HC Deb 04 May 1950 vol 474 cc1878-9
15. Mr. Marlowe

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many coroners have no legal qualification; under what authority they admit hearsay evidence; in what circumstances they may exclude the Press from an inquest or hold an inquest in camera; whether they are required to make and preserve records of evidence given before them; and what steps are taken to ensure uniformity of procedure in coroners' courts.

Mr. Ede

The answer to the first part of the Question is that this information is not available; to the second, that the coroner's discretion as to what evidence should be admitted at an inquest is vested in him by Common Law; to the third, that while a coroner's court is ordinarily open to the public, the High Court confirmed in 1827 that the coroner has a discretion under the common law to hold an inquest in private for reasons which appear to him necessary and proper; to the fourth, that coroners are by Statute required to take depositions in cases of murder and manslaughter and that it is generally accepted that they should keep those records and should also keep records of the evidence given in other cases; and to the fifth, that coroners are independent judicial officers who are not answerable to any Government Department, but are bound by the common law and the provisions of the relevant Acts and the rules made thereunder.

Mr. Marlowe

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that all this discloses a rather unsatisfactory condition in coroners' courts and that it is time legislation was introduced to secure some form of uniformity? In view of his answer last week, that this would arouse controversy, does he not think that each of these suggestions could pass through this House without any political controversy?

Mr. Ede

I am not sure that five " non-controversial " matters would not develop into controversy.

Mr. Leslie Hale

In view of the fact that no verdict of a coroner's inquest can be mentioned at subsequent proceedings, and that it is now general to adjourn pending proceedings, does he think that coroners' courts now serve any purpose to the community?

Mr. Ede

Oh, yes, I think they have their uses.

Earl Winterton

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) said, this is not a party political question, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a very considerable depth of feeling, legal and otherwise, that this whole matter needs review by this House?

Mr. Ede

I think it is a matter which, when there is time, might advantageously be considered.