Coroners Bill, 1961—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The office of coroner is one of our oldest surviving institutions and, although now of less importance, nevertheless, performs a very useful function in modern society. In the earliest days the main object of the office was to safeguard the profits of the Crown. A coroner was bound to inquire concerning treasure trove, wreck, whales and sturgeons and to secure them for the King's use. As the Crown was entitled to emoluments arising from the forfeiture of the chattels of felons and outlaws, the cornor was brought into contact with the administration of the criminal law at an early stage. He kept the record of outlawries; he had to be present whenever judgment of death was passed in a court of private jurisdiction; appeals of felony were commenced before him; and in all these proceedings his concern was rather to bring the goods and chattels of the felon to the King for his use than to bring the felon himself to justice. At inquests, the coroner's function was to ensure that in cases of sudden death the chattels of any persons who were criminally responsible were surrendered.

At present the coroner's functions are prescribed by the various Coroners Acts of which there are twelve in all. He no longer has the power, or rather a coroner's inquest has not the power, to return an inquisition charging a particular person or persons with murder or manslaughter and the inquest has now become in practice a matter of ascertaining the facts about a death and establishing how, when, and where it occurred. Nonetheless, there is a real need for a tribunal of this kind which enables public disquiet about particular violent deaths to be allayed, and the rumours that inevitably circulate at such times to be quelled, by having the exact facts publicised with the minimum delay.

It was inevitable that in connection with a consolidation Bill of this kind the question of continuing to have an office of coroner at all was specifically considered by the Government before deciding to proceed with the measure. The Government recognised, however, that as the coroner's functions have to be done by some person or body the financial saving would be relatively insignificant, and that the persons or bodies on whom his functions would devolve might not enjoy the same degree of public confidence as coroners now do.

The Bill itself mainly consists of a re-enactment of the existing law which, as Senators will see from a glance at the Repeals Schedule, is spread over a large number of enactments. But there are a number of changes and I should like to invite the attention of the House to the main ones.

In Part II of the Bill an age limit of 70 years is being provided for coroners appointed after the commencement of the Act. Up to now, coroners have held office for life but I think it is desirable in the public interest to have a reasonable age limit for the appointments as there is for all other appointments under a local authority. This change is being made in Section 11. Sections 12 and 13 provide that a coroner or a deputy coroner may reside outside their district with the permission of the Minister. With modern methods of transport the present requirement that coroners and their deputies should live in the district is no longer absolutely necessary; and it may become unreasonable where, say, the coroner may live a few miles outside a county borough boundary while having his main place of business inside it.

As a result of representations in the Dáil, Section 15, which deals with removal from office of a coroner or deputy coroner, has been amended to authorise the Minister, whenever he becomes of opinion that there has been misconduct or neglect of duty or the like, to give the coroner or deputy coroner concerned an opportunity of putting his point of view before the Minister makes a final decision on the question of removing him from office: subsection (2) of that section requires the Minister to specify the reason for the removal from office in every case.

The most important change being made in Part III of the Bill, which deals with inquests, is probably that contained in Sections 30 and 31. These sections prohibit coroners' inquests from considering questions of civil or criminal liability and prohibit juries from adding expressions of censure or exoneration by way of rider to the verdict. Accordingly, the fact-finding aspect of the coroner's inquest will be further emphasised when the Bill becomes law though the new restrictive provisions will not prevent juries from making recommendations of a general character designed to prevent further fatalities.

I should mention also that in Part III a statutory obligation is being imposed on medical practitioners, registrars of deaths, funeral undertakers and on every occupier of a house or person in charge of an institution in which a deceased person was residing at the time of his death, to notify the coroner or a member of the Garda not below the rank of Inspector, in any case in which he has reason to believe that the death was caused by violence or misadventure or by unfair means, or from any cause other than natural illness or disease for which he had been seen and treated by a doctor within one month before his death or in any other circumstances as may require investigation. This provision has a twofold object. It is, of course, intended mainly to ensure that all suspicious deaths are notified to the proper authorities but it has the secondary object of improving registration of deaths and of the proportion of those registered deaths which are medically certified. At present, it is known that there are many deaths which are not registered at all. In the nature of things there are no statistics of them and their existence only comes to light, usually many years afterwards, when their statistical value has disappeared say, when it is necessary to take out a grant of administration to secure title to land or property. The percentage of registered deaths which are medically certified is also unduly low by comparison with Northern Ireland and European countries and I hope that the present provision, though it may cause some inconvenience until people have got accustomed to its working, will have the effect ultimately of ensuring that medical assistance is summoned in the final stages of fatal illnesses.

Section 24 authorises the Attorney General to direct a coroner to hold an inquest whenever he has reason to believe that a person has died in circumstances which in the opinion of the Attorney General made the holding of an inquest advisable. This new provision is in line with the Attorney General's statutory functions as the assertor of the public's rights and I think it is a useful provision to have. It is only right to say that coroners have as a rule not been slow to hold inquests in all proper cases and I am sure that the section will have to be invoked only on rare occasions.

The only new provision requiring mention in Part IV of the Bill, which deals with juries at inquests, is perhaps the modification being made in the existing law relating to the failure of a coroner's jury to agree. Section 44 provides that if the majority of the jury—a simple majority—agree on a verdict, then that verdict must be accepted by the coroner. At the moment, a majority verdict can only be accepted if the minority does not exceed two. Therefore, if the jury consists of twelve persons, the views of seven of them will now prevail whereas under the present law a majority of ten persons would be required. In the case of a jury of six, however, the law will still be that the views of four members may determine the issue. In considering this matter, Senators will remember that no questions of civil or criminal liability have to be determined by a coroner's jury and that the investigation at an inquest is being confined to ascertaining who the deceased was and how, when and where he came by his death.

Finally, as regards Part V, which contains the miscellaneous provisions, I am sure that Senators will welcome the provision in Section 46 which replaces the existing obligation imposed on publicans to receive dead bodies. For many years there has been a great deal of agitation to have the obligation removed and I am sure there will be general satisfaction that this is now being done. In its place, it is being provided that the coroner will have discretion to direct that the body be removed into a convenient mortuary or a morgue or "other suitable place". What is a suitable place is a matter which is being left to the good sense of the coroner to determine but I do not think that a publichouse could by any stretch of the imagination be described as a suitable place for the reception of a dead body. In remote areas there may be some inconvenience in particular cases at first but any difficulties should be minimised with the provision of proper transport facilities and the cooperation of all concerned.

Before concluding, I should like to thank publicly all the coroners who communicated observations on the Bill when I invited them to. All of their suggestions have been carefully considered and some of them have been implemented during the passage of the Bill through the other House. I have also had the advantage of having discussed the Bill with representatives of the Coroners' Association a few days ago. The Association welcomed the Bill and made some suggestions on certain minor aspects which I am considering at present.

As I have said the office of coroner is still essential, even in modern conditions, in the interests of allaying public disquiet and scotching rumours. Its everyday functioning is associated with a time of severe personal distress to the relatives of deceased persons. To carry out their duties properly, coroners require qualities of prudence, common sense and independence to ensure that additional distress is avoided so far as is consistent with ensuring that the cause of death is satisfactorily established. I think I can say that our coroners have shown that they possess these qualities and discharge the duties of the office in a manner which combines efficiency with full regard for the feelings of the next-of-kin—a difficult task sometimes because people's judgments and attitudes are liable to be very much upset by the sudden death of someone close to them.

I have drawn attention to some of the main changes which the Bill proposes to make in the present law and I have not dealt either with the minor changes or with the body of law which the Bill merely re-enacts. There will be an opportunity on Committee to go into details of the various provisions but if there are any points on which Senators require clarification or amplification at this stage, I shall endeavour to meet their wishes when replying. I hope that the Bill, as presented, will commend itself to the House.

By and large we welcome this Bill. We think it is a good and desirable Bill. As the Minister has said, the position of coroner is an important position. He has very serious obligations to discharge in a case of sudden death. Personally, I think it would be a mistake to abolish the position of coroner or to seek at present to amalgamate it with any other position.

I should like to say also in general way that as a practitioner, and I am sure I am speaking for the great body in both professions, any move to consolidate and codify the law is very welcome and a most praiseworthy project. I know that this Bill has been amended in a few respects in the Dáil and has been improved by those amendments. However, it would benefit by some further amendments. I know it is very difficult to raise anything completely new and which has not been said before. I know that a point was raised in the Dáil on Section 8 which provides for the appointment of a coroner by the Appointments Commissioners but the function is reserved to the Minister of declaring certain qualifications. Section 8 (c) says:

the Minister shall, after consultation with the Local Appointments Commissioners, declare, either generally or for a particular appointment, the qualifications as to age, health and character for appointment to the office of coroner.

The provisions in this subsection which enable the Minister to specify different qualifications for different appointments are provisions to which I object. In the future this subsection could be very much abused. A particular age limit could be specified by some future Minister for improper purposes. It could be availed of by some Minister in the future when, perhaps, we are all gone and who would provide an upper or a lower age limit in order to disqualify a certain person. It is fundamentally wrong that there should be different qualifications for a coroner in, say, Mayo and Cavan. There is no reason why general qualifications should not be set out and leave it at that.

Section 9 says that the salary of a coroner shall be inclusive of any travelling, subsistence and other out-of-pocket expenses incurred by him in the course of his duties as coroner. The coroner should be allowed reasonable travelling expenses. Some counties are large and quite an amount of travelling would be involved. It might mean that if the salary were the same for different counties a coroner in one county might be less well off than a coroner in another county. Section 12 deals with the place of residence. I suppose that on the whole it is only reasonable that in certain circumstances a coroner should be given permission to reside outside his district but I think that the conditions should be exceptional and that a coroner should not be encouraged to live outside his district. Neither should he be allowed to live any considerable distance out of his district because, human nature being such as it is, one coroner might be tempted to adopt the line of least resistance. If he is living in his district he will not have the same temptation to, quite honestly, assume there is no need for an inquest, as he might if he lives a considerable distance from where he would have to conduct the inquest.

Perhaps this is more a matter for Committee Stage, I am not sure. Section 13 (5) (a) provides for the discharge of the duties of a coroner by the deputy coroner and then it goes on to say that:

Where a coroner is absent from his duties with the permission of the Minister, the Minister may authorise the deputy coroner of that coroner to perform all the duties of that coroner's office and, while the authorisation is in force, the deputy coroner shall, for the purposes of this Act, except Section 9, be deemed to be coroner for that district.

Section 9 provides for the remuneration of the coroner and I think that if a deputy coroner is acting as coroner for any length of time he should be given the salary to which the coroner is entitled. I think a substantial point arises in regard to Section 18. Subsection (4) of Section 18 imposes on certain people, including a medical practitioner, registrar of deaths or funeral undertaker and every occupier of a house or mobile dwelling where a sudden death occurs, to report that dealth immediately to the coroner. Subsection (5) of the same section states that that obligation:

shall be deemed to be discharged if he....

—that is the person concerned—

immediately notifies a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of inspector....

I know that there was quite a discussion in the Dáil about various duties to be performed by various Garda officers but I could see this section imposing quite a hardship on people in rural areas. One might have to travel anything up to 25 miles to contact an inspector of the Garda Síochána. They are only stationed in the larger towns. The sergeants of the Garda Síochána are all responsible men held in the highest respect in their respective areas and the duty of reporting a sudden death could be quite well discharged by reporting it to the sergeant of the area where the death took place. This would have the effect of making it more likely that the occupiers would co-operate fully with the wishes of the Minister and the Act.

Section 25 compels the coroner to adjourn an inquest if requested to do so by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of inspector on the grounds that criminal proceedings are being considered. It goes on to say that the coroner:

shall adjourn the inquest for such period as he thinks proper and shall further adjourn the inquest for similar periods so often as a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of inspector requests him on the grounds aforesaid so to do.

That is too indefinite. In theory, at any rate, it might mean that an inquest might be adjourned ad infinitum. It might be adjourned for 25 years. As an inquest is really only an inquisition to find out the cause of death, I do not think any criminal proceedings could be prejudiced by putting a reasonable time limit on the adjournments that could be given. I can envisage great hardship being caused to relatives of a deceased person by keeping an inquest open indefinitely where a murderer has not been apprehended. A point of some importance arises on Section 29.

I wonder if this discussion would be more relevant on Committee Stage, where we would take it section by section?

It probably would. I have probably transgressed all I can. I just want to give the Minister a general idea of my views on it. I shall be very brief from now on.

Under Section 29, the coroner is directed to preserve certain documents. He is obliged to hand them over to the County Registrar when he ceases to hold the office of coroner. It would be much more effective if he were directed to hand them over to the County Registrar every five years. The professions from which some coroners are called are not notorious for being the most methodical people when it comes to bookkeeping, writing, or keeping records.

Which profession?

Let whoever the hat fits wear it. The papers would have a much better chance of being preserved carefully if they were handed over every five years, the same as in the case of the Assistant Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Deputy Sweetman raised a point in the Dáil on the disqualification of a coroner from holding an inquest if he had prepared a will and benefited under it.

We propose to introduce an amendment which will meet his point of view.

There is a point there. It arises under Section 35.

The last section I want to deal with is Section 46 which, as the Minister has just mentioned, relieves publicans of the obligation imposed under earlier Acts to receive dead bodies. While that may be so, there is a danger here that other people may have a very onerous obligation imposed on them. The section reads:

Where a coroner considers it necessary to hold an inquest on, or a post-mortem examination of, the body of a deceased person, he may direct that the body be removed into a convenient mortuary or morgue or other suitable place (whether inside or outside his district)...

With respect, I submit that, with modern transport, with hospitals with morgues attached being convenient, with public buildings such as court houses, Garda barracks and other buildings under the control of local authorities and the State, there is no reason in the world why a private individual should be called upon to receive and keep a dead body pending an inquest.

I know that most coroners are reasonable but you can have the exception. A man might be quite reasonable when appointed and, as the years go on, he might grow less reasonable. There is a danger there. It is only necessary that it should be provided that a body should be removed to the places mentioned, the mortuary, the morgue or other public building. Subject to that, we welcome the Bill.

I just want to ask a question. It happens in many cases of sudden death on the roadway that great difficulty is experienced in getting transport to remove the body to a central place, say the county hospital or elsewhere, for an inquest. As far as I know, as the law stands, the ordinary ambulance which is used to bring a patient to a county hospital cannot, strictly speaking, be used to transfer a dead body to a place for an inquest. A number of councils to my knowledge have experienced great difficulty in this matter over a number of years. I hope the Minister will deal with this matter as it is most important that it should be clarified.

When the Minister is dealing with Section 46, which concerns the removal and custody of a body pending inquest, and so on, I hope he will specify the sort of vehicle that can be provided for its removal. I trust he will also say whose duty it is to provide that vehicle—whether that of the doctor who might be on the scene, the coroner, and so on. These are matters which I should like to have clarified and which in the past have led to endless confusion and misunderstanding.

This Bill represents a mass of existing and very antiquated legislation. I see from the synopsis of the Bill that it dates back to the thirteenth century. Nobody could possibly have any objection to a consolidation of this kind. The collection of this mass of legislation and its presentation in one accessible piece of legislation must obviously commend itself to everybody. I just want to raise two small points. Under Section 52, post-mortem examinations shall be conducted by one doctor. This section provides that where a coroner considers a second doctor is necessary he must state his reasons to the Minister. I am not quite sure why that type of provision is considered necessary in a Bill of this kind. I should like the Minister to explain it.

Under Section 57, there seems to be a change in the method by which fees and expenses for doctors, witnesses, and so on, are to be provided in future. Heretofore, I understand these fees were fixed by statute. As far as I can interpret the section, they are now to be prescribed by the Minister for Justice after consulation with the Minister for Local Government. I presume that provision would make it very much simpler for such fees to be increased or varied from time to time. This seems another example of the tendency, commented on in the past, to give more and more power to the Minister and less and less power to either of the two Houses of the Oireachtas. There ought to be some provision for appeal against the Minister's decision regarding a particular scale of fees of that kind.

I should like to congratulate the Minister on being able, after so recently taking office, to have such a comprehensive measure brought for consideration before both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a very important Bill. In recent years, the general performance in the matter of conducting inquests was not in all cases satisfactory. It is quite a common experience to find that when a death is reported to the coroner he may take the view that an inquest is not necessary and the matter finishes there. There was a lot of public uneasiness as a result of some decisions by coroners in that connection. People feel that where there is any doubt the matter should be very fully investigated and disposed of by inquest.

I am very pleased to notice that the Minister has made provision in the legislation we are now considering to correct a malpractice of that kind. It appears that the Attorney General who, I take it, would be requested to do so by the Garda authorities or by the Minister's Department, can instruct the coroner to hold an inquest where otherwise no decision might be taken or where there might be no other application for such investigation. That is a very important point and I am glad the Minister has taken care of it.

In his speech this evening the Minister said that the office of coroner was a very old one. He indicated that from time to time the opinion was expressed that the office should be amalgamated with some other judicial office in the State, but I think he was very wise to maintain that office as a separate entity and continue it in its existing from. The position at the moment, as I understand it, is that coroners who have been appointed before the passing of this Bill can remain in office for as long as they live. The Minister has seen fit, however, to provide that in future a retiring age will apply. It is an essential condition that a retiring age should apply because a certain amount of difficulty is created for the officers, particularly when they are engaged in a private practice of their own and when they reach an age at which they might not be fit physically or mentally to perform their official duties. For that reason I am glad the Minister has made provision for a retiring age.

I understand the existing offices are not pensionable. I sincerely hope that those who will be appointed in future, when there will be a retiring age, will be made pensionable. Another suggestion I should like to make is that because of the responsible duties now being allocated to coroners, there should be some increase in the amount of remuneration allowed. So far as I know those who are appointed are mostly medical practitioners or legal practitioners. Other types of professional men do not qualify for the job. While there is probably quite a lot of competition for the appointments when they are advertised the legal men particularly stand to gain very little in the long run by holding office. I submit that unless the scale of remuneration laid down is made more attractive you cannot get the best men.

There is another difficulty about the way the scale is computed. It is inclusive and expenses are not allowed. I think reasonable travelling expenses should be allowed, but I think the Minister has that in mind when he refers to the amalgamation of districts and the fact that by and large coroners are encouraged to live in their own districts. Those are a few of the points I should like to draw to the Minister's attention.

Provision is made for the summoning of juries in Sections 41, 42 and 43, but I think it is a bit loose. As I read it the provision indicates that if a coroner requires a jury, broadly speaking, he requests a member of the Garda Síochána to summon that jury. That has been the practice heretofore, and a number of people were always available for jury service. To make the job of constituting a panel as easy as possible the Garda usually asks the same people. I may tell the Minister that there is a suspicion at large that these panels were generally composed of "yes men", that from inquest to inquest they were the same men, and that if one wanted to influence a convenient verdict they were the right fellows to get. I think there is a point there, and some provision should be made to deal with it. In other words, it should be provided that persons are not asked to act on a jury more than once in three years or something of that kind. I want some provision whereby the same people are not doing jury service too often. I do not know how that could be provided, but it should be provided.

The Minister has emphasised that the necessity for the coroner system is very great. That is accepted in the country and this Bill has got a good reception. There are many factors associated with the Bill which go to make it a success, but it does not matter how efficient the coroner is if he does not get proper co-operation from the jury. The panel of jurors is important. It requires on the whole at least a majority of responsible people. I suggest that the method of recruiting these people has been rather loose up to now. I wonder if the Minister can see any way, by amendment of the existing measure or by regulation, of providing that a more responsible type of person is summoned for jury service.

I submit that any six, nine or 12 people who are summoned by a member of the Garda Síochána at the request of the coroner, and are brought into the room, must be accepted by the coroner. He cannot object to the presence of any particular person on the jury. That is all the more reason why the qualifications should be more clearly defined.

The Minister indicated that in future the job of the coroner, and the purpose of inquests in general, would be most specific and that he was determined to see it carried out in a specific way. Generally speaking an inquest is to investigate the relevant causes of death, and there should be no side issues other than on the facts in that connection, more particularly, when the verdict would in no way influence civil or criminal proceedings. It is very important that the Minister has indicated his intention in that regard, but he will have to do something more than make that statement here.

From past experience you find riders added to verdicts, deliberately introduced to influence at a later stage some particular line or another. I want to ask the Minister to inform the coroner that he is obliged to ensure that no such rider is added to any verdict in his court, and that the coroner and the jury are confined to the business they have been appointed to do by law. In recent years coroners took it on themselves to condemn what they regarded and termed as the inefficiency or negligence, as the case might be, of local authorities and Government bodies. Some of them appeared to have a bee in their bonnets about attacking State concerns. This was very bad form. Apart from being undesirable from the public point of view, perhaps, unconsciously, it helped certain people in civil or criminal proceedings, and particularly criminal proceedings. Coroners' reports were usually regarded as infallible and when a coroner stated something people naturally played up to him.

I agree with Senator Fitzpatrick with regard to the provision in Section 46 which relieves a publican from the liability he had heretofore to accept the remains of a dead person for the purpose of having an inquest held on the licensed premises. While this is a long overdue development which we all welcome, the alternative provision is a bit vague. The coroner could take the view that it would be more convenient to have the body of a drowned person at the seaside admitted to a hotel or a restaurant or some other place nearby rather than removed to a hospital 15 or 20 miles away. I agree with Senator Fitzpatrick that the point should be made more specific. The facilities are there now to have a body admitted for post-mortem examination in a specific number of places, of which we have quite a wide variety, and it would not impose undue hardship or inconvenience to have the remains removed to one of them.

I am glad that the Minister has provided for the appointment of coroners to be made by the Local Appointments Commission. Senator Fitzpatrick made the point that generally speaking the Minister influences the type of appointment the Commissioners make because of the regulations he is entitled to draft. That is the usual practice in the Department of Local Government with regard to town clerks, law officers and other officials, where the Minister generally sets up the structure of the requirements associated with the appointment, and it is then passed to the Local Appointments Commission to implement the requirements by appointing a person within the general terms of reference laid down. This has worked very successfully in other Departments also and I see no reason why it should not work in this connection.

The only other point I want to make is in connection with the Minister's indication that in this part of Ireland the number of registered deaths which are medically certified was very low compared with the experience in Northern Ireland and other European countries. The fact that the office of coroner was still being maintained might in some way influence bringing that percentage to a more satisfactory level. That is very important because we all know from dealings we may have in certain lines of business that the non-certification of the cause of death can be a great handicap in some regards. Nowadays most people who are ill and in their declining years are attended by medical practitioners because the Health Act and other Acts passed in recent years have made it more convenient for people to have medical attention. By and large, as far as people in that category are concerned there is no reason why the cause of death should not be certified. The point the Minister makes there is very important, particularly in the matter of mortality statistics, and in this regard the Bill will serve a very useful purpose.

When I looked at this Bill I was surprised that it took 59 sections to cover the appointment of coroner, and that there are 38 amendments dealing with such a small matter. I do not see much merit in splitting hairs about the meaning of phrases and words, because the ordinary person who is not legally minded would not see any great difference between "is of the opinion" or "is satisfied".

The reason I speak is that I think the Bill will affect the rural areas, particularly the remote areas, to quite an extent.

During the Committee Stage discussion in the Dáil the Minister said at Column 167 of Volume 193:

There is no doubt that we want here to step up the number of deaths notified, particularly in rural Ireland.

It is eminently desirable that we have a higher number of deaths notified than we have at the moment. We have a very high proportion of uncertified deaths. If the subsection achieves that, it is a considerable advantage. It is also important from the point of view that it will tend over the years to have doctors called in more regularly and more often in cases of persons who are in danger of death. I think that socially that is also desirable.

In rural Ireland we often find people who have not seen a doctor for ten, 15 or 20 years. I know people who never called in a doctor in their lives and they are over 80 years of age today. If such a person should die suddenly, would it not be a reasonable thing to find, without calling a doctor in, that he had died of old age and to certify that as the cause of death?

A good point in the Bill is that the appointments are to be made by the Local Appointments Commissioners. In the past when a coroner was about to be appointed, people all over knew for months beforehand who was the person who was going to be appointed.

The question of age is also important, and I would like the Minister to specify what age he would consider appropriate for a coroner on appointment. The Bill provided for at least five years' experience as a doctor, a barrister or a solicitor, and Deputy McGilligan made fairly sure in the Dáil that that would mean full time employment and doing full service. I would definitely say that no coroner should be appointed under the age of 35.

Neither would I keep a coroner after 65 years of age. I shall give my reasons for it. A young coroner of less than 35 years is not mature. He is officious. I remember a case of a girl who was cycling along a road within 100 yards of her home. She became faint, sat down and died. She was carried in and put into her own house. The doctor was brought and he called the coroner. The coroner refused to come out to that house to hold the inquest. He was a new young coroner. He said the ambulance would have to be sent out to bring the remains into the morgue. That should not have been done. It showed a lack of common sense that the coroner would not come to the house in such circumstances.

I also know of another case where a man died in my presence. The doctor declared that the coroner must be notified because this man had not been attending him. The last thing the man told me was that he had been attending a doctor. When I made that statement the doctor told me that, as the man had not been attending him, there would have to be an inquest. I got busy, however, and located the doctor he had been attending. Without any hesitation this doctor wrote out the certificate of death and stated that the man had been suffering from cardiac debility. He had attended the man that very day.

If a man of between 65 and 70 is called out at night time, he does not want to come out. He wants to avoid all the trouble he can and he asks that the remains be sent to him. I would not have anyone over 65. If we appoint a doctor a coroner, that doctor retires at 65 if he is working for a local authority. Therefore, it is only right that the coroner should also be asked to retire at 65.

In Section 8, paragraphs (c) and (e), there is reference to the Minister laying down regulations and also to the fact that the Local Appointments Commission may appoint in such manner as they think proper. Accordingly, they can appoint only according to the regulations laid down by the Minister. I suggest that the Minister lay down regulations for every appointment. There is a point that he may at any time make different regulations for different appointments. That, of course, will point the finger at the person likely to get the appointment. There is also the question that appointments are confined to barristers, solicitors and doctors. What qualifications do we require? Do we require a man to have medical knowledge? If so, the solicitors and barristers are out. If we require legal knowledge, then the doctors are out. I do not see any point in having it confined to solicitors, barristers and doctors. A court clerk, a man living on a very small salary, knows sufficient about the law to be an efficient coroner. Ex-members of the Garda Síochána, who retire at 55 when they are fairly mature, could have their income supplemented for ten years by acting as coroner. That would not be a bad idea either. Such people would be as well qualified as doctors, barristers and solicitors.

There is a lot in the Bill about salaries. From Section 9 down to Section 11, the Bill deals with the remuneration of coroners. I understand a coroner gets about £150 a year. When there is so much about paying that sum, the Minister must have a poor idea of the inclination of local authorities to pay anyone. I know some of them down our country would not pay if they could get out of it. There is a section here that they can appeal to the Minister if they are not satisfied with the pay they are getting. That is a wise provision. The doctors recently had to make use of such a provision to get their money from the local authorities. It is likely in some counties that engineers and other people will have to appeal to the Minister to get their share.

Under Section 13 the Minister has power to remove a person from the position of coroner for various reasons. I can understand that. If a doctor has attended a person a month before the death apparently he cannot act as coroner in that case. I think, however, that the most important reason why a coroner should not act is that of relationship with the dead person.

May I remind the Senator that examination of the Bill, section by section, is appropriate on the Committee Stage?

Senator Hogan made reference to Section 46. There have been a number of incidents throughout the country where there was difficulty about removing the remains. It usually happens after fatal motor accidents where the body is severely injured and people with private cars do not like to put the remains into the car. Apparently the ambulance was not allowed to carry these remains. The Minister would be wise in laying down regulations that the remains be removed by ambulance where no other means is available.

I hope that in the interpretation of this Bill the coroners will not be having inquests every day of the week. More people are dying suddenly now than was the case a few years ago. Therefore, coroners should show great discretion and common sense. If anything worries the rural people it is an inquest. Therefore, coroners should show common sense and not have inquests where the cause of death is not fully established. I would not be in agreement at all that the appointment of a coroner should be confined to the two classes mentioned here. That is my greatest objection to the Bill.

I should like to support Senator Hogan in regard to fatal accidents. I remember a fatal accident a short time ago. The ambulance would not take the person involved. But a good farmer's wife came along with a good car, put the man into it and brought him to hospital.

I listened to the last speaker referring to ages. I remember a coroner being appointed by the Local Appointments Commissioners after he had been 54 years a medical officer in the district in which he was appointed. There were several unemployed doctors up for the position but they did not get it. As I say, this man had his dispensary district for 54 years when he was recommended for appointment by the Commissioners and had to be appointed. The county council had nothing to do with it. I am glad that the Minister has prescribed 70 years which I think is reasonable.

I happen to know something about coroners. My late father was a coroner and it is remarkable that he held the last inquest under British rule. That was on the late Robert J. Byrne of Limerick. The citizens of Limerick brought in a verdict of wilful murder against Constables Spillane and O'Brien and coroners' inquests were abolished a week later by the order of General Sir Neville Macready and Sir John French. Coroners as a rule are pretty sensible men and try to put the people concerned to as little inconvenience as possible. I think it has been more or less an unwritten law that in normal circumstances the necessity for coroners' inquests would only arise where there are suspicions of foul play or in the case of a fatal road accident.

I have cited this case and I could prove it. That man had been appointed a doctor for 20 years and nine months and the old British Government would not sanction him. He kept on going until he had passed 21 years and was appointed. That was in East Clare. He held his position until he was almost 90.

I should like the Minister seriously to consider the statement made by Senator Hogan with regard to accidents on the side of the road where a person has been knocked down and killed and left there for everybody to come and look at without people exhibiting ordinary Christian charity and bringing that person to the nearest house.

I have two questions to put to the Minister but before I do that I should like to welcome the decision to retain the office of coroner. He was largely a king's servant but I think at certain times of our history, as has been mentioned, he has made himself very much a people's officer. In the past coroners have refused to be browbeaten by established authority and the present coroners are still respected for that tradition. The first question I have to raise is on Section 46 which has been discussed to some extent this afternoon. My main concern is whether in this section we are not imposing a statutory duty on the coroner which might involve him in considerable expenditure and whether there is allowance made for the recoupment of such expenditure under this section. The coroner may be required to make his own personal arrangements for the removal of a body to a suitable place. There could be circumstances in which this would involve the coroner in expenditure. I should like to ask the Minister if he could indicate to us how such expenditure would be recouped.

The second query is of an extremely minor character, but it concerns something which occurs to me to be somewhat peculiar. I understand the position under Section 50, whereby the coroner makes a return of his official certificates to the registrar concerned, is that where one statutory officer is making a return to another statutory officer he has not got the benefit of free postage. I should be glad if the Minister would indicate whether I have been mini-formed or whether there is a good reason why free postage should not be allowed.

The few points I wish to raise are mostly matters that could be dealt with in Committee but I should like the Minister's view if possible beforehand. In Section 10 it seems to me that subsection (4) is simply an appeal to the Minister from the Miniter. Subsection (2) reads:

On a review under this section of a salary, the local authority shall, subject to the approval of the Minister....

Subsection (4) reads:

Where a coroner is dissatisfied with a provisional determination, he may, within three months after being informed of the terms of the determination, appeal against it to the Minister....

the Minister having already given his approval under subsection (2). It seems to me we could rearrange that matter. One final decision from the Minister should be sufficient. The other point is in regard to Section 13. I think that the coroner should appoint his deputy in writing or in some definite way to the local authorities. There have been difficulties in regard to dispensary doctors appointing deputies when going away. In this new Section 18, subsection (4) says:

Every medical practitioner, registrar of deaths or funeral undertaker and every occupier of a house or mobile dwelling, and every person in charge of any institution or premises, in which a deceased person was residing at the time of his death, who has reason to believe that the deceased person died, either directly or indirectly, as a result of violence ...or from any cause...

Then we bring in a clause which I think is unnecessary:

from any cause other than natural illness or disease for which he had been seen and treated by a registered medical practitioner within one month before his death.

Surely there is no reason for that in the section? We are dealing with instances where a person died from violence, misadventure or, perhaps, some suggested mysterious or unfair practice by another person.

It seems unnecessary to bring in the fact that a householder, shall we say, is required to judge under that section whether or not the person died from natural causes. The section would read better and it would bring out the strength of the new section if that clause in it were omitted and it were left a section requiring a person, under penalty, to report any suspicion of unfair treatment or violence or any such thing.

The only other matter I should like to emphasise is that of riders added to verdicts. Since I first began to think about these things, I have always thought it very wrong and improper that a coroner's jury should add a rider of any description to their verdict. They are there to find out more or less the cause and time of the death. I do not think a rider should have the same weight as the verdict of a jury. If even what may sound or be worded to mean a general rider is added to a verdict, locally it may obviously point to some person. The Minister would be far wiser to say that no verdict whatsoever shall be connected with a rider.

Take the quite common rider that such and such a corner of the road is dangerous, or something like that. Does it really have any further effect than if the leader of that coroner's jury went out afterwards and spoke to a person privately and said: "I was foreman of the jury in there. We thought the attention of the county council should particularly be drawn to this corner." That probably would be just as effective as if it were added to the solemn sworn verdict of these people in the jury room.

I think it would be very hard to distinguish between a rider pointing at a particular person and a general rider. I suggest the Minister cut that out completely from the verdict of the coroner's jury.

I am not too happy about Section 35 (2) where a coroner benefits under a testamentary disposition of a deceased person. We read in the subsection as it is "if he has drawn up, or assisted in the drawing up of, and benefits"—I confess that sometimes when I read it it seems quite correct and at other times I think it would be better expressed by words such as where he benefits or has drawn up or assisted in drawing up. I think the original section could be read as where he has drawn up, or assisted in the drawing up of, and benefits....

And benefits under.

Could it not be read that "benefits under" does not apply where he himself has drawn it up? I must admit I am slightly hazy about it: "assisted in the drawing up of, and benefits under". Does "and benefits under" also follow after "drawn up" itself?

Both. If he has drawn up, or assisted in the drawing up of, and benefits under.

Sometimes I confess I am in agreement with the section. If it were worded the other way round, where he benefits and has drawn up or assisted in the drawing up of, it might be better. However, it is a matter on which I would take the Minister's advice.

We shall be making a change in that section, as I indicated to Senator Fitzpatrick.

I congratulate the Minister on the Bill. Quite recently, in relation to an inquest in a very remote rural area in my part of the country, the body was laid on the trunk of a tree and the inquest was held in the open. It is a terrible state of affairs that such things should happen. I am glad the Minister has introduced a Bill that will make provision for the protection of the body following death.

I have been at a number of inquests. I have often wondered at our callous attitude, especially in a Catholic country, in the case of bodies following death, either sudden or natural. I have seen them lying in out-offices, on the roadside and in other places. I often wonder why some arrangement has not been made even with the Church authorities so that the body would be brought within the precincts of a Church, irrespective of denomination.

The Minister has made provision for the body to be brought to a mortuary or morgue. That is not always available throughout the country. On the question of hospitals, I have had experience where bodies were brought about eight miles to a hospital although the fatal accident occurred on the road within about two miles of the burial place of the deceased. That imposes further hardship and expense on the people concerned. Where a courthouse or some such public building is available, provision should be made for the body to be brought there and some more respect shown than we have been wont to show on the occasion of inquests.

Senator Brady mentioned fatal accidents on the road. Unfortunately, they are only too common at the moment. Somebody is left to look after the remains. Time and time again, it has been pointed out that local authorities have no power to send out an ambulance in such cases. Surely some provision should be made for the removal of a body? Arrangements could be made for the inquest to be held as soon as possible following the demise of the person. In remote rural areas, there may not be suitable accommodation. Therefore, provision would need to be made as to where the body should be brought.

On the question of uncertified deaths or deaths that have not been notified, only this morning I read the report for 1960 of the County Medical Officer of Health for Leitrim. We seem to have a very high proportion of such deaths in County Leitrim, higher I think than most counties. One often wonders, especially in rural areas, if these people die from natural causes when we hear rumours and read about people being robbed or attacked. The Minister should take cognisance of that fact and take steps to see that deaths are notified and registered. Surely, in this year of 1962, people should not die without somebody knowing the cause and their death being notified and registered.

The main idea of Section 18 is to achieve that.

It is essential, in view of the fall in population in some areas. Another Senator mentioned increased remuneration for coroners. The local authorities have borne other costs, and I suppose they will be expected to bear these costs as well.

It is true to say that the House generally has welcomed the Bill and approved of its main features. I am glad to note that the House, almost unanimously, is of opinion that the office of coroner is worthwhile and should continue. The Government gave consideration to the question of whether or not that office should be abolished, or amalgamated with some other office, but on the whole they decided it was worthwhile, even in modern times, to continue this ancient office. I am glad to have that decision of the Government endorsed by the House.

It is also true that Senators who have spoken have approved of the principal features of the Bill, and particularly those provisions which are new: the age limit for coroners, and other provisions of that sort which I indicated in my opening speech. Senators, of course, raised a number of points of detail, and while it is true to say that the House generally is satisfied with the Bill, and happy about its main provisions, individual Senators are worried about certain points of detail. That is only to be expected. I am in this difficulty. I am conscious of the fact that this House, in its usual gracious fashion, is prepared to be more tolerant with its own members, and allow them more latitude in a debate of this sort, than they would an outsider such as myself coming in here, and I think I would be precluded by the rules of order from following Senators into the various byways which they have travelled, and dealing seriatim with the points they raised.

When we come to Committee Stage we can have a useful discussion on the points of detail which have been raised. For instance, several Senators mentioned the question of the effective conveyance of dead persons from scenes of accidents to appropriate and suitable places. The position there is that, in the main, it is the responsibility of the local authorities. The coroner is responsible for making suitable arrangements with the local authority to deal with that problem.

It is not true that an ambulance may not take a dead body away from the scene of an accident to a hospital, a mortuary or a public morgue. The Department of Health has advised local authorities that they should make sure that, so far as possible, ambulances are reserved for the conveyance of sick persons to hospital. That is the obvious purpose for which ambulances are intended. The Department of Health has also indicated to the local authorities that that general principle should not prevent a public authority ambulance from taking dead bodies to mortuaries or hospitals. It is a matter of common sense and suitable arrangements being made between the coroner and the local authority, with the object of trying to ensure, without any unnecessary expense or undue cost, that the decencies are preserved.

I would hope that the common sense of the Garda, the local authorities, the coroners, and all concerned, would secure a situation where that would happen, and that practical arrangements would be made whereby the decencies with which so many Senators are rightly concerned, would be maintained and, at the same time, excessive expenditure by local authorities avoided. In Dublin city, the Corporation have made a contractual arrangement with a firm to convey dead bodies in those circumstances. Such an arrangement might or might not be practical in rural Ireland. It is something on which common sense and goodwill must be brought to bear by all concerned. That is typical of the sort of point that was raised in the course of the discussion, with which we can deal more fully, effectively and in a more closely-knit fashion, when we come to Committee Stage.

I feel that at this stage I should confine myself to saying that I am grateful to the House for the constructive and helpful manner in which it has received the Bill. It is clear to me that the House has given an almost unanimous welcome to the general provisions and arrangements in the Bill. As I said, other points on which Senators are not fully satisfied can be dealt with more closely and fruitfully on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 28th March, 1962.