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bribe may be considerable; Coroners, however, may act on any information, as well as that received through the medium of parish
The exclusion of the public from the Courts of Coroners is rather an assumption, than an abuse of power, on the part of the Coroners who have resorted to it; for there is not the slightest authority or pretence for contending that the Coroner's Court is not an open court. The nature of the institution, the language of the Mirror, the words of the Statute of Edward I, De Officio Coronatoris, and the forms of the proceedings on inquisitions of death, all show conclusively that the Coroner's Court is a court open to all his Majesty's subjects. In the 4 Edw. I, st. 2, it was declared to be the duty of the Coroners "quod accedant ad occisos," and "si quis talium occisus fuerit in campis vel boscis et ibi inveniatur," they are directed to inquire into the mode in which he came by his death. It seems evidently, therefore, to have been the intention of the legislature that the Coroner should sit at the very place where the body was found, in order that he and the jury might judge of the manner in which the deceased came by his death, not only by inspection of the body, but by an examination of the surrounding objects, and accordingly Sir W. Blackstone observes in his Commentaries, I, 348, "he must sit at the very place where the death happened." Since the days of Shakspeare, Crowner's-quest law, and Crowner's-quest logic have continued to afford abundant materials for ridicule; but, though Coroners have a prescriptive privilege to be absurd, a close court in the open air, a close court "in campis vel boscis, si corpus ibi inveniatur," is a phenomenon, upon which even Coroners will hardly be prepared to insist. But if it be too much to expect that all Coroners, under the existing system, should understand the language of the Statute, which defines and regulates the duties of their office, the forms of the proceedings on inquisitions of death, might surely have suggested to the most ignorant of the body, that the Coroner's Court is an open court, and that they have not the slightest authority or pretence for excluding the public.
After the Coroner and the Jury have examined the body, and the Coroner has concluded his opening charge to the Jury, the officer of the Court makes the following proclamation.
"If any one can give evidence on behalf of our Sovereign Lord the King, when, how, and by what means A. B. came to his death, let him come forth, and he shall be heard." And on the appearance of each witness, the Coroner takes down his name, abode, and occupation, and then administers the following oath, "the evidence which you shall give, &c."
Are not the terms of this proclamation, a proclamation ad
dressed to all mankind, sufficient to show that the proceedings of the Court must necessarily be public, and can any man but a Coroner of the densest capacity imagine that such a proclamation is consistent with the supposition that his Court is a close Court, from which he has the right of excluding his Majesty's subjects?
There is a passage in Umfreville's Book on the Law and Practice of the Office of Coroner, edited by Grindon, which may have misled some ignorant officers, though we can scarcely give the Coroners, who have insisted on the right of excluding the public, credit for founding their assumption of power even on that slender authority. "It sometimes happens," says this writer, "that meddling persons intrude themselves upon the Court and Jury. It is the Coroner's duty to prevent any such interruption. Counsel have sometimes claimed a right to examine witnesses. right appears to be at least doubtful, although it might be injudicious to refuse it." Umfreville's Lex Coronatoria, by Grindon, p. 183. The accuracy of this writer's opinion as to the right of counsel to address the Coroner's Court may be estimated by a reference to Barclee's case, which is reported in Siderfin.
In this case, an inquisition had been taken before the Coroner of Middlesex, on the body of Barclee, who had been found drowned; and it had been found felo de se, and it was moved that the inquisition should be quashed, for that the Coroner had not examined witnesses for the administrator of the felo de se, and Turner, of Gray's-inn, observed, that he never heard that counsel were allowed before a Coroner in cases of felo de se. Glynn, C. J., "the Coroner ought to allow counsel and witnesses on both sides, as well for the felo de se as for the King, if required; for as the law has greatly favoured inquests before Coroners, in not permitting them to be traversable, they ought not to do wrong, and conceal the truth, which is a thing odious to the law. And as the Coroner has not allowed counsel for the administrator of Barclee, the Court will not suffer the inquisition to be filed." And a new inquisition was accordingly ordered to be taken.
As there is no part of the conduct of Coroners, which has had so direct a tendency to render them odious to the public as their attempts on various occasions to establish the right of holding secret inquisitions, and as the assumption of this right is calculated to lead to the worst abuses, it is extremely desirable that this question should be set at rest, either by a decision of the Judges of the Court of King's Bench, or by a declaratory measure on the part of the legislature.
Some degree of medical knowledge seems to be necessary for the due discharge of the duties of the office of Coroner; in fact, the law connected with these duties lies within a very narrow compass, while the medical knowledge that may be necessary to arrive at
sound conclusions in many doubtful cases of poisoning, infanticide, &c. on which the Coroner is called upon to pronounce an opinion judicially, though fortunately not in the last resort, on the guilt or innocence of the prisoner, embraces a wide field of investigation. The appointment of medical assessors is suggested in Paris and Fonblanque's Medical Jurisprudence, with a view of assisting the Coroner in the discharge of his judicial duties. The additional expence which would be incurred by the adoption of this suggestion would probably be successfully urged as an objection to it; but candidates for the office of Coroner might at any rate be required by the legislature to produce certificates of their having attended certain courses of lectures on medicine, surgery, and especially on forensic medicine, or the science which teaches the application of the principles of medicine, physiology, and chemistry, to such facts and circumstances as may become the subject of forensic investigation. We should be glad if Mr. Hume would move for a return of the cases for the last three years in which verdicts of wilful murder have been returned on Coroners' Inquests, distinguishing those in which the prisoners have subsequently been convicted, acquitted, or found guilty of manslaughter, and also in alleged cases of infanticide, distinguishing those in which the prisoners have been found guilty of the minor offence of concealment of the birth. Such a return would tend to show how far persons may be unnecessarily put upon their trial; and we allude more especially to cases of alleged infanticide, through the ignorance of Coroners, and to prove that, if Coroners were better informed, much expence might be saved to counties on one hand, and, which is a far more important consideration, many innocent individuals rescued from the hardship of unmerited imprisonment and exposure.
We have touched briefly on some of the points, which appear to us to be deserving of consideration in any attempt which may be made to revise the law affecting the office of Coroner; but the subject is an extensive one, and we must reserve to ourselves the privilege of returning to it on a future occasion. Above all, we shall not lose sight of the conduct of Coroners, when they have been called upon to discharge one of their most important functions-that of holding inquisitions on the bodies of persons who have died in prisons. The disposition recently manifested to defeat the real object of these investigations is no new feature in the administration of this branch of the law of Coroners; the tendency of which administration has been upon almost all occasions to stifle inquiry, to screen gaolers, and to perpetuate existing abuses. We perceive, while we are committing these observations to the press, that the indefatigable member of the House of Commons, to whom we took the liberty of suggesting a subject
of useful inquiry, could, with difficulty, obtain a hearing on a question so abhorrent from the feelings of gentlemen as that of prison regulations; and that it required all his perseverance and intrepidity to overcome the impatience and the merriment which so vulgar a topic was calculated to excite. It is not surprising that some gentlemen, who deem no amount of human suffering too high a price for the quiet enjoyment of their customary amusements, should think it an intolerable encroachment upon their tranquillity to be bored with details of the sufferings of low people, who are liable to be sent to gaol for debt, and to die there from exposure to the inclemency of the weather! They who win may laugh; but we are glad to see that derision was not the only answer to Mr. Hume's statements, and that the subject of prison regulations is likely to be inquired into by a member of the government, who takes a far different estimate of the importance of any investigation which has for its object the alleviation of human suffering. "The greatest happiness of the greatest number" is the problem to the solution of which the efforts of all good government should be directed; but we fear that, when the elements which enter into the solution come to be investigated, the negative quantities will be found greatly to preponderate, and that the practical object of legislation must generally be rather to limit and to mitigate the sufferings, than to increase the positive enjoyments of mankind.
ART. IV. CONSOLIDATION OF THE BANKRUPT ·
6 Geo. 4, c. 16.
An Act to amend the Laws relating to Bankrupts.
WHILE the law of Bankruptcy was dispersed in above twentyone statutes (a), and the interpretation to be sought in as many hundred cases (b), and no small number of text books (c), each,
(a) 34 & 35 H. 8, c. 4; 13 El. c. 7; 1 J. 1, c. 15;.21 J. 1, c. 19; 13 & 14 C. 2, c. 24; 10 Ann. c. 15; 7 G. 1, c. 31; 5 G. 2, c. 30; 19 G. 2, c. 32; 24 G. 2, c. 57; 36 G. 3, c. 90; 37 G. 3, c. 124; 45 G. 3, c. 124; 46 G. 3, c. 135; 49 G. 3, c. 121; 56 G. 3, c. 137; 1 G. 4, c. 115; 3 G. 4, c. 74; 3 G. 4, c. 81; and 5 Geo. 4, c. 98, leaving several sta
tutes and parts of statutes still unrepealed.
(b) In 1810, the cases in bankruptcy had become so numerous and important that Mr. Rose adopted the course of reporting them as a distinct class, in which he was followed by the late Mr. Buck, and now by Messrs. Glynn and Jameson.
(c) Christian, Cooke by Roots,
in some respect, differing in doctrine from the other, it was not surprising that the great mass of the trading population of the country should be utterly ignorant of the system under which their fortunes, their persons, and, until very lately, their lives also, were disposed. Even among lawyers, very few were thoroughly conversant with this branch of judicature; Mr. Cooke, we believe, was the first who made it a separate department, a few gentlemen of the Court of Chancery have followed the example, and there are now some half-dozen barristers without the bar (d) who are contradistinguished as bankruptcy lawyers. We do not hesitate to avow our opinion that this division of labour or business is advantageous to the profession, and, yet more so, to the public. In the present massive and complicated state of the law, it is as much as any ordinary intellect can accomplish to have a general knowledge of the whole, and a perfect acquaintance with one or two of its parts. We are in the habit of ridiculing the Irish bar for running from Court to Court, from Chancery to the King's Bench, from the Sessions to the Exchequer; and yet our practitioners, especially in equity, are chargeable with similar, if not equal, absurdity. In a single morning they fly from real property to bankruptcy, from lunatics to tithes, from an injunction to restrain the manufacture of chlorine to the piracy of "Cherry Ripe;" and that too, with as much assumed facility, as if the circle of the arts and sciences were at their fingers' ends, and the gloomy chaos of the law waited their fiat only to spring into light and order. The seniors more especially are chargeable with this affected versatility of genius, and would, we are convinced (e), oppose most vehemently any attempt to divide the business of the
Cullen, Montagu, and Whitmarsh. The new act has already given rise to three more; one by Mr. Eden, which may be relied upon for concise and accurate statements of the old law, but must be distrusted when speculating on the effects or the interpretation of the new; one by Mr. Archbold, which is portable; the third by Mr. Warrand, the form and arrangement of which is ingenious, and likely to be useful to the class for which it is obviously intended. The state of the law, however, is too uncertain to allow of our expecting any perfect treatise at present. This last act has also been already edited, and indexed by Messrs. Fonblanque, Gregg, Impey, Montagu, and others; a sufficient proof in it
self of the importance and popular interest of the subject.
(d) But since the retirement of Mr. Cooke, and the death of Mr. Cullen, there has been no king's counsel pre-eminently distinguished in this department. These vacancies should be filled.
(e) It is said that the project for improving and throwing open the Exchequer is opposed by some who fear that if that Court were rendered efficient, it might operate in diminution of their monopoly of briefs in Chancery. We hope the accusation is ill founded; but, if we find the charge to be true, we shall feel it our duty to expose the nature of the individual interests which oppose themselves to the public good.