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sundry “concussion of the brain,” many "found dead," some “ laudanum," “ ulcerated wound,” “ fracture of neck," &c., &c. We therefore, give the numbers of deaths from natural causes and from accidents with great diffidence, and hope they are a fair approximation to the truth. The deaths from natural causes we give as 742, and from accidents as 847, making a total of 1,589; and if we suppose that of the 742 deaths from natural causes 500 were unnecessary, and one-third, or 282 of the accidental deaths were so also, we have 782 unnecessary inquests in the whole. We only wish that the table which lies before us were published; for we are convinced that no one could read it without being thoroughly convinced that a very large proportion of the inquests were wholly unnecessary. And it is quite clear that if coroners' inquests are to be continued, contrary to our very strong opinion, some measure ought to be taken to check the holding of unnecessary inquests.
In their report, the committee also say—“ The coroners all assume that their salaries were not to be reduced below the rates they received prior to the statute 23 & 24 Vict. We see no evidence for this; on the contrary, we believe the statute was intended to check unnecessary inquests." We entirely concur in this view, indeed, the clause expressly empowers the justices at the end of five years “ to revise, and thereby increase or diminish any such salary.” Besides, before the statute, the coroners were paid so much for each inquest, and consequently the more inquests they held, the more money they received; this had a direct tendency to induce them to hold inquests in every case where any pretence for holding them existed; but in this, as in other cases, it was thought that if the coroners received a fixed remuneration irrespective of the amount of work that might be performed, there would be no inducement to hold any inquests unnecessarily; and, no doubt, this would have prevented unnecessary inquests if it had stood alone; but then, unfortunately, the provision that the salaries might be revised every five years, and fixed according to the number of inquests during the last five years, has a
the number of inquests actually held during the last five years, and the greater number which they say may be expected to be held during the next five years. But that is not the question raised. The question really is whether all those inquests were necessarily and properly held. None of the coroners allege that they were. We submit that they were not, for the reasons assigned in the Report above referred to, and as is shown by the under-mentioned table, and that if unnecessary inquests were not paid for they would not be held, and that the salaries proposed by us will be a sufficient compensation for all inquests legally and necessarily held.
“Deducting only half of these inquests as unnecessary, the receipts of the coroners would have been much less than their salaries ; and we are satisfied that the continuance of their present salaries will, as we desire, abundantly remunerate them for all inquests properly held.”
We have now before us the table of the inquests referred to by the committee, which contains the number of inquests held by each coroner during the last five years, with the verdict in each case. The total number of inquests is 1,784; but one coroner made no return for one quarter, and if we add twenty-seven for that quarter, which will bring the number of inquests held by him for last year up to the number held in the previous year, we shall have 1,811 as the proper number for the five years. This number exceeds 1,583, the number for the previous five years, by 228; so that the number has increased oneseventh nearly in the last five years, an extraordinary increase in such a county as Derby; but whilst the number of inquests has increased, the number of verdicts of murder and manslaughter has decreased. In the former five years they were thirty-six; in the latter they are only twelve; so that in the latter period there is only one such verdict in 148 inquests, on an average. The verdicts, as given in the paper before us, are in many cases so uncertainly expressed, that it is very difficult to specify, with anything like the confidence we could wish, how many verdicts were really verdicts of natural, and how many of accidental deaths. Sundry verdicts are “suffocation," 1859, the sessions had disallowed certain inquests, and the coroner had not been paid for holding them, it is clear that these could not have been taken into account by the sessions ; for it is to be," the average amount of fees, mileage, and allowances actually received,” which excludes the fees, &c., and inquests disallowed. A contrary construction would lead to the absurdity that the coroner might unlawfully hold as many inquests as he liked, and increase his salary accordingly. Indeed, it is possible that a coroner might hold an inquest under such circumstances as would render him indictable, and if he were to take into account all the inquests held, whether rightly or wrongly, such an inquest must be included.
At the time when the Act passed, it was clearly settled that the sessions were the judges whether an inquest ought to have been held, and that that discretion, if fairly exercised, would not be overruled by the Court of Queen's Bench.* It is quite plain that the 23 & 24 Vict., c. 116, has neither in terms deprived the sessions of this jurisdiction, nor vested it in any one else ; and it is equally clear that the jurisdiction of the sessions over the coroner's accounts of expenses, under the 1 Vict., c. 68, 8. 3, is still existing; and as these accounts are to be laid periodically before the sessions, and the coroner may be examined before them as to their correctness, they have then an opportunity of examining him as to the propriety of holding the inquest; and the question naturally presents itself, whether that is not the only time at which they can make such inquiry, and it would seem that much might be said in support of that being the only time. It is clear that it was the only time under the previously existing law; and it is certainly still the only time for examining the accounts under the 1 Vict., c. 68, and it is obviously the most convenient time, as at that time the facts must be fresh in the mind of the coroner. If under the old law the coroner's fees had been allowed at one sessions, they could not have been disallowed at a subsequent one, and,
* Reg. v, Gloucestershire, supra.
if the sessions allow the coroner's accounts under the existing law, without questioning the propriety of the holding of the inquest, it may well be urged that, when at the end of five years, the coroner claims to include such inquests in his calculation, the sessions have no right to object on the ground that they were improperly held. The only answer we can suggest is, that that which in its beginning was an absolute nullity cannot have obtained any validity by lapse of time, quod initio non valet, tractu temporis non convalescet, and perhaps this might be held to be the correct legal view ; still it would seem to be more prudent that the sessions should, when the coroner presents his accounts, invariably examine into the propriety of the holding all inquests where the verdicts are either accidental death, or death by the visitation of God, and if they find that they were unnecessarily held, that they should make an entry of that finding. This clearly would place them in the best position for meeting the future claim of the coroner in respect of such inquests, and it would probably tend to check the holding of such inquests.
And this leads us to a very important question. Where an inquest is unduly held, are the sessions bound to allow the fees and allowances which are directed to be paid by the 6 & 7 Wm. IV. c. 89, and i Vict. c. 68? This question has been twice before the Court of Queen's Bench. In Reg. v. Carmarthenshire, * it was held that the coroner was not entitled to his fee of 6s. 8d., under the 1 Vict., c. 68, where the justices had held that the inquest was unnecessary, but that the allowances to medical men, &c., under the 6 & 7 Wm. IV. c. 89, and 1 Vict., c. 68, must be paid.. This case was reviewed in Reg. v. Gloucestershire,f and the Court do not appear to have been satisfied with the decision; for they granted a mandamus as to the coroner's fee of 6s. 8d., in order that the question, not only, as to that fee, but also as to the allowance of the disbursements under the 1 Vict., c. 68, might be solemnly
argued.* It is plain, therefore, that the Court considered that the question as to the disbursements (as well as the coroner's fee) was not finally settled, but still deserved to be solemnly argued. It does not appear, however, that this case was again brought before the Court, and therefore it may be well to say a few words upon the question. No one can read the 6 & 7 Wm. IV., c. 89, without seeing that it plainly applies only to inquests where there is a suspicion of foul play, and the cause of death is uncertain. Besides, it is perfectly obvious that in order to give the coroner authority to summon medical men, he himself must have jurisdiction to hold the inquest. If he has not, he has no more authority to issue a summons, than a magistrate has in a case where no information has been made. And this is made perfectly clear by sec. 6, for under it a medical man is liable to a penalty for neglecting to attend in pursuance of a summons from the coroner; nuw no one can doubt that it would be a good defence that the coroner had no jurisdiction to hold the inquest. The whole of the reasoning in the judgment of the Court in Reg. v. Carmarthenshiret proceeds upon the manifest fallacy that every one is bound to obey the mandate of a coroner, though he is acting without jurisdiction. Now it is perfectly clear that the acts of an officer who acts without jurisdiction are utterly void ; in truth they are of no more validity for any purpose than if they were the acts of a person
who was no officer at all. Suppose that a coroner held an inquest without jurisdiction, and that he summoned a surgeon, and ordered him to make a post mortem examination of the deceased, can any one doubt that the friends of the deceased might lawfully resist the surgeon, and that if any violence were inflicted on them by the surgeon, they might maintain an action against the surgeon and the coroner also, if the violence were inflicted in pursuance of his order ? The case seems to be precisely like the case where a justice issued a warrant where he had no jurisdiction, and a constable acted under it, in * See the conclusion of the judgment of Crompton, J.
10 Q. B., 803, 804.