HL Deb 18 April 1845 vol 79 cc935-6
The Earl of Mountcashell

wished to bring under the notice of the House the Return of Inquests held in 1844, by Coroners in the United Kingdom, on the bodies of infants under twelve months of age. The last Return for which he had applied was for the number of these inquests held in 1844; but he had previously obtained a Return of the number of Coroners' inquests held in cases of infanticide for the preceding eleven years. That former Return had now been lying on their Lordships' Table since the last Session of Parliament, and he had to complain of it as being very imperfect and irregular in many instances. In one case, the Coroner refused any return until he would know by whom he was to be paid his expenses for doing so; and in other cases also the Returns were very unsatisfactory and imperfect, but still the Report showed that inquests had been held during the eleven years prior to 1844 on upwards of 8,000 infants.

The Duke of Richmond

said, he at first thought the noble Earl meant to confine himself to the case of Irish Coroners, and had he done so, he (the Duke of Richmond) would leave to some noble Lord connected with the sister country, the task of defending them. He thought the information required could be obtained through the treasurer of the county, especially in cases where the Coroner did not happen to be in a position to give it. With respect to the case more particularly alluded to by the noble Lord, the proper course, in his opinion, was to call upon that Coroner to make the return forthwith; and if he then refused, they would soon let him know that the House of Lords had plenty of power to make him account for his conduct, and to oblige him to travel up to London and back again at his own expense, and perhaps to take up his lodging in Newgate for some time in the interim. The subject of Coroners' Courts was one that ought to be brought under the serious consideration of Parliament. He did not mean to allude to any little squabbles that might have taken place between police magistrates and coroners, but to the indefinite way in which juries were summoned to attend inquests. In other cases juries were summoned, perhaps, from the extremity of the county, and kept often for several days from their homes without getting any remuneration whatever; whereas it was part of the patronage of the constable to collect coroners' juries from among his neighbours, as they were entitled to receive 1l. remuneration — a sum which, however, was seldom taken in cash, as it was usually appropriated to paying for a good dinner, of which the jurymen partook together after the inquest. With respect to the Coroners generally of England, every one should admit that they were a most respectable body of men.

Their Lordships then adjourned.