HC Deb 02 March 1875 vol 222 cc1050-2

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been drawn to the circumstances under which, according to the reports in the public press, the Coroner for Middlesex has thought himself justified in enforcing an inquest on the body of Sir C. Lyell, notwithstanding that the natural cause of his death had been duly registered under a certificate from Dr. Andrew Clarke; and, whether such proceedings as the Coroner is reported to have taken were warranted by the Law; and, if they were so warranted, whether he will take into the consideration the bringing in of a Bill with a view of amending the Law, so as to prevent the possible recurrence of actions of a like painful nature on the part of any Coroner?


I observe that there are on the Paper, in addition to the Question which has just been asked, other two relating to the same subject—one standing in the name of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), and the other in the name of the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Scourfield). With the permission of the House, I will ask leave to answer all three Questions at the same time. It does not at all surprise me to see upon the Paper three Questions upon a matter which evidently creates great interest. I have put myself in communication with Dr. Andrew Clarke on the matter, and, with the permission of the House, I will state very briefly the facts as disclosed to me by him. Dr. Clarke had been in attendance upon Sir Charles Lyell for an affection of the brain for some time before the accident which befell him on the 9th of December last. At that time Dr. Clarke recommended the family of Sir Charles Lyell to call in Sir James Paget, as the accident was a surgical one. For some time afterwards Sir Charles Lyell was attended by Sir James Paget, Dr. Andrew Clarke, and the general practitioner who regularly attended the family, and to all appearance he recovered entirely from the effects of the accident. Afterwards the original affection from which he had been suffering increased upon him, and he was again attended by Dr. Clarke and his own regular practitioner until the time of his death, which did not occur until some 12 weeks after the accident to which I have referred. "When it was pressed upon the family by the Coroner that an inquest should be held, Dr. Clarke expostulated with that official, to whom he presented a certificate of the cause of death in, I believe, his own handwriting. The Coroner, however, insisted upon holding the inquest, and I believe the facts made known in the public Press with regard to the inquiry are substantially true. If I were sitting as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, considering whether this inquest, held in the discretion of the Coroner, ought so to have been held and ought to be allowed in the accounts of the Coroner, I should strike it out of the list with the explanation that, in my opinion, it was a great outrage on decency and common sense. The House may perhaps be aware that the Secretary of State for the Home Department has no power over Coroners. The power to dismiss a Coroner rests with the Lord Chancellor. I have nevertheless thought it my duty, as being responsible for the due administration of the law, to write to the Coroner for an explanation of his reasons for holding this inquest. I have, in reply, received from the Coroner a letter in which practically he states no reason, so far as I can see, which in any way justifies the course he took. Peeling strongly in regard to this case, I have thought it my duty, as the Lord Chancellor has a certain jurisdiction over Coroners, to represent the whole state of the case to my noble and learned Friend, leaving it in his hands to deal with the question as he may think best. I can only say for myself that if such acts of discretion or indiscretion were at all common among Coroners, it would be quite necessary to clip their wings.