HL Deb 01 July 1981 vol 422 cc257-8

10 Clause 13, page 6, line 38, after ("in") insert ("coroners' courts").

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 10; and I shall take with this amendment Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 23 and speak to these together. The purpose of these Government amendments is to increase the maximum fines available under Sections 19(1) and (2) and Section 23 of the Coroners Act 1887 which provide penalties for failure to appear or to serve as a juror at an inquest, for failure to appear or to answer a question as a witness, and for failure, as a medical practitioner, to obey a summons of a coroner in pursuance of the Act. The present maximum penalty available under these provisions is £5. This limit was set almost 100 years ago and is now so derisory in comparison with the value of a day's work to many people that witnesses have been known to proffer their £5 voluntarily rather than have to spend a day in court.

The maximum penalty of £200, substituted by these amendments, is in line with the present-day equivalent of the maximum fine for a similar offence under Section 20 of the Juries Act 1974. These amendments, therefore, bring coroners' juries more closely into line with ordinary juries.

The last amendment of the group (No. 23) makes a similar change for defaulting witnesses and jurors at coroners' courts in Northern Ireland—the present limit there is £10—and also substitutes £500 for the present statutory limit of £25 for disrupting proceedings. This last change is in line with those we have just discussed in relation to the last group of amendments.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(Lord Mackay of Clashfern.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.