HC Deb 26 May 1868 vol 192 cc920-2

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to the following passage in a charge to the Grand Jury at Liverpool in March last by Mr. Justice Mellor:— In conclusion the learned judge referred to frauds recently practised upon burial societies, and said that, in many cases he feared that the registration of death was a mere farce. In one of these cases, he said, the doctor had given a certificate of death without being aware that the person was dead; and if such was the usual practice, and he was told it was, the sooner it was changed the better. Whether he has not observed similar complaints—namely, of certificates of death being given without any inquiry or knowledge, to have been made by the Coroners for London and, Manchester; and if he will state what steps have been taken to remedy so dangerous a practice?


Sir, my attention had not been called to the passage in Mr. Justice Mellor's charge until the hon. Member put his Notice upon the Paper. I have made inquiry, and I understand the Judge's reference to the subject arose from two certificates having been given of the deaths of persons who were not actually dead. Men affected to have been present at the houses or at the deathbeds of those represented to have been dead, and they brought with them certificates from medical practitioners stating the cause of death in each case. They had gone to the medical practitioners, stating that the persons were dead, and the medical men, remembering that they had attended them for certain complaints, without further inquiry gave certificates stating that the deaths had resulted from those complaints, while in fact neither person was dead. Under the Registration Act the Registrar is to receive, either from a person pie-sent at the deathbed, or some one in the house, a statement of the death and of the cause of it, and the usual practice is to obtain from a medical man, if one has been in attendance, the statement of the cause of death. The Registrar is not bound to go and see that the person is dead, but under the statute he is to receive the statement from those who were present or who are cognizant of the facts; and if these persons make a misrepresentation, under a recent statute they are liable to penal servitude. With respect to the second part of the Question, I have had no complaint from the Coroner of London; indeed, he has written to me since the Notice was given to say that he has no complaint to make. There were some complaints from Manchester, and there has been some correspondence between the Coroner of Manchester and the Home Office, and, in consequence, be- tween the Home Office and the Registrar General; and the Registrar General stated in effect that the Registrar on the spot was acting in conformity with the statute in receiving the statement and the medical certificate; and that he had no option but to enter in his book that which was stated to him by persons who appeared to have authority for making the statement. We have not contemplated any alteration of the Act of Parliament, for it would be impossible that the Registrar should inquire into every case; and as every person who makes a misrepresentation renders himself liable to a severe punishment, I think with due vigilance that this dangerous practice may be put a stop to.