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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 28 Feb 1962

Vol. 193 No. 5

Coroners Bill, 1961—Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, to delete lines 30 to 34, and substitute the following subsection:

"( ) Whenever the Minister is of opininon that any coroner or deputy coroner has been guilty of misconduct or neglect of duty or is unfit for office or incapable of the due discharge of his duties by reason of physical or mental infirmity, the Minister may send by registered post to such coroner or deputy coroner at his ordinary residence a notice in writing stating the said opinion and, if the Minister, after the expiration of seven days from the sending of the notice and after the consideration of the representations (if any) made to him by such coroner or deputy coroner, remains of the said opinion, he may by order remove such coroner or deputy coroner from office."

This amendment is being moved as a result of representations on Committee Stage that the present law regarding the removal of coroners from office, which is being re-enacted in Section 15, is defective in that it does not give the coroner concerned any opportunity of stating his side of the case before the order of removal from office is made. The new provision is modelled on subsection (3) of Section 25 of the Local Government Act, 1941 and provides for the Minister giving at least seven days' notice to the coroner and considering any representations he may make during that period before coming to a final decision removing him from office. It was Deputy M. J. O'Higgins who expressed concern about the provisions of the Bill as they stand and this amendment is to meet the point he put forward on Committee Stage.

If the coroner goes away on a holiday, has he got to get the consent of the Minister to go?

Then, in this case, if he was away, how would he know that he had got the letter?

I think the circumstances in which he would be sent such a letter would be such that he would hardly be away on holidays.

That might be the reason.

This is the normal provision which applies to all local authority servants and officials.

But they have to get permission from somebody to go away and therefore it is known whether they are there or not.

I imagine that, in the sort of situation with which we would be dealing, the Minister and everybody concerned would be well aware that the coroner was either there or away. I do not think it would give rise to any particular difficulty.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, lines 24 and 25, to delete "the local Superintendent or other officer of the Garda Síochána" and substitute "an inspector or officer of the Garda Síochána".

I suggest we might take amendments Nos. 2 and 4 together, as amendment No. 4 is consequential on amendment No. 2.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 8, line 32, after "residing" to insert "at the time of his death".

Again, on Committee Stage, Deputy M.J. O'Higgins expressed some doubts as to the exact meaning of "residing". He suggested we should make it clear that it meant resident at the time of death. In order to remove any doubt, I am proposing to insert the words "at the time of his death" after the word "residing".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 8, line 44, to delete "an officer of the Garda Síochána" and substitute "a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of inspector".

On Committee Stage, a number of views were expressed as to who should be notified in the event of a death occurring in the circumstances envisaged in subsection (4) of Section 18. I propose now to include inspectors of the Garda, as well as superintendents.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 12, line 43, to delete "is a beneficiary" and substitute "benefits".

I undertook on Committee Stage to have another look at the wording of subsection (2) of Section 35. This section disqualified a coroner or deputy coroner from holding an inquest or inquiring into a death if he has drawn up, or assisted in drawing up, a will and is, in addition, a beneficiary. It was Deputy McGilligan, I think, who suggested that the phrase "is a beneficiary" was very narrow and that if the phrase were changed to "a will under which he benefits" or "which benefits him", it would be more satisfactory. I am agreeing with that view and substituting the word "benefits" for "is a beneficiary".

I understand the Minister's point of view in the amendment but I know some representations have been made to him in relation to this section. I think that those representations arise partly through a misunderstanding of the section. As I understand it—and I should like the Minister's confirmation of this—it is not merely that the person must have drawn up a will but that he must benefit under the will as well ?


That is perfectly clear and obviously anybody who is getting a legacy under the will remembers that fact and the case that was made of a solicitor who might have drawn up a will and might have forgotten all about it would not be operative because it is narrowed by the "beneficiary". But there is one case that might very easily arise with me, if I were a coroner. I would draw a very great number of wills under which, in the ordinary course of events, with clients of my own, either I or my partner would be executor. We would not remember that until we had taken out the will and had a look at it. I think the Minister will find the phrase he is now introducing would cover the case of a solicitor who is an executor and who is benefiting, therefore, to the extent that he will be paid the normal professional charges in connection with his administration of the estate. That is not what the Minister intended——

I do not think that is——

Now, I think the Minister will find that is so and I would ask him to examine it. I accept that he did not intend that to be covered, but if the person himself, or perhaps his wife, got a legacy, it would be desirable that the person might not hold an inquest. Let me put this analogy to the Minister that seems pretty conclusive to me. A solicitor who is an executor and who is given in the will the appropriate power to charge and be paid his fees—I am sure the Minister knows that must be included in the will—is in exactly the same position as an ordinary legatee. If he witnesses the will under which he is appointed executor, he has no power to charge for any work in the administration of the estate. That puts him in exactly the same position as a legatee. I think, as the section is now to be worded, the effect of it will be not merely to cut out the person getting the legacy, which is what the Minister has in mind but, to me, before a solicitor who is a coroner can say whether he is going to hold an inquest or not, he will not merely have to try to remember whether the person concerned made a will but he will also have to try to remember whether he made the will appointing the solicitor executor or not. I do not think that is desirable and I should be glad if the Minister would examine the situation from that point of view between now and the Seanad discussion on the Bill when it can be considered there.


Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 13, lines 34 and 35, to delete "murder or manslaughter" and substitute "murder, infanticide or manslaughter".

The House will recall there was a discussion on Committee Stage on an amendment by Deputy O'Higgins which is similar to the amendment I have moved. That amendment proposed that a coroner should be obliged to hold an inquest with a jury whenever he became of opinion that deceased had come by his death by infanticide as well as by murder or manslaughter. At that time, my view was that it was, strictly speaking, unnecessary to include infanticide because the initial charge in the case of infanticide is not, strangely enough, infanticide but murder, because our Infanticide Act of 1949 was framed, as explained by the then Minister for Justice when introducing the measure, to avoid any suggestion that this country's legislature had become less conscious of the sanctity of human life and provided therefore that the wilful killing of a human being, whether a newly-born infant or a man or woman in the prime of life, would remain an offence that would prima facie constitute murder.

Subsection (1) of Section 1 of the Act merely provides for the District Court having power to reduce a charge of murder to one of infanticide and to send the woman forward for trial on that charge. The initial charge against a woman who wilfully causes the death of her infant child is, however, a charge of murder. This is the view that has been taken by successive Attorneys General since the Act became law. Therefore, if the coroner is to consider the question whether or not to have a jury from the point of view of what the woman may be charged with, there is, I think, no need to have reference to infanticide. However, if he looks at it from the point of view of what the person is going to be convicted of, then the word "infanticide" would be necessary. While there is not much in it, I think, on balance, it is better to include infanticide and accordingly I move the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

Is the remaining Stage being taken to-day ?

I am quite agreeable, if the Minister would not mind, before he takes the Bill in the Seanad, advising me by letter of the result of his examination of the point I mentioned so that I can get one of my colleagues in the Seanad to raise it ?

I shall gladly and willingly give that undertaking.

Question—"That the Bill do now pass"—put and agreed to.