Mr. J. J. Horgan, of Cork, is in attendance. The Committee would, I am sure, like to hear him. Mr. Horgan, you have already received the notes of what we discussed at the last sitting?
CORONERS BILL, 1925
Yes. Perhaps the best course for me to adopt would be to make a short statement outlining the position of coroners and giving our views with reference to the whole matter. I come here as the representative of the Coroners' Association, which consists of all the coroners in the Irish Free State. The Association was formed during the last year for the purpose of looking after our interests and putting our views before public bodies, such as I am doing to-day. My personal experience as a coroner goes back to 1908, when I was appointed deputy coroner for County Cork—Cork district. I succeeded my father as coroner for the same district in 1914. During that time I had very varied and sometimes rather startling experiences in connection with my duties as coroner. One instance was the famous Lusitania inquest in 1915. The verdict in that case, I think, made history. I was afterwards asked to furnish a copy of the verdict to the War Cabinet in London, because it indicted a certain gentleman at the time (the Kaiser). I have had considerable experience of dealing with various aspects of the matter. I observe that Senator Brown has already provided you with certain references to the several Acts dealing with coroners in Ireland. There were some, however, that escaped his notice. Perhaps the best course would be to indicate the Acts. The first Act is the Coroners (Ireland) Act of 1846 (9 and 10, Vic., Cap. 37). That is the root Act, the parent Act, of the lot. It is most important. Then there is the Coroners (Ireland) Act of 1881 (44 and 45 Vic., Cap. 35). The next is the Local Government Act of 1898 (61 and 62, Vic., Cap. 37). The next is the Coroners (Ireland) Act, 1908 (8 Edw., 7, Cap. 37), which provides for the appointment of deputy coroners. Then there is the Coroners (Qualification) Act of 1924 (No. 4 of 1924) which was passed by the Oireachtas. It dealt with certain coroners who had been appointed illegally during the troubled period. Those are the principal Acts; they are what I might call the purely Coroners Acts. In addition, there is a long series of special statutory provisions dealing with inquests. There is the Coal Mines Act of 1911 (1 and 2 Geo. 5, Cap. 50), which, unfortunately, is practically a dead letter here.
It is an Imperial statue?
Yes; it applies theoretically.
It could be enforced here?
It can when we get the coal mines.
There is some prospect of that.
There is then the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act of 1872 (35 and 36 Vic., Cap. 77), and there is the more important Act, the Factory and Workshop Act of 1901 (1 Edw. 7, Cap. 22), which certainly does apply to Ireland. There is the Quarries Act of 1894 (57 and 58 Vic., Cap. 42), and the Explosives Act of 1875 (38 and 39 Vic., Cap. 17).
That had some application here.
It did apply in recent years, at all events. There were accidents caused by explosives. There is then the Railway Regulation Act of 1873 (36 and 37 Vic., Cap. 76, Sec. 5). That is a very important Act. Then there is the General Prisons (Ireland) Act, 1877 (40 and 41 Vic., Cap. 49). Under the provisions of Section 56 of that Act we have to hold inquests in connection with the death of every prisoner who dies in prison. Senator Brown referred to that. Then there are the Lunatic Asylum Acts; 16 and 17 Vic., Cap. 96, Section 19, deals with all deaths in lunatic asylums. There are two Acts dealing with lunatic asylums. Reference can be made to 25 and 26 Vic., Cap. 111, Section 44. I am giving you all these details so that you may refer to them afterwards, if you want to. Then there is the Capital Punishment (Amendments) Act, 1868 (31 and 32 Vic., Cap. 24) which deals with hangings—executions in gaols—a very unpleasant part of our duty. I had to do that duty several times; it comes under Section 5 of that Act. There is then the Habitual Drunkards Act, 1879 (42 and 43 Vic., Cap. 19, Section 27). I think there is no State Home here, but there are private homes and it would apply to them.
Was there not an Inebriates' Home at Clonmel?
There was one in Ennis, but it ceased to exist, the principal reason being, I think, that the warders and the people inside combined to make it a more inebriate place than outside. There is another statutory provision connected with the registration of births, marriages and deaths. That is the Infant Life Protection Act, 1872 (35 and 36 Vic., Cap. 38). Section 8 deals with notices to coroners. It applies to cases of baby-farming in England. I think it was brought in largely for that purpose. I do not know how far it would apply here.
Pauper children have to be registered here as they are taken.
That is what it applies to. I had one case in which he had to exhume a child that died, as it was found later, from neglect. Now, those are the statutory provisions and the legislation dealing with coroners. A number of sections of various Acts dealing with the registration of births and deaths—principally deaths—also have application, they have to come within the purview of the coroner and he has to give certificates to the registrar. As regards the present qualification of coroners, the members of the Coroners' Association are strongly of opinion that that should be maintained. Up to the institution of the Free State, the qualification used to be five years practising as a doctor, solicitor or barrister, or five years as a Justice of the Peace. The title of Justice of the Peace automatically disappeared on the institution of the Free State, and the Peace Commissioners have not been put into their place, nor do the Coroners' Association think it desirable that they should. We think that it should be entirely a professional matter. It is a position that requires a doctor, solicitor or barrister, a man with knowledge of jurisprudence, either medical or legal. That is our position. That will not call for any variation of the law, and the present position is quite satisfactory. Now, there is the question of jurisdiction over the coroner. It is rather a more difficult question. Under the Local Government Act of 1898, the Lord Chancellor was given power—up to that time it had been rather vague and the original jurisdiction was a common law jurisdiction—to remove or reprimand a coroner in any case of neglect of duty. That comes under Section 14, sub-section (3), of the Local Government Act. It is a rather important section. The sub-section says:—" The Lord Chancellor may, if he thinks fit, remove any coroner for a county from his office for inability or misbehaviour in the discharge of his duty." I am not clear—Senator Brown will be able to put you right on the question—as to whom the jurisdiction now vests in. Having regard to a recent dispute, I had better not express an opinion as to whom it ought to vest in. But clearly it ought to vest in one of two persons—either the Chief Justice of the Free State, who may or may not have captured some of the Lord Chancellor's prerogatives under some of the omnibus clauses of the Courts of Justice Act, or it should vest, if you follow modern precedents, which is what you have been doing up to this, in the Minister for Justice. Apparently all the judicial officers—at least, the minor judicial officers—have been brought under his control.
I have a very strong opinion that this particular officer ought to be under the control of the Minister for Justice.
Personally, I think so, too.
Has the Association any particular view in the matter?
The Association was inclined to think that the Chief Justice should be the person, but, personally, I agree with the Chairman that the Minister for Justice is the proper person. I am only expressing my own view in that.
The Lord Chancellor up to recently had no functions. There was no machinery to put up anything to him.
He had very distinct functions as regards coroners.
At the same time, he was not in administrative touch with the coroners, as the Minister for Justice would be.
As I understand, it is not proposed to give the Minister for Justice any more control over them than the Lord Chancellor had. He is simply to have power to deal with the question of misconduct.
Yes; I think the words in the existing Act should be retained.
The amendment would be merely to change the words " Lord Chancellor " to " Minister for Justice."
That is my personal view. The position should be cleared up. It may be one of the reasons that there have been complaints about coroners, that, apparently, they are no one's children. Control ought certainly to be established in the Act. Somebody suggested that the Minister for Local Government would be the proper person to have control, but I am strongly of opinion that he should not. This is purely a judicial office, and it should be controlled by a person connected with the administration of justice. I may say, on behalf of the Coroners' Association, that we not merely put forward this view, but that we are really anxious that there should be some definite person appointed with controlling powers, if only for the good repute of the office. We feel that it is for our own benefit that somebody with that power should be named.
The present wording, I think, would suit.
Yes; the wording of the Act of 1898 is perfectly clear, and I think it covers the ground. There may be other things in the section which would apply, and we shall have to consider that. The substitution of the Minister for Justice for the Lord Chancellor, in that section would, I think, meet the case. I come now to the question which really seems to have given rise to this Bill—as to what cases coroners should hold inquests in. The Coroners' Association has very definite views about that. I see that it has been suggested here—I think by Sir Edward Bigger—that the coroner should hold an inquest in every case where a doctor's certificate is not forthcoming.
It was not suggested that he should hold an inquest, but an inquiry.
That would really be the same thing.
I was responsible for the drafting of this section, and the idea was that if it were brought to the knowledge of the coroner that there was not a doctor's certificate he should himself inquire into the case, and, if not satisfied, that he should then hold an inquest.
That is the present practice, and it is my absolute practice. I will illustrate it for you by three examples. That is the best way to show what actually happens. It is the clearest way, too, of showing what we think we ought to do. I suppose you are aware that we are bound in every case of that kind to certify to the registrar whether we hold an inquest or not.
I think that was more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
I have always done it, and it should be done. I have a copy of the form here.
I was registrar for seven or eight years, and I never saw one of those forms.
Perhaps you will tell us, Mr. Horgan, what puts you in motion?
We get a report from the police in every case of sudden death—at least, we should get such a report. That is the initiation of our proceedings. Unless we get a report from the police we have no power whatever. If a civilian comes to me with a report, I have no right to take any notice of it. Under the Act of 1846 it was provided that the report must come from the District Inspector, who is now replaced by the Superintendent of the Gárda Síochána. I will give you three examples, showing the cases in which we would or would not hold inquests. They occurred quite recently and are fresh in my memory. Here is the first case:
Gárda Síochána, Rylane.—To: Superintendent, Macroom. Re sudden death of Mrs. Mary Lehane.—I beg to report that the above-named, who was aged 70 years, had been unwell for the past eight days, and having felt better on the 5th instant, went out walking. On her return she collapsed at her own gate, and having been carried in, she died in a few minutes. She was not attended by a doctor. She lived with her husband, sons and daughters.
That is from the Sergeant.
The Superintendent, on receipt of that, rang me up. I told him I thought it an unsatisfactory report, and that it was clear I would require further information. Then he added this to the Sergeant's report after communicating with him:
" The old woman was, it would appear, suffering from heart trouble for some years. There are no further facts in connection with the case to report."
In that case there was a distinct statement by the police that there was heart trouble, that this old lady had been living with her relatives, that she had been out for a walk, that her collapse occurred in public, and that there was no question of secrecy or anything of that kind. Accordingly, I did not hold an inquest. I was quite satisfied that the cause of death was this heart trouble and old age, and I gave a certificate to the registrar. The wording of the certificate in such cases, is as follows:—
" The circumstances connected with the death of . . . which is said to have taken place at . . . . have been reported to me, and I do not consider it necessary to hold an inquest respecting such death. . . . . Coroner for . . . ."
That form is not prescribed by any Act of Parliament?
There is nothing on it to show that, but I believe it is prescribed by Act of Parliament.
I am not so sure of that.
It is issued by the Registrar-General to me.
We will take a note and write to the Registrar-General inquiring by what authority it is issued.
When I was inquiring into the matter, I looked to see under what Act it was prescribed, but it did not show it.
Most of his certificates show the Act authorising them.
Here is another case where I did hold an inquest, and I shall tell you why. The report from the sergeant at Blarney was as follows:—
I beg to report that at 12.40 p.m. on this date, Rev. Father Joseph Ahern, of Soho Villa, Shanakeel, Cork, reported to me that Phillip Cross, a blacksmith by occupation, aged fifty years and married, was not seen since Sunday, 7th instant. This man has been living alone for some months past, as his wife was in hospital and he was in bad health himself. Father Ahern thought that he might have been sick, so he took Dr. John Fitzgerald, of the Asylum, with him to the house of Phillip Cross, Clogheen. They forced the door open and in the bedroom they found Phillip Cross dead. He was apparently sitting up on the edge of the bed in a stooped position, and he had his trousers and shirt on him. There is no suspicion of foul play.
I made further inquiries and found that a pool of blood had been found in the room and that nobody had been in contact with this man for several hours. In these circumstances, I thought it essential to hold an inquest. I held an inquest and the medical evidence went to show that the man had suffered from cancer of the tongue and that death had been caused by the bursting of the carcinoma in the mouth. In the last case which I will quote to you, I did not hold an inquest, as it was clear that there was no necessity. The circumstances were:—
On the 10th instant, about 11 a.m., Thomas Harrison, Ballinahina, Co. Cork, farmer, died suddenly at his residence in Ballinahina. He was up and about the farmyard on the morning of his death. He appeared to be in his usual health. At 11 a.m. it was noticed by his sisters that he was absent for some time, and, on searching for him in the vicinity of the farmyard, his dead body was discovered in the w.c. attached to the house. Mr. Harrison was a very old man (aged about 70 years), and was suffering for a long time from a weak heart. He was attended by Dr. Dunlea, Glanmire, who informed deceased's sisters that he would very likely die suddenly, and gave instructions to keep him under observation.—John Mulcahy, Sergeant.
In the first case you mentioned, the old lady had heart trouble, but it was also stated she had not been attended by a doctor.
I discovered from the Gárda Síochána, when I telephoned, that a doctor had treated her for heart trouble some time before. Might I say this: that it would be well to bear in mind, in dealing with this question, that if you are going to ask coroners to hold inquests in every case where a medical certificate is not forthcoming, you will impose such a burden on them that they will not be able to bear it. The office of coroner is not a well-paid office. There are coroners in this country who are only paid from £30 to £50. Their salaries are perfectly ridiculous. Most of them were fixed before the war. No coroner has received a single penny by way of bonus or addition to his salary since the war. You cannot ask these men to undertake additional work unless you contemplate making the office very much more important as regards salary.
Are these salaries paid by the County Councils?
Have they absolute discretion in the matter?
Yes, subject to the Local Government Department.
Do you not think that the remuneration should be improved?
I do, but I will come to that later on. I only mention it now, incidentally, in connection with the increased duties. I am aware that there may have been complaints about coroners. I understand that was the reason this Bill was initiated. But I may say that anybody who has had any idea of the difficulties that we went through during the past years need not be surprised at that. I was in charge of the most difficult district in the country—the district surrounding Cork City. During that troubled time, I returned verdicts of murder against every military organisation in the country, and my life was not by any means a happy one during these times. There have been so many difficulties that undoubtedly a certain amount of slackness has crept in; but what Government Department did it not creep into at that time?
The Bill was initiated by a Senator from Kilkenny because the coroners there were simply doing nothing.
That was because, perhaps, there was no proper authority to deal with coroners.
I want to draw your attention to the section we suggested, because it does not seem to run contrary to your views to any great extent:
" In any case (other than those provided for by Section 1 of this Act) in which the coroner is informed or becomes aware that a deceased person was not attended in his last illness and until his death by a duly qualified medical practitioner or that a medical certificate of the cause of death of any person is not procurable, he may——
You will notice that the word used is " may " and not " shall."
" inquire into the circumstances of the death of such deceased person, and if he is unable to ascertain the cause of such death he ‘ may ' if he shall think fit hold a public inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of such death and shall communicate the result of such inquiry in writing under his hand to the registrar of deaths. . . . ."
That is perfectly right. The Coroners' Association would accept that absolutely. That is what I have always done.
At the same time I do not think it is a practice that has been carried out generally.
It is extremely desirable that it should be defined in an Act of Parliament.
Mr. Horgan is a very bad witness from our point of view. If we could take him as representing every coroner, there would not be much necessity for this Bill.
There is a great necessity for the Bill, and I have been pressing for it for two or three years.
Is there any provision under any statute imposing on the Civic Guard the duty of notifying you?
Yes. It is in the Act of 1846. Section 22 of that Act lays it down that in any case of sudden death or death from suspicious circumstances, the police must notify the coroner.
How can you tell they are suspicious circumstances? I am referring to children boarded-out. For instance, a child is boarded-out, and a month or so after the foster-parents receive the child it wastes away. It is not fed. There is, perhaps, no criminal neglect, but if there was some inquiry in such cases more care would be taken of the children.
The initiation of proceedings lies with the police. If you like to increase the scope of their powers in that direction it might be desirable to do it.
Should we not impose the duty on the police of informing the coroner in all these cases?
As it stands it is pretty general.
I would have sub-section imposing that duty on the police in cases covered by the section.
That would make the two clauses fit into each other better. I have been keenly interested in this matter for a long time. I wrote to the Minister for Justice about it three years ago, and afterwards to the present Chief Justice when he was Attorney-General. They had not then time to deal with anything of this kind, as their hands were full of other legislation which was more necessary. I am most anxious we should get power—and the Coroners' Association agrees—to hold an inquest without a jury. We are aware of the English Coroners Bill which is before the English Parliament. Section 12 seems to meet the case admirably.
We have a draft section here. It is taken from the English Bill.
I have only the English section before me—Section 12, I think, it is.
We came to a conclusion about this.
We adopted the clause from the English section and practically in the very words of the English section.
I think it is admirable and meets the case.
You will find the clause on column 3 of the report of our proceedings on the last day.
Section 12 in the English Bill says:—
" Subject to the provisions of this section a coroner within whose jurisdiction the dead body of a person is lying may, in lieu of summoning a jury, in the manner required by Section 3 of the Coroners Act, 1887, for the purpose of inquiring into the death of that person, hold an inquest on the body without the jury."
That is a question we are agreed about.
I think that is one of the most important sections. I have always felt, particularly in the case of poor people, that it is an outrage for a body of persons to walk into a person's house like an army to inspect the body. That is a perfectly senseless proceeding. The doctor's evidence should cover the matter. I have always disliked inflicting procedure of that kind on poor people, and I feel a trespasser when I am acting under these conditions, whereas if I were able to go with the medical witness, the Civic Guard and whoever else was to give evidence, the proceedings would be conducted more quietly and with less concern to the unfortunate relatives. In the country districts there is great difficulty in getting jurors. The Civic Guard have often to spend a whole day trying to get a jury. It is particularly difficult at certain times of the year, such as the harvesting season, to get a jury, and altogether it is a terrible nuisance. What happens in effect is that a jury always registers whatever a coroner tells them. They will do that in nine cases out of ten. Of course, there are cases where a local jury will have knowledge that the coroner will not have. If the coroner thinks it necessary he can always call for a jury, but in nine cases out of ten it will not be necessary for him to do so. Under the present law one recalcitrant may upset a whole case, but I know that is being dealt with.
On the last day we were all agreed about this.
I think Mr. Brown mentioned that under some Act the police or any other person would report to the coroner.
As the clause is drafted the information may come from anybody, but we want to put the duty on the police, and if the coroner gets his information from anybody else he can act on it.
I have in mind cases of burial at night in a disused graveyard near my place. It was a frequent occurrence to have burials, particularly of children, taking place secretly. The police would never get on the track of these cases, though other persons might know of them. I would know as I would hear a funeral passing at night, and I might give a tip to the coroner and discover a crime as a result.
It is a common practice of dealing with illegitimate children to put their bodies in sacks or boxes and place them in a graveyard. The next point is the question of viewing the bodies. I think all that is required is that the coroner should see the body in order to make certain that there is a body. That is provided for in some amendment. With regard to the failure of a jury to agree, there should be some provision like that in the English Section 13, where it is prescribed that if the jury fail to agree the coroner may accept the decision of the majority. However, having regard to the new provisions, the jury will not be as important as it was. The next point I wish to deal with is the case where the body is irrecoverable. I have had many cases where people were drowned and the bodies were never recovered, or where bodies were burned and never recovered. I am strongly of opinion that, subject to the discretion of the Minister for Justice, there should be a similar section to that in the English Act—that is, Section 15:—
" Where a coroner has reason to believe that a death has occurred in or near the area within which he has jurisdiction in such circumstances that an inquest ought to be held, and that owing to the destruction of the body by fire or otherwise or to the fact that the body is lying in a place from which it cannot be recovered, an inquest cannot be held except by virtue of the provisions of this section, he may report the case to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State may, if he considers it desirable to do so, direct an inquest to be held touching the death, and an inquest shall be held accordingly by the coroner making the report or such other coroner as the Secretary of State may direct, and the law relating to coroners and coroner's inquests shall apply with such modifications as may be necessary in consequence of the inquest being held otherwise than on view of the body."
I think there are many cases of fire where a body is totally consumed, and, as I have said, there are cases of drowning where the body is never recovered.
What do you do in these cases?
I can do nothing. A man might burn the house in which he committed a crime, and so cremate the body.
We had a case of that. With regard to Section 15 you mentioned, it has this curious language: " the law relating to coroners and coroners' inquests shall apply with such modifications." The modifications should be in the Act.
The modification is that there is no body.
" With such modifications in the practice " or something of that kind. It could not be modifications in the law. It should be in the practice and procedure.
I think the coroner has the right to exhume a body without the consent of a minister where it is brought to his knowledge that there are circumstances of suspicion. My father did it in the famous case of Doctor Cross. In that case the body was exhumed, arsenic was found in it, and Doctor Cross was afterwards hanged. I think it is desirable there should be a statutory right for a coroner to exhume where the police ask him.
Is there not a statute dealing with that at present?
It confers it on the Home Secretary.
It is necessary that the police should be able to act promptly. I have always acted on the information of the police. Recently I had a baby-farming case where a child was buried under suspicious circumstances. The police said they wanted the body exhumed, and I gave them the order at once. We exhumed the body, and it was found that the child had been practically starved to death.
Apparently, then, you have the power?
It is a common law right, and I am anxious that it should be defined.
It certainly ought to exist.
Do you not think it should be defined?
If it was defined the coroner would know what he has to do. Of course, it should be on the initiative of the police.
Give him the power.
If he thinks it necessary——
He can make an order.
Who is to carry out the order?
The police, or someone in control of the police. I have dealt with the point about exhumation. Another point is in connection with the adjournment of inquests. There is agreement, I think, that it is not right a man should be tried by two jurisdictions at the same time. I think that where criminal jurisdiction exists it should have precedence.
That is to say, if a man is in custody the coroner's inquest should stand over until the result of the other proceedings.
It would be quite different in a case of exhumation where a man would not be charged at all. The next point is in connection with the difficulty that arose lately in my practice regarding an analysis. I had a case where it was necessary to analyse the stomach of a man as a question of poisoning arose. The Act of 1846 entitled me to pay five guineas for the analysis. I am only raising this question generally. There is no analyst at present in Cork competent to deal with that position, and I had to send it to the State analyst in Dublin. In this case it was a bottle of medicine that, it was alleged, contained poison. When it came to pay I found no means of doing so, and five guineas would not be sufficient to send a Civic Guard to Dublin. I referred the matter to the police authorities. I think provision should be made whereby a coroner would have the right to call on the State analyst to make an analysis in any case.
Unless the Minister was of opinion an analysis was not necessary. There should be some check.
Yes. I have in mind a case where there was a definite charge of poisoning against a doctor.
Have you any power to pay a local analyst?
I have power to direct an analysis and to pay five guineas.
That does not do when it has to be done elsewhere.
It does not pay in any case. I suppose no analyst would make an analysis for that now.
Supposing an analysis was made for five guineas, would the analyst be entitled to a fee if he came before you to prove it?
As a doctor, I think he would be entitled to only one guinea. In the case I refer to I would have had to bring him from Dublin, so I acted on the certificate and it satisfied the people concerned. I could not expect a man to come from Dublin and give evidence for that fee, particularly as there was no question of poisoning.
I understand that there are no local practitioners set apart for this duty. Perhaps if the Government had a list of practitioners it would help.
I would not be in favour of that. You must give discretion to the coroner to employ a man on the spot. It is after thepost-mortem that the analysis takes place. The doctor makes the post-mortem and sends portion of the body to the State analyst. What I want to find out is, if the State analyst can be called upon to do that duty and if the expenses will be provided by the State.
That is what I had in mind.
I suggest that that should be as the Chairman suggests, subject to the Minister's discretion.
On occasions on which he thinks it reasonable.
It will not be sent unless the coroner orders it.
Yes. I think what the Chairman has in mind is that some coroners may give orders unnecessarily. In such cases I think it might be provided that the signed certificate of the State analyst, produced by the police, should be evidence.
Who do you propose shall pay these fees?
The State, of course.
I think where there is a question of criminal liability, as there is in these poisoning cases, it becomes a State matter.
At present the expenses connected with these cases are county charges.
I am making a difference in these cases. The difficulty has arisen in my own district. I could only pay five guineas, and that would not meet the expenses.
Would it not be met in this way, that the analysis in such a case as you mentioned should be met by the State, and, if certified by the Minister to be a reasonable charge, it should be paid by the county council?
I am quite satisfied.
I think the county should pay.
It should be a local charge.
I was thinking of the State analyst and that naturally the State should pay. I quite agree that the county might be made liable.
Pay such sum as the Minister for Justice would certify.
Another point I want to make is, that under no Act of Parliament, so far as I am aware, has any provision been made for forms used by the coroners in the discharge of their duties. The result is that every coroner who gets forms finds that they are to some extent different. I think that is an undesirable condition of affairs. There is an authority in England, and I think there should be some authority here—either the Minister for Justice or someone else—for preparing a series of forms to be used by coroners. They should be supplied. At present we have to buy our own forms out of scanty salaries. We get them drafted as best we can from old common law forms found in Jarvis. I altered a form lately owing to the altered conditions here, as obviously the words, " On behalf of our Sovereign Lord the King," had to be changed. It is desirable that it should be made definite what the forms should be.
Have you not an Association?
Yes, the Coroners' Association?
Do you not think the forms ought to be prepared in consultation with them?
Yes, or with representatives of the coroners, in an advisory capacity.
Would it not be sufficient to say that the forms should be prepared by the Minister for Justice after consultation with the Coroners' Association?
Have you seen the clause in the English Bill which gives the Lord Chancellor, with the concurrence of the Secretary for State, power to make rules of procedure and to prescribe forms? Would it be wise to adapt that here?
It would do if there was consultation with the Coroners' Association or someone representing the coroners.
The Minister for Justice after consultation with the coroners.
Something that would give our views, as we have the actual experience.
That is the point I refer to. The Lord Chancellor had very little do do with the coroners. He had the forms which he sent out.
I remember that when I was appointed coroner in 1914 I got a number of forms. I also had a series which I inherited from my father which, apparently, came from some common law origin—Jarvis or something of that kind. Would you say, " after consultation with representatives to be appointed by the Coroners' Association?"
Would not the Minister for Justice consult you in any case before doing anything?
I am in sympathy with the views expressed by the Chairman, but I ask if it is usual to put such a clause into an Act of Parliament?
There is a direct analogy for it in the Courts of Justice Bill we passed, where the forms are to be passed by the Minister for Justice after consultation with five judges, solicitors and so on. That is direct authority for it. The only reason I am anxious about this is that naturally the coroners will know best what the forms ought to be like. They know better than the Minister for Justice, but any prudent man would, of course, consult them.
Without putting it definitely into an Act of Parliament, does it not follow that every Minister for Justice would consult them?
I think that is right.
In that connection I may say that we are very lucky in having the present Minister for Justice. His father was a coroner, and he himself has experience of inquests and knows a good deal about the procedure. I have discussed the matter with him. We are lucky in that respect and I am sure he will consult us. I am satisfied to leave things in his hands.
If the Minister for Justice thought that any other forms were necessary he would adopt them at once.
I think the Chairman suggested that representatives of the coroners should be called in.
Because of their special knowledge. They know where the shoe pinches. It is evident that any sensible Minister for Justice would consult the coroners.
For instance, it is, as the law stands at present, essential in murder or manslaughter cases that we should return our requisition on parchment. Otherwise, I think it would be upsetting the Courts.
It would originally, but not under a recent Act. It is not to be set aside on that ground now.
Is the law altered?
That is no harm, as it was an absurd regulation. As to the question of salaries, the position is that there are coroners in the country who have £20, £30 and £50 a year, for which they cover large districts. Every county has at least one coroner.
There is no amalgamation of counties?
No, not so far as I am aware. For instance, in Cork there are six coroners, four for the county and two for the city, but, of course, it is a very large county.
How is that arranged? Is it provided by Act of Parliament?
No; the county council has power under the Local Government Act. Under the old Grand Jury Acts the Grand Jury originally had the power, and that has been carried on to the county council, to alter and divide districts.
Only within their own county?
Yes, that is so. Another complication that has arisen is that since 1908 we have had the Deputies Act, which enables us to appoint deputy coroners, without which we could not leave the county at all, practically. The only power to hold an inquest in such a case had been vested in two magistrates, and I remember when my father was away we had to get two magistrates. I had practically to conduct the whole of the inquest, because they did not know what they were doing; they had never been at an inquest before. The position now is you have to appoint deputies.
Have you to appoint a deputy who is qualified?
He must be qualified in the same way as the coroner, but we have no power to pay deputies except out of our own salaries. The suggestion the Coroners' Association makes is, having regard to the increased cost of travelling and the increased cost of living, which has never been considered in our salaries, and also to this position as regards deputies, that there should be some percentage increase added to our salaries.
There is no uniform method of paying, is there?
The Act of 1898 provided that—
" The salary of every coroner shall be in lieu of all sums which otherwise would be payable to him for fees, mileage and allowances." (Section 14, sub-section (6.)
Under the old law they were paid for each inquest.
And got mileage?
Is there any guidance to the county councils as to how they shall be paid?
" and shall be fixed with the approval of the Local Government Board by the county or borough council by whom the salary is payable, or in default of the same being so fixed then by the Local Government Board, and shall not be subject to increase or diminution during his tenure of office.
(a) nothing in this section shall deprive the coroner of the right to be paid expenses and disbursements lawfully paid by him on the holding of any inquest; and
(b) the salary of any existing coroner shall not be less than the average annual net receipts of such coroner from his office of coroner during the five years next before the passing of this Act."
That was the minimum?
Yes, that was the only thing that was set down.
Does the clause before that give you a right to mileage expenses in holding an inquest?
No, the only expenses you get are the expenses of paying witnesses.
That Act applies only to the existing coroners?
Only to the coroners existing at the time of the Act.
They could not get less?
I suppose some of these coroners have too little to do and others, perhaps, too much?
I do not think so. The districts are fairly well divided. Of course, some have a great deal more than others. Take my district, known as the Cork district, round the city of Cork. I have the lunatic asylum, the workhouse, and the jail, all city institutions, but all in the county as a matter of fact, and the result is that in operation it is a very heavy district. I have probably the heaviest district in the county. Then one of my confrï¿½res, at Bandon—Mr. Neville—has perhaps not so heavy a district, but it is a far more difficult district to cover, because he has to go out as far as Castletown Berehaven, which is a day's journey.
How many inquests in the year would you say that Mr. Neville, for example, would hold?
I should think that he would hold about 40 or 50.
What are the salaries paid?
My salary is £210, and Mr. Neville's is £250, I think. He has more travelling. In the case of the last coroner appointed the county council, with commendable economy from the ratepayers' point of view, but not from the point of view of the coroner, decreased the salary to £100 from, I think, £190.
I know some districts where it is much less than that.
I think £100 is perfectly absurd.
Do you know what they get in Dublin? What does Dr. Byrne get?
He gets something in the region of £1,000. Of course his is a very important position.
When you say the county council decreased the salary to £100, was that a new appointment?
Did the late Mr. Friery get £1,000?
He did not get so much. He probably got £500.
They have decreased his position to about £200 now.
I thought there were two coroners for the County Dublin.
There are. There is Doctor Brennan in the South. There are only two.
I think the fairest way that the matter could be dealt with would be by a percentage increase, having regard to this deputy business having been put on to them and the increased cost of living.
Would it not be much better for the deputy to be independent and to be paid separately? The coroner might be ill for two months and it would be rather hard on him to have to pay the deputy for that time.
If the deputy were paid, not by the coroner, but by the county, it might get rid of the necessity for an increase in the salary.
Something should be done to meet the difficulty created by this position. In England it has been, of course.
You would have to put a limit as to the number of times, because if a coroner could appoint a deputy not at his own expense as often as he liked to do so, it might lead to abuse.
What I should like to see would be the definite appointment of a deputy coroner. He would have much less functions than the coroner. There must be a deputy for every coroner.
I think the present position is more suitable, because the coroner is responsible for what the deputy does. After all, he is his deputy.
Then, that would practically take out of the hands of the local authority the appointment of a future coroner?
It would not, because the chairman of the county council has to sanction the appointment.
Still, if a deputy has been acting for a number of years it is only natural that he should be appointed as coroner when a vacancy occurs.
I think that is rather an ungodly suggestion. I think it is not a wise thing to have a kind of official succession.
That may be, but at the same time is it not very often followed?
In many cases it would be desirable to follow it.
In the case of a competent man it would be very desirable.
And an experienced man.
Then it would mean that the coroner would appoint him, rather than the county council.
But the coroner will only appoint himad hoc to do his own necessary business.
That is all, and it has to be sanctioned in writing by the chairman of the county council.
What I want to see is, how you are to prevent that being abused, because there might be plenty of cases in which a coroner, if he knew he could appoint a deputy, would hold on for a long time, although he was unfit to do his work, and he would thereby be imposing a liability on the county.
Of course he has already the power to appoint a deputy. The Act of 1908 simply adopted the English Act. The Act of 1908 says:—
" Sub-sections one, two, three, four, five and eight of Section 1 of the Coroners Act, 1892, shall apply to Ireland."
Here are the first four relative sub-sections:—
(1) Every coroner whether for a county or a borough shall appoint by writing under his hand a fit person approved by the chairman or mayor as the case may be of the council who appointed the coroner not being an alderman or councillor of such council to be his deputy and may revoke such appointment, but such revocation shall not take effect until the appointment of another deputy has been approved as aforesaid.
(2) A duplicate of every appointment shall be sent to the said council and be kept among the records of the county or borough as the case may be.
(3) A deputy may act for the coroner during his illness or during his absence for any lawful or reasonable cause or at any inquest which the coroner is disqualified for holding but not otherwise. In the case of a borough coroner the necessity of his so acting shall be certified on each occasion by a Justice of the Peace, and such certificate shall state the cause of absence of the coroner, be openly read at every inquest jury summoned by the deputy coroner, and be conclusive evidence of the jurisdiction of the deputy to act.
(4) The deputy of a coroner shall, notwithstanding the coroner vacates his office by death or otherwise, continue in office until a new deputy is appointed and shall act as the coroner while the office is so vacant in like manner as during the illness of the coroner and one certificate may extend to the period of the vacancy and he shall be entitled to receive in respect of the period of the vacancy the like remuneration as the vacating coroner.
The infirmity I see in that is that it speaks of such occasions that would be reasonable and necessary. Who is to decide that?
The coroner, sir. During his absence for any lawful cause the deputy acts.
Has not someone to certify it?
No, no one has to.
Take my personal experience. The only time my deputy would act is, for instance, if an inquest occurred to-day when I am not in Cork. He would have to act. I am absent for a lawful and reasonable cause. Or he would have to act if I went away on a holiday or was ill.
It would be possible for a coroner to put all the inquests on to his deputy?
It would, of course, at his own expense. I put this before you on behalf of the Coroners' Association. I think it will be better to leave the law as it stands on the question of the remuneration of the deputy. I think it is more satisfactory from the coroner's point of view.
It guards against abuse, because he will not squander his own salary?
Yes, but I do think, apart from that altogether, that there is a case for an increase in the case of coroners who have been acting since before 1914, and even some who have been appointed since. I have given you cases of men appointed at £20, £30, and £50.
My own view is that the position ought to be improved, but the difficulty of adding a percentage that occurs to me is that it would equally apply to the case of men appointed two years ago. All these considerations you are speaking of would be antecedent and would not apply in that case, and here we would be over-ruling the deliberate act of the council which appointed a man with full knowledge of all the circumstances, and would be adding a percentage in such a case.
I see the difficulty in that case. Of course, if the Local Government Department exercised their discretion the question would not arise at all. That would not apply to the existing men at all. I am talking now about the future. I am only indicating difficulties. I cannot at present indicate any particular line of approach. But undoubtedly there are cases that I consider are ones of great hardship. I know that in my own case at least half the salary goes in my travelling expenses. I have got to go thirty, twenty, or fifteen miles.
Would it be possible to put in a provision to say that within twelve months of the passing of this Bill the salaries of the existing coroners shall be revised? I do not say that they are to be increased or diminished.
If you do that I am sure they will be diminished, having regard to the present temper of the county councils.
I do not mean by the county councils, but by the Minister for Local Government.
Would it not be better to have it done by the Minister for Justice?
Not with salaries. These are county charges.
Would you put in that the existing salaries could not be decreased?
We are satisfied that there is no case in the Free State where a man's salary could be decreased.
There could be a provision recommending that these salaries should be revised, provided that in no case should the existing salary of any coroner be decreased.
You have to remember this, that the coroner's office is one of very serious import at times, and pressure is brought to bear on him often. There is this absurd objection among ignorant people to coroners' inquests. They think it creates a suspicion of some criminal intent. Secondly, they have an objection to the bodies of their dead being tampered with by doctors—post-mortems, and so on.
I think if there was less of the twelve men marching in to view the body these things would be easier to deal with, and there would be less of the criminal aspect about it. You have to consider that the coroner is often subject to very considerable pressure—I have myself often been worried by people asking me not to hold an inquest—and if you have a man on a small salary he may not be too anxious to do too much work. You cannot abuse the coroner while still refusing to give him proper consideration.
Who is going to revise his remuneration?
I think the Chairman made a suggestion that the Minister for Local Government should revise it.
And could go into the question in view of his increased duties.
I would put it that the Minister may not only revise but may have power to fix salaries.
I would leave the deputy coroner out of it altogether.
As long as you hold out no temptation to the coroner to appoint a deputy except where necessary.
The advantage of the present system, as I pointed out, is that it prevents one appointing a deputy unless one has to. The coroner should be the man, and the deputy should be only the stand-by.
Do you pay your travelling expenses out of your salary?
Would that not be an inducement not to hold an inquest if the case occurred very far away?
That is one of the cases I tried to bring home to the Committee, and all these things are very relevant when you are discussing the question of salary. The coroner is blamed, sometimes, for taking a light view of his duties, but how can he be blamed if he is not properly paid? I never allowed that to influence me. I have a motor car and I drive to the inquest wherever it is to be held.
How far, would you say, might you have to go?
Twenty, thirty or forty miles it might be.
And the man in the country district might have to go further?
Yes, that is so. The city man in regard to distance is on velvet compared with a country district coroner.
But he may have to hold an inquest every day?
Yes, the duties, of course, are far heavier. He is only a part-time officer, and his salary has to cover his expenses and also the time he is away from his business.
And he must be a qualified man.
Do you make any return, and to whom?
Yes, we make a return to the county council. You could make a return to the Minister for Justice if you wished, but it is for the county records that you are bound to make a return. There are several instances, from time to time, where you may have to make a return to various people.
Have you dealt with the power that we propose to give to the coroner to direct apost-mortem before the inquest, and for the purpose of seeing whether an inquest is necessary?
I quite agree we should be given that power.
Are you satisfied with the form?
Yes, I think it is quite satisfactory.
Does it not come to this: that subject to the additional points, which are very important, you agree with what we have already done?
Certainly. I think you have brought a great deal of common sense to bear upon the matter, because, as a practising coroner, I say these are the very points that have been worrying me for years. They are the weak spots in our armour. The State interfering with private conduct is one of the things that we have to envisage and deal with, and these suggestions of yours will make it less obnoxious, but by no means less efficient—probably more efficient.
On the question of witnesses' expenses, have you anything to say?
I am glad you mentioned that. The provisions at present as regards witnesses' expenses are as follows:—We can only give the owner of a house where a body is deposited 3/6; the owner of a house where an inquest is held, 3/6. I attribute no importance to either of these, because we generally hold an inquest on licensed premises, and in very few cases has the publican ever asked for such payment. So that I pass these by, because I do not think it is necessary to alter them. But next—to disinter and bury a body, 5/- is allowed. That is perfectly inadequate in present conditions. It was a regulation made in 1846. I think that figure should be 10/-.
I do not think you could put a schedule of fees into an Act. You could give the power to fix them to some local body. In England they are leaving it to the county councils to draw up the schedule.
I would be prepared to put it into the Act, or else to leave it to the Local Government Department to fix.
The schedule would be very simple.
Then will you draw up a suggested schedule?
We shall do that with pleasure, but I would not like to do it without consideration. As I said, I think that 5/- is ridiculous. I came across a case such as I have already mentioned, where much more should have been paid, but I was not entitled to give more, and I gave something out of my own pocket. Then, again, in the case of the doctor's fees, he only gets one guinea for giving evidence and two guineas for apost-mortem examination.
I think a guinea for giving evidence is very little.
That is so; the doctor may have to travel miles to come to give evidence. That figure was also fixed in 1846. I would double both these fees.
Perhaps it will be better to say two guineas for giving evidence, and three for apost-mortem examination.
Yes. Then we are allowed, for some unknown reason, to give 10/- for a coffin. Only on one occasion did I do that. It is a relic of the past and might be struck out, I think. The only other fees we are entitled to give are five guineas to the analyst and 2/- to a poor witness. That is absurd also. Suppose you bring a poor man from his work and he has to travel by train; I have had such cases, and the allowance did not pay the railway fare.
Have you any power to give witnesses expenses, except that they may be poor people?
Suppose you brought a person from Dublin to Cork?
No, we have no power to give them their expenses.
Can you compel them to attend?
Yes, undoubtedly; but we cannot give anyviaticum, only to a poor person, or to an obviously destitute person or a workman. I think we should have power to give the actual travelling expenses, and to allow something small for subsistence.
To enable them to get a certain amount of food?
When a workman loses half a day, attending an inquest, he ought to be entitled to his fee as well as the doctor. I am not objecting to the doctor being paid. What I object to is that the workman is not paid.
What is the doctor allowed?
I think he is allowed travelling expenses and reasonable subsistence, limited to a sum not exceeding £5.
Coming back to the question of thepost-mortem, might I refer to a case where a man is indicted for murder, and where the post-mortem would be a matter of very great importance and where it might be necessary to get an expert, a Professor of Pathology, from Dublin or Cork, who might have to travel fifty miles, I think £3 3s. for the holding of the post-mortem examination is sufficient, but there should be some provision whereby a pathologist who has to come a long distance should get special fees.
Is there not a risk there in this respect, that you will be giving unlimited power to the coroner to bring pathologists to inquests at considerable expense, and that the power might be abused?
I do not want that. I only want to make provision where such is absolutely necessary.
But who is to determine that?
I cannot see any person except the coroner. I think you must trust the coroner to use his discretion.
It is very unlikely that he will abuse such powers, unless you attribute to coroners some extra dose of original sin. What I do in my own particular case is this. I have very often cause for inviting a pathological man. The pathologist at University College is a personal friend of my own. He takes a very keen interest in his work and comes to me for the ordinary fee.
What is the ordinary fee?
You are near the University in Cork, but take a man who is a hundred miles away from a college. You may ask a local person to do it who never did such work before and is not conversant with it.
In such conditions there may be a very grave miscarriage of justice.
But these are matters which will have to be investigated by a tribunal?
Yes, but the initialpost-mortem examination is the most important thing and evidence will hang upon that. That is where the pathologist comes in. I know from my knowledge of medical jurisprudence that it is a most important matter.
Is not the necessity for apost-mortem examination to be done away with if the amendment were adopted by which we provide that if a man is in custody in connection with a particular death the inquest should be suspended?
No, because there are many cases where no persons are in custody, but are afterwards in custody as a result of the pathological evidence at the inquest.
Is it the police who conduct inquests? My practice has been to conduct the inquests myself, but the Police Superintendent examines the witnesses.
You think the coroner ought to have a discretion as to whether an expert witness should be produced or not?
And that the police would not have anything to say to that?
No. They can produce any witnesses they like, but as to who will hold thepost-mortem the coroner is the person to decide that.
You think in all cases in which an expert is called that the coroner should certify the reasons for calling him?
Yes, I think he should give the reasons.
And then, of course, you would make provision for the payment of a proper fee.
As regards the fee, would you say not exceeding ten guineas?
I think in cases in which you call in a pathologist you should allow him his travelling expenses. In some cases he may have to travel twenty or thirty miles. I think it would be well if the provision were to read, " not exceeding ten guineas with actual out-of-pocket expenses."
I think that concludes all the points. We will send you, Mr. Horgan, a copy of the suggestions made. Your evidence has been extremely valuable, and we are very grateful to you for coming here.
I thought it was a public duty on my part to help as far as I could. I have always taken a great interest in my office. It is a very interesting office, and one of very great importance to the judicial system of the country.
Your Association ought to be extremely grateful to you for coming here and making so many valuable suggestions.
There is a telegram from Senator Doctor O'Sullivan stating that he is prevented by illness from attending to give evidence. I imagine his evidence would have been much on the same lines as yours, Mr. Horgan?
My evidence was agreed evidence, except on the points I indicated to the Committee. In conclusion, I may say I am very grateful to the Committee for the courteous way they have received me.
The Witness withdrew.
That concludes our business to-day. All the additional matters that we have had under consideration will be circulated amongst the members. We shall consider them at a future meeting, which I shall call at some convenient date.
The Committee adjourned at 12.35 p.m.