an inquiry the whole facts so connected with that melancholy event?


said, it was true that a learned gentleman who appeared on behalf of the relatives of some of the persons who perished in the London was refused permission to cross-examine the witnesses who were examined at the inquiry. Mr. Traill, the presiding magistrate, refused that permission in order that the inquiry might be conducted according to the provisions of the Act of Parliament. The form of the investigation into cases of shipwreck, which was ordered by the Board of Trade under the Merchant Shipping Act, was prescribed by the Act; and under it a person was specially appointed to conduct the inquiry. Mr. Traill, therefore, thought that the inquiry into the loss of the London should be conducted strictly in conformity with the Act; but in the exercise of his discretion had he allowed counsel to appear on behalf of the relatives of persons who had perished he would have caused long delay, and might have unnecessarily prejudiced rights and liability which were proper to be determined in a court of law. As some misconception prevailed on the subject he wished to state that no decision was come to in these inquiries which affected the rights or liabilities of any one, and that no one had a right or claim to be heard except the captain or mate, who might be deprived of his certificate. If it appeared during the inquiry that the ship was lost through default on the part of the captain or mate, it was provided by a clause in the Act that in such a case such captain or mate should have a full opportunity of being heard either by himself or counsel. Mr. Traill had pointed out to him that there would be great practical inconvenience of various kinds if an inquiry into the cause of a wreck, instituted with the view of enabling all concerned to provide remedies against similar casualties, such as improved construction of ships, correction of charts, new lighthouses, and the like, should be made an opportunity for interested parties to anticipate proceedings, which ought more properly to take place in an ordinary court of law.


said, as it seemed to him impossible that the public would be contented as respected the safety of passengers with the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, he gave notice that on a future day he would call the attention of the House to the subject.