HC Deb 04 March 1881 vol 259 cc371-6

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was to increase the payment to Irish Coroners for their services, and to increase their superannuation. It provided for the payment of Coroners in Ireland by salary, instead of, as was the case at the present time, by fees. That method of paying Coroners by salary had been in force in England since 1860. Irish Coroners, at the present time, received 30s. for each inquest held by them up to a certain amount, the limit being £100 per annum. He knew of a case not long back in which a Coroner had to travel a long distance to attend an inquest, which lasted a month. The total amount he received for this was £2. That, he (Mr. Healy) considered to be quite inadequate remuneration. The Bill, therefore, proposed that the fees payable to Coroners should be added together in each case for the last five years; but at the rate of £2 10s. per inquest, instead of £1 10s., and the resulting sum paid as a salary. On an average, this would only amount to about £83 per annum to each Coroner. It was also proposed that a superannuation allowance should be given to every Coroner after 21 years' service, that he should be allowed to appoint a deputy, and that candidates for the office should be taken only from among magistrates, licentiates of medicine, barristers, and solicitors. He moved the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Healy.)


, said, he was sorry not to be able to accept the Bill. The Bill was a short one, and altogether inadequate. Any measure to deal with the subject satisfactorily must be much more comprehensive than the present Bill. His main objection was that the Bill was at best of a fragmentary character, and would interfere with the free action of the Ministry in framing their promised measure of re-organization of County Government in Ireland. A Bill for putting the law of Coroners on a new basis was brought in during the time of the late Government, and was fully considered by a Select Committee, who amended it so that it ultimately contained some 60 or 70 clauses. After all, the chief object of the present Bill was to obtain superannuation allowances; but he would remind hon. Members that superannuation did not exist in the English system. He did not think that 30s. was an insufficient sum for attending an inquest. With respect to the other provisions, he considered that no sufficient guarantees of ability could be offered by freshly-admitted barristers, solicitors, or medical men; but, above all, the Government had to consider whether the office of Coroner should still be retained. He concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


appealed to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland to withdraw his opposition to the Bill, on the understanding that the Committee stage should not be taken for a month, during which time the Grand Juries of Ireland could express their opinions upon it. He objected to the supercilious and official tone adopted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in opposing the second reading, and complained of the narrow-minded lawyers who formed the Irish Executive objecting to the Bill, which had not been petitioned against by a single person in Ireland.


said, there were many instances in England in which Coroners did their work by deputy, and, the necessity being admitted, the appointment and the pay ought to be a public matter, and not one of private arrangement. He urged that there was plenty of room for improvement in the office of Coroner in Ireland, and that it was better to pass a fragmentary measure than to wait for an indefinite time for a comprehensive reform.


supported the Bill, and expressed his inability to understand the ground upon which it was opposed, inasmuch as it merely sought to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England, by paying Coroners by salary instead of by fees, and to facilitate the appointment of Deputy-Coroners. It afforded English Members an opportunity of showing Irish Members their willingness to redress Irish grievances, and to pass a reform for Ireland which had already been effected in England. At a time when they were passing coercive legislation for Ireland, they ought, if they could, to meet the views of Irish Members on a question of this kind. He therefore trusted that English Members would not vote against this Bill, because it was introduced by an Irish Member—the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy)—but would follow into the Lobby the Irish Members, who were the best judges of what was needed in this matter.


said, he was glad to say it was an English and not an Irish Member—namely, the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon), who had endeavoured to introduce into the debate an element of bitterness which ought not to exist, and for which there was no foundation. It was rather too much for any Member, and especially an English Member, to suggest that a Bill could be rejected, not upon its merits, but because it was presented by the hon. Member for Wexford. He hoped it was the last time that such a suggestion would be made. The hon. and learned Member had undertaken to explain a Bill which he had failed to comprehend. He (the Solicitor General for Ireland) would consider the measure solely upon its merits, and he would point out that it was not a Bill to reconcile the English and Irish practice. It did not attempt or pretend to do so. It was laid before the House, he apprehended, because it was thought it would be acceptable in Ireland; but he differed from it in principle. Under the law at present provision existed for holding inquests in the absence or illness of the Coroner; and, therefore, in no case, he might say, under the existing system, was an inquest left unheld in Ireland in which it ought to be held, and consequently the object which it was sought to accomplish was already effected without any increased charge upon the public. The Bill was, therefore, in his opinion, as unnecessary as unwise in its proposition as to a Deputy. It was not, in his opinion, wise to make the salary of a Coroner vary in proportion to the number of inquests held. The proper way to proceed was rather to regulate and fix it in accordance with the average duties which he might have to perform. He disapproved of the proposed qualifications, none of which sucured sufficient experience for the discharge of the duty devolving on a Coroner. There was, he might also point out, a strong objection to giving a superannuation allowance to an officer whose time was in no way wholly devoted to the service of the public. A Coroner was free to follow any profession or pursuit; it was only occasionally that he was called upon to act as Coroner; and he was not aware of any case in which such an allowance was made to a person discharging duties such as those to which the Bill related.


hoped the Secretary of State for the Home Department would see his way to reforming the whole system with regard to the appointment of Coroners in England, for as it existed at present it was a scandal. He had lately had experience of this in an election for the county of Wiltshire. He thought the whole system was bad, and required alteration.


supported the Bill, on the ground that it would remove a great anomaly. The liberty of Coroners' Courts in Ireland was invaded by the police, who carried off witnesses and, otherwise interfered with the initiatory inquiry which ought to be held in all suspicious cases. At the same time, he quite agreed that the whole system of Coroners' Courts, both in England and Ireland, required revision. He advocated the payment of liberal fixed salaries to Coroners utterly irrespective of the number of inquests they had to hold, or the distance they had to travel in order to fulfil the requirements of the office.


thought that, as the Government had so great a difficulty in introducing Bills of their own, they might with advantage accept that Bill and draft some Amendments of their own upon it, such as the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland considered necessary.


supported the Bill. He recommended the Government to assent to the second reading, and then to refer the Bill to a Committee upstairs. He regretted that the Committee which was appointed some time ago to consider Coroners' duties were not authorized to pay some attention to the duties of Coroners in Ireland. He thought in rural districts dispensary doctors were best qualified to act as Coroners.


approved of the suggestion of the hon. Baronet the Member for King's County (Sir Patrick O'Brien. No doubt the Bill was capable of improvement; and he would therefore appeal to the Government to allow the Bill to be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee. The question had been before the House for 12 years.


supported the second reading of the Bill, as it, in his opinion, contained very reasonable clauses.


submitted that it would be well to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, impartially chosen, as, by the provisions in it as it stood, the franchise would be restricted and dispensary doctors might be appointed Coroners. He objected to that proposition, and also to the superannuation clauses out of the rates. The Bill, if passed as it was now, would be most unpopular in Ireland.


said, that he had objected to the Bill because it dealt with such a small part of the subject; but he would withdraw his objection on the understanding that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, and that when the proper time came he should be permitted to move an Instruction to the Committee to inquire into the whole of the present law affecting coroners in Ireland.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.

House adjourned at a quarter after Eleven o'clock till Monday next.