HC Deb 30 January 1929 vol 224 cc946-8

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Coroners Acts, 1887 to 1926. Last year I asked for leave to bring in a similar Bill and the House was good enough to grant it. I do not intend to go over the ground again, but I wish to remind the House of the present position of the law. Under the Coroners Act of 1887 it is the duty of the coroner's court and jury to inquire into who the deceased was, how, when and where the deceased came by his death, and, if it be murder or manslaughter, the persons if any, whom the jury find to have been guilty of such murder or manslaughter. Then the coroner if. to issue a warrant for the arrest of the person or persons found guilty by the jury. That position was amended by Section 20 of the Coroners (Amendment) Act, 1926, which provides: (1) If on an inquest touching a death the Coroner is informed before the jury have given their verdict that some person has been charged before examining justices with the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of the deceased, ho shall, in the absence of reason to the contrary, adjourn the inquest until after the conclusion of the criminal proceedings and may if he thinks fit discharge the jury. (2) After the conclusion of the criminal proceedings the Coroner may…resume the adjourned inquest if he. is of opinion that there is sufficient cause to do so; Provided that, if in the course of the criminal proceedings any person has been charged on inquisition shall charge that person with an offence of which he could have been convicted on the indictment. The position, therefore, is that where a coroner's court is assembled and a person has been arrested and brought before the magistrates, the coroner must. unless he has good reason to the contrary, adjourn the inquest. If a person is Charged on an indictment and then acquitted at the Assize Court, the coroner's jury cannot bring in a verdict against that person; but if a charge has been dismissed by the magistrate—if the magistrates have found that there is no prima facie against the accused—then the coroner can reassemble the Court and jury and, in those circumstances, find a verdict of manslaughter or murder against the per son whose case has been dismissed by the magistrates.

4.0 p.m.

A case was tried last week, on 24th January, in the Oxford Circuit by Mr. Justice Roche. The case was a charge of manslaughter of a boy named Herbert. The accused was a groom named Simpson, who was out one day shooting crows, and accidently shot and killed the boy. A coroner's court was held and adjourned, pending the hearing of the charge against simpson before the magistrates. The case was thoroughly gone into by the magistrates, who, having heard the evidence, dismissed the charge against Simpson, finding that there was no prima facie case. The coroner's court then reassembled and the coroner's jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Simpson, who was committed on the coroner's warrant to take his trial at the Oxfordshire Assizes. It appears that on the Oxford Circuit there is a practice that whenever a man is committed for trial upon a coroner's warrant, only a bill of indictment is presented to the Grand Jury. Mr. Justice Roche, in his charge to the Grand Jury said: The matter that gave rise to the charge was that a boy named Herbert was shot dead, and there" was no question that accused was the person who shot him. What happened with regard to the legal proceedings was that first of all the inquest had begun, and very naturally and certainly quite properly the Coroner thought fit to adjourn the proceedings until the magistrates had dealt with the case. The magistrates having heard the case very thoroughly, thought there was no ground for a committal. They thought it was a case of pure accident, and dismissed it. The matter had then gone back to the Coroner, who had to finish his inquest. The Coroner and the Coroner's jury, notwithstanding the determination of the magis- trates, took a different view. They took a view, which was based upon a view of the facts, that there was criminal negligence. The learned judge went on to say: Of course, it is a very important matter, because it is a very considerable thing for any person, and particularly a young person, to stand in that dock at all. And if the magistrates were right that this was a case of accident, and you feel that accused ought not to stand in this dock, I am going to ask you to consider the matter in detail and make up your minds whether a true bill ought to be returned or not. If you think that the view of the magistrates is right, return 'No bill' The learned judge expressed the view that there was really no case for manslaughter, and the Grand Jury then threw out the bill. Notwithstanding that, the accused had still to be placed in the dock. The prosecutor offered no evidence, and the petty jury returned a verdict of "not guilty," the proceedings being formal. The position was this. There were 18 witnesses involved in the case, brought there at great expense to the country. The Grand Jury had to find whether there was a True Bill or not, and, as far as the accused himself was concerned, not only was he placed in the dock—a very serious position, as the learned judge pointed out—but he. had to bear the expense of his whole defence, including solicitor and counsel, when he had already been acquitted by the magistrates. Clearly, I submit, that is a, position which is not only illogical but very unjust, and I ask the leave of the House to bring in a Bill to amend the law accordingly.

Question, put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Morris, Mr. Atkinson, Captain O'Connor, Mr. Ramsden, Mr. Ernest Evans, Mr. Kingsley Griffith, Mr. Paling, and Mr. Thurtle.

  1. CORONERS BILL, 29 words
  2. c948