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BY THOM AS WALKER, M.A.
TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
BARRISTER AT LAW, AND ONE OF THE POLICE MAGISTRATES OF THE METROPOLIS.
PUBLISHED EVERY WEDNESDAY AT 12 O'CLOCK BY H. RENSHAW,
356, STRAND, NEARLY OPPOSITE WELLINGTON STREET.
No. XI.] WEDNESDAY, JULY 29, 1835 [PRICE 3d.
Office of Coroner.
Address to Labourers.
OFFICE OF CORONER.
The longer my experience and contemplation of our ancient political institutions, the greater is my admiration of the wisdom of their original principles, and the more ardent my desire to see their complete adaptation to present circumstances. Amongst the offices derived from the common law, there is none more consonant with English principles, or which is calculated to be more efficient, than that of Coroner. He is elected by the freeholders, and acts only with the assistance of a jury. I think if the office were newly regulated, it would greatly promote the public welfare, and save a great deal of legislation, which can never produce equally beneficial results. The election at present is eminently exposed to the objection alluded to in the article on parochial government in my fourth number, namely, that the relation between the electors and the elected is too slight to make the
electors sufficiently careful in their choice.” The coroner for a part of a county is elected by the freeholders of the whole, and consequently the majority, feeling no public interest in their votes, give them to serve private ends. This has led very much to the practice of making the office a provision for persons unsuccessful in their profession, and whom their friends spare no activity thus to disburden themselves of. I do not say that it is by any means always so; but it certainly happens sufficiently often to degrade the office, and to give it a tone . and influence below. what its very important duties entitle it
The number of coroners, within my recollection, of inferior capacity and discretion has always been very great: and I believe solely from the reasons above assigned. The inferiority of coroners has naturally led to a corresponding inferiority of juries, except in very particular cases ; a defect which the more enlightened must feel it difficult to overcome, on account of the established practice. The frequently enormous and unnecessary expense of elections, too, must have tended to furnish a sort of justification for pecuniary laxity quite inconsistent with impartial justice, and to which there are peculiarly strong temptations. The remedy for this defect in election is only to be found by confining the right of voting to the district over which the coroner is to preside, as lately contemplated, and by making each district of a reasonable extent. A higher class of coroners would no doubt produce a higher class of jurors, though the coroners do not select; but if that should not be the result it might easily be accomplished by other means.
One circumstance, which renders the coroner's inquest much less beneficial than it is capable of being, is the practice of imposing nominal or trifling fines, by way of deodands. This practice, I apprehend, has arisen, in a great measure, from the deodand being payable to the King, or to his grantee, generally the lord of the manor. Such application is too remote in the first case, and unsatisfactory in the se, cord; and therefore I think the rights of the crown should be transferred, and those of individuals be purchased for the little they have become worth. If the fines were made payable to some public and local fund of acknowledged utility, the intention of imposing them, which is for the punishment and prevention of neglect, would not be frustrated, as it now is. The intention and the application would both be manifestly for the public benefit.
Notwithstanding the defects, which have crept into the administration of the coroner's duties, I think, so far as crime has been concerned, inquests have, for the most part, been tolerably efficient; but that may be said to be almost the least important part, inasmuch as the same investigation may be made and often is by justices of the peace. It is with reference to loss of life by accidents, that a new practice is more particularly required, and it is of more importance than perhaps at first sight may appear. The great majority of fatal accidents, I believe, would be found, if strictly investigated, to be the consequences, directly or indirectly, of neglect, or of culpable disregard of the interest of others, from parsimony, or some other selfish motive. If, then, in all cases of accidental death, a searching inquiry were entered into by a coroner of high character and great acuteness, assisted by intelligent and respectable jurors, and fines were imposed in proportion to the degree of blame discovered, a great improvement as to general safety and convenience must be the consequence. For instance, if it were found that the death of a labourer, by falling from a scaffold, might have been prevented by a better construction, and a moderate fine were imposed, with an intimation that any similar case would in future be probably more severely treated, self-interest would soon produce the required improvement in scaffolding. In the same manner, adequate fines for death, by the overturning of coaches, or by improper driving, or from accidents in mines, or from any other cause, would ensure those pre
cautions, which would be productive of great additional security and convenience. By making severe examples in cases of fatal accidents, the chances of accidents at all would be materially diminished, and this I think could in no way be effectually accomplished, as by the process of a coroner's inquest. It is a prompt inquiry by those, who have the best means of judging, and the strongest inducements to do what is right.
I subjoin a passage from Blackstone's Commentaries, showing what kind of officer it was originally intended the coroner should be. With the latter part of the passage, notwithstanding the authority of Sir Edward Coke, I cannot agree, as I am of opinion that it is expedient that those who serve the public, should be paid by the public.
“ The coroner is chosen by all the freeholders in the county court, as by the policy of our ancient laws the sheriffs, and conservators of the
and all other officers were, who were concerned in matters that affected the liberty of the people. For this purpose there is a writ at common law for the election of coroner, in which it is expressly commanded the sheriff to cause such an one to be chosen, as may be best qualified for the office; and in order to effect this the more surely, it was enacted by the statute of Westminster, in the time of Edward I.) that none but lawful and discreet knights should be chosen. But it seems it is now sufficient if a man hath lands enough to be made a knight, for the coroner ought to have an estate sufficient to maintain the dignity of his office, and answer any fines that may be set upon him for his misbehaviour; and if he hath not enough to answer, his fine shall be levied on the county, as the punishment for electing an insufficient officer. Now indeed, through the culpable neglect of gentlemen of property, this office has been suffered to fall into disrepute, and get into low and indigent hands; so that, although formerly no coroners would condescend to be paid for serving their country, and they were by the aforesaid statute of Westminster expressly forbidden to take a reward, under pain of a great forfeiture to the king, yet for many years past they have only desired to be chosen for the sake of their perquisites ; being allowed fees for their attendance by the statute 3 Henry VII. c. i., which Sir Edward Coke complains of heavily, though since his time those fees have been much enlarged."
CHANGE IN COMMERCE.
I have by tradition the following particulars of the mode of carrying on the home trade by one of the principal merchants of Manchester, who was born at the commencement of the last century, and who realized a sufficient fortune to keep a carriage when not half a dozen were kept in the town by persons connected with business. He sent the manufactures of the place into Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, and the intervening counties, and principally took in exchange feathers from Lincolnshire, and malt from Cambridgeshire and Nottinghamshire. All his commodities were conveyed on pack-horses, and he was from home the greater part of every year, performing his journies entirely on horseback. His balances were received in guineas, and were carried with him in his saddle-bags. He was exposed to the vicissitudes of the weather, to great labour and fatigue, and to constant danger. In Lincolnshire he travelled chiefly along bridle-ways through fields, where frequent gibbets warned him of his perils, and where flocks of wild fowl continually darkened the air. Business carried on in this manner required a combination of personal attention, courage, and physical strength, not to be hoped for in a deputy; and a merchant then led a much more severe and irksome life than a bagman afterwards, and still more than a traveller of the present day. Competition could but be small; but the re