§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
moved that the Bill be now read a second time. The measure had come up from the other House, and had been framed in conformity with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Bill had a twofold object, it regulated the election of County Cororoners, and also altered the mode of remunerating them. The fees of Coroners were now regulated by the 25th of George II., which provided that when an inquisition was "duly held" by the Coroner, he should receive from the Court of Quarter Sessions the sum of 20s., and 9d. per mile travelling expenses. By a statute of Henry VIII. the Coroner was liable to a penalty of 40s. if he neglected his duty. The Court of Quarter Sessions had, however, a discretion to determine whether an inquest had been duly held, and regulations had been made, some of which pressed very hardly on Coroners. In some counties a rule was laid down that, unless the Coroner were set in motion by the police, he would not be entitled to his fee. In one county the magistrates had decided that where an inquest was held upon any child, and it appeared that it had been overlaid by its mother or its nurse, the fee should not be allowed. The information received by the Coroner was in many cases derived from non-official sources, often anonymously; and it was most important, in the interest of justice, that he should not be restrained from holding an inquest, because no intimation had been officially given to him. As to the other rule, it offered a sort of premium upon carelessness or worse. It must be admitted, on the other hand, that some Coroners had been in the habit of uselessly intruding themselves into families, and distressing the feelings of those related to the deceased. Coroners were in this predicament; that they were deterred from holding inquests, lest the magistrates should afterwards think they ought not to have been held. The Royal Commissioners, in their Report made in 1858, did full justice to the invidious and unjust position in which Coroners now stood, and recommended that they should be paid by salaries, and not by fees. A clause in the Bill provided that the salary to be paid in future should be calculated upon the average of the fees and emoluments for the previous live years. If the magistrates 268 and the Coroner could not agree, the decision was to be left to the Home Secretary. There was some danger that, in the absence of the former stimulus to activity, the Coroner might neglect his duty; and a clause had been introduced upon this point which would require some consideration in Committee. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he much approved the change proposed to be made in the payment of Coroners. When he had the honour to hold the office of Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench frequent complaints were made to him of Coroners holding inquests unnecessarily, and still more of justices refusing to pay them. It could not be doubted that in cases where there was not the slightest suspicion of a violent death Coroners had held inquests which had violated the feelings of the survivors. This practice ought to be checked. The clause referred to by his noble and learned Friend would, he thought, be found to require amendment in Committee.
§ THE EARL OF POWIS
thought, under Clause 4, the expenses of counties would be increased, as Coroners were to receive a salary founded on the average of the last five years. He thought it objectionable that the salaries of Coroners should be changed every five years. It would be well to extend the term for revision to ten years. Such constant changes would do away with the benefit derivable from paying Coroners by a fixed salary, instead of by fees.
observed, that most inefficient persons were often appointed to the office of Coroner; and he had himself witnessed a case in which a Coroner was unable to sum up the evidence in a case of homicide and point out to the jury the distinction between murder and manslaughter. He thought it would be better if the Coroners were elected by the magistrates of the counties rather than by the freeholders generally. Payment by salary would, he thought, be far preferable to payment by fees. He should support the second reading.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
observed that Coroners from the most ancient times, from the period of the Conquest, were elected by the freeholders, and he should certainly object to take the franchise from them.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.
§ House adjourned at a Quarter-past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.