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in case of such neglect; and there seems good reason for the interval, as the alleged neglect may be denied or explained, and as inquiry may be requisite to enable the justices to ascertain who are the fittest persons to be appointed. The appointment of the surveyors being invalid, the rate made by them cannot be enforced, and the rule must be discharged.
Rule discharged. T. W. S.
COURT OF QUEEN'S BENCH.
June 12, 1847.
(Re GEORGE THOMAS). Coroner's fees and disbursements—Discretion of justices as to allowance or disallowance
Statutes 25 Geo. 2, c. 29; 6 & 7 Wm. 4, c. 89; 1 Vict. c. 68; 78.8 Vict. c. 92. The right of the coroner (under 25 Geo. 2, c. 29, and 1 Vict. c. 68, 8. 3) to remuneration for his
trouble in holding inquests depends upon the fact of such inquests having been duly taken ; and the justices in quarter sessions have a discretion to exercise upon that subject in determining whether an order for payment ought to be made. With the exercise of that discretion this Court will not interfere, unless there should be ground for supposing that the justices were chargeable with cor. ruption, or had acted under undue influence. His right, however, to be reimbursed the sums which he has actually expended in payment of the expenses incurred in and about the holding of any inquest, or in payment of any medical vitness under the provisions of stat. 1 Vict. c. 68, does not depend upon the due taking of the inquests ; and the justices therefore in that matter have only to decide upon the propriety of the amounts charged. This Court accordingly, upon application by a coroner, whose fees and disbursements had been disallowed, made absolute a rule upon the justices in quarter sessions for payment of the latter, but discharged it as to the former. ASHLEY, in Easter Term (May 6), obtained a rule calling upon the
justices of Carmarthenshire to shew cause why they should not make an order for the payment to George Thomas, one of the coroners of the said county, of the sum of 71. 3s. 8d., being the amount of fees and disbursements (viz. 41. 13s. 8d. for fees, and a. 10s. for disbursements) payable to him in respect of two inquests on the bodies respectively of John Young and Mary John. That rule had been obtained upon the affidavit of the said George Thomas, who stated that he is one of her Majesty's coroners for the county of Carınarthen, and that, on or about the end of February last, he received notice from one of the superintendents of the police force for the county of Carmarthen, of an accidental and sudden death which had then recently occurred in the parish of St. Clears, within his district, and distant about ten miles from deponent's place of abode. That he was also informed that the deceased's death was in consequence of his fingers having been chopped off by a chaff-cutter.
That he considered it to be his duty to inquire into the cause and manner of such death, and accordingly issued his warrant to the constable, directing him to summon a jury on the next following day, and that deponent, on the morning of the 3rd of February last, accordingly empannelled a jury, and an inquest was duly taken by this deponent and the said jury, on view of the body of the deceased : that previously to holding the said inquest, deponent was informed that deceased was, during his last illness, in receipt of parish relief, and dependent for medical treatment and care upon the medical officer for that district of the union; and that it was rumoured, and commonly talked of, that the deceased had not received proper attention and treatment from the said
medical officer, and that the deceased, a short time before his death, had complained of the conduct of the said medical officer, and had expressed a wish to have another doctor.
That the witnesses examined before deponent and the said jury deposed to the effect, that the said John Young, on the 12th day of January, while occupied in cutting furze with a chaff-cutter, happened to get his fingers accidentally between the wheels of the chaff-cutter, by means whereof they were severely lacerated and bruised; and that afterwards, on the 23rd of January, in consequence thereof, he contracted a disease called tetanus, of which said disease he died on the 1st day of February last past.
That deponent, at the request of the jury, ordered the surgeon of the union to attend as a witness at such inquest, and that he stated that one of the deceased's fingers was nearly torn off, and the other fingers of the same hand were much bruised by the cogs of the said chaff-cutter; that he did not think it necessary to amputate either of the said fingers, but suffered one of them to slough off, and that no symptoms of lock-jaw appeared until the eleventh day after the accident occurred.
That, from all the circumstances, deponent considered that there was some degree of doubt as to whether the treatment of the medical officer was skilful and judicious, but that it also appeared in evidence that the medical officer was constant in his visits and attention to the deceased, and did every thing for him to the best of his ability.
That the verdict of the jury was, that the deceased died of lock-jaw, produced by injuries to his fingers, caused by a chaff-cutter.
That on the occasion of holding the said inquest, he paid all the expenses reasonably incurred in and about holding the said inquest, namely, to the surgeon 1l. ls.; for the use of the room in which the said inquest was held 3s. ; and to twelve jurors 12s.
That the practice of the Sessions is, not to reimburse the coroner for the payment of any jurors exceeding twelve.
That on the 22nd day of February last past, deponent was informed by a police constable to whom that duty belonged, of the death of a child in the parish of Langharne, and in the district for which deponent is appointed, which was stated to have been caused by its clothes having taken fire; and that the said death occurred about twelve miles from deponent's residence; and that the said constable travelled nine miles, or thereabouts, for the purpose of giving deponent notice of the said death; and that from the information he so received from the said constable, deponent considered it his duty to hold an inquest on the body of the deceased, and accordingly deponent issued his warrant to the constable to summon a jury; and that on the 22nd day of January last, such jury was accordingly empannelled, and an inquest duly held by deponent and the said jury, on the view of the body of the deceased, Mary John, who was an infant of the age of four years.
That it appeared from the examination of the witnesses, taken by deponent on the holding of the said inquest, that the deceased was suffered by her parents to be alone in a room in which there was a fire, and from which no precaution had been taken to screen or defend her, and that the clothes of the deceased accidentally took fire; and that the said Mary John died, in consequence of being so burnt, on the day next following.
That the verdict of the jury was, that the said Mary John was accidentally burnt to death; that it was proved in evidence on the said inquiry, that previously and about Michaelmas last, another child of the same parents was accidentally severely scalded, and died about eight weeks after.
That he was never informed of the death of such last-mentioned child, or of the accident which had occurred to it.
That such deaths, deponent believes, are of much more frequent occurrence in the county of Carmarthen, and in the neighbouring county of Cardigan, than in any other counties.
That on the occasion of holding the said inquest on the said Mary John, deponent paid all the expenses reasonably incurred in and about the holding the same; viz. to the jury 12s. and to the witnesses 2s.
That, pursuant to an order of the said Court of Quarter Sessions, deponent sent in his bill of fees and disbursements for the several inquests held by deponent during the quarter of a year then last preceding; and that the said bill was for nine inquests and two journeys, and amounted together to 331. 11s. 1d.; and that the finance committee appointed by the said Court to audit all claims and accounts against the county disallowed the whole of the above-mentioned fees and disbursements expended by deponent in holding the several inquests upon John Young and Mary John, amounting together to the sum of 7. 3s. 8d., of which the sum of 21. 10s. was money laid out and expended by deponent.
That he afterwards applied to the Court of Quarter Sessions, held on the 8th day of April instant, to review the decision of the said finance committee, and to order the payment of the said fees and disbursements of the two said inquests; and deponent explained to the Court the circumstances under which the said inquests on the bodies of John Young and Mary John were holden by deponent; and that the said Court of Quarter Sessions confirmed the said decision of the said finance committee, and made an order for disallowing the whole of the fees and disbursements incurred by deponent in holding the several inquests on the said John Young and Mary John; and that the only reason given by the said Court for disallowing the same was that they did not consider either of such inquests necessary.
Monday, May 31.--Sir J. Jervis, Attorney-General, and Crompton shewed cause.— The Court of Quarter Sessions has decided that these inquests were unnecessarily held, and has on that ground refused to allow the coroner's fees and disbursements. The question is, whether any such discretion is vested in them. First. As to the coroner's own fees, stat. 25 Geo. 2, c. 29, s. 1, provides that, for every inquisition (not taken upon view of a body dying in gaol) which shall be duly taken in any township or place contributing to the county-rates, he shall have 20s., and also 9d. for every mile he shall be compelled to travel from his usual place of abode to take such inquisition; to be paid, by order of the justices in sessions, out of the county-rates; and under that statute it has been held that the justices, before making such order, are to decide whether the inquests have been duly taken. In Rex v. The Justices of Kent (11 East, 229, 231), Lord Ellenborough, C. J. said that “there was no sufficient ground for the application (which was for a mandamus to justices to allow a coroner's fee), for the statute had directed that the fees should be allowed to the coroner for all inquisitions duly taken ; and the justices were to judge whether the inquisition in question had been duly taken, and there was no reason for imputing to them that they had exercised their judgment with any undue bias; and the Court did not see any occasion to interfere with that judgment in that instance.” That is the reasonable construction of the Act of Parliament; it can hardly be supposed that the legislature would have required the order for payment to be made by the Court of Quarter Sessions, if the only inquiry to be instituted was whether the inquisitions had been, in fact, taken, or whether the proper formalities had been observed. The mischief of holding unnecessary inquests is very serious, and appears to have risen to a great height when Rex v. The Justices of Kent was decided, for Lord Ellenborough there observes, that “there were many instances of coroners having exercised their office in the most vexatious and oppressive manner, by obtruding themselves into private families, to their great annoyance and discomfort, without any pretence of the deceased having died otherwise than a natural death, which was highly illegal.” “ The mere fact of a body lying dead does not give the coroner jurisdiction, nor even the circumstance that the death was sudden : there ought to be a reasonable suspicion that the party came to his death by violent or unnatural means ; as was said by Lord Denman, C. J. in delivering the judgment of the Court in Reg. v. "The Great Western Railway Company (3 Q. B. 340); and the Court of Quarter Sessions is a tribunal well qualified to ascertain whether such reasonable suspicion existed. But assuming that, under the stat. 25 Geo. 2, c. 29, the justices had the right to disallow the coroner's fees, on the ground that the inquest was unnecessary, it will perhaps be argued that the stat. 1 Vict. c. 68, s. 3, makes a difference in this respect. That is “an Act to provide for payment of the expenses of holding coroners' inquests,” and relates principally to the disbursements to be made by the coroner; but in sec. 3 it enacts that coroners are to cause a full account of all sums paid by them to be laid before the justices; and such justices may examine the coroner, on oath, as to such account, and on being satisfied of the correctness thereof, shall make an order on the treasurer of the county, &c., “for payment to the said coroner, not only of the sum due to him on such account, but also of a sum of 6s. 8d. for every inquest holden by him as aforesaid, over and above all other fees and allowances to which he is now by law entitled.” The effect, however, of that provision is merely to increase the amount of the coroner's fee, and not at all to interfere with the discretion which the former statute had given to the justices. The only difference is, that if they allow bis fee at all, they are bound to allow the larger sum. If the inquest has not been duly taken, the legal title to any fee has not accrued. Sec. 21 of 7 & 8 Vict. c. 92, confirms this view of the question. After reciting that “doubts had arisen as to the power of the justices to order the payment of allowances for travelling, in any case where an inquisition has not been taken, although such coroner has been compelled to travel from his usual place of abode for the purpose of taking an inquisition,” it enacts, “ that it shall and may be lawful for the justices of the peace, in their general or quarter sessions assembled for the county, &c., if they shall see fit, to order the payment of such allowances for travelling, to any coroner who shall shew to the satisfaction of the said justices that he had been compelled, in the discharge of his office, to travel from his usual place of abode for the purpose of taking an inquisition, but which in the exercise of his discretion he deemed to be unnecessary, and declined to take.” The effect is, taking this together with 25 Geo. 2, c. 29, that justices have now jurisdiction to allow the coroner’s travelling expenses, whether the inquest be held or not ; but a discretion is clearly given to them as to such allowance. It would be a strange conclusion to arrive at, that the justices have a discretion to allow or disallow travelling expenses when no inquest has been held, but no discretion as to any other items included with them in the coroner's account. Secondly. As to the disbursements, they stand upon the same footing. If the coroner improperly holds an inquest, he must lose all the money which he has paid in consequence of it. The principle is the same, whether applied to his own fees or to disbursements made by him. His right to be reimbursed, as much as his right to remuneration, depends upon the legality and validity of the inquisitions which he holds. The recent statutes, which alter the mode of payment, make no difference in this respect. Stat. 6 & 7 Wm. 4, c. 89, empowers the coroner to summon medical witnesses, and to direct post mortem examinations (sec. 1); it also specifies the fees to be paid to such medical witnesses, and requires the coroner to make an order for payment of them upon the churchwardens and overseers, who are to pay them out of the poor-rates (sec. 3). Then, by 1 Vict. c. 68, ss. 1 and 2, the mode of payment is altered, and the coroner is required to pay immediately after the termination of the proceedings at any inquest, not only the medical witnesses, but all expenses reasonably incurred in and about the holding thereof, not exceeding the sums set forth in a schedule of fees to be made by the justices in general or quarter sessions assembled. Then the 3rd section provides for his reimbursement as already stated. It therefore adopts the practice which prevails with regard to the fees of criminal prosecutions, and is clearly not intended to affect in any way the jurisdiction of the Sessions as it previously existed. It assumes the inquest to have been duly taken, and only purports in the title and preamble to provide for the payment of the necessary expenses of holding them. If, then, it be established that the justices have a discretion to allow or disallow these charges, they have exercised it, and there being no imputation of improper motives against them, this Court will not interfere.
Pashley, contrà.- The case of Rex v. The Justices of Kent cannot be cited as establishing any rule. It rests upon the particular circumstances there proved; and as the Court exculpated the coroner from all blame, probably his main object in making the application was attained. There have been other cases in which this Court has reviewed the decision of the justices, as in Rex v. The Justices of Warwick (5 B. & C. 430); Rex v. Oxfordshire (Justices) (2 B. & A. 203); Jervis on Coroners, 59; and if the Court have that power in any case, they will exercise it in the present, for it is clear that the coroner would have run great risk if he had abstained from holding either of the inquests in question, after information had been given to him by the police. They were certainly fit cases for inquiry, and the coroner swears that he thought it to be his duty to hold both inquests. [COLERIDGE, J.-Do you argue that the justices have jurisdiction, but that the exercise of it is subject to revision by
this Court, or that they have no jurisdiction to decide as to the propriety of holding the inquest?] First. They have no jurisdiction; their duty is merely to ascertain the fact that the inquest has been held, and that the coroner has bona fide exercised his judgment in holding it; and if satisfied, then to order payment of the proper fees and allowances. The coroner alone is to judge whether an inquest ought to be held; in him the law has vested that discretion, and his duty is to hold inquests “ sine morâ ” after information, in all cases which seem to him proper for investigation. (Staun. P. C. fol. 51.) need not go ex officio to take the inquest, but ought to be sent for.” (Per Holt, c. J., in Reg. v. Clerk, 1 Salk. 377) All cases of sudden death, and cases of burning, are particularly mentioned in the old authorities as calling for the exercise of the coroner's jurisdiction. (4 Ed. 1, st. 2; Stat. de Off
. Cor.; Bracton, lib. 3, fol. 121, b; Fleta, I. c. 25, ss. 1, 9; Mirror, c. 1, s. 12; Britton, s. 7.) [Sir J. Jervis - That last passage probably refers to the burning of houses,--a jurisdiction which has recently been exercised by some coroners. [LORD Denman, C. J.-A very useful jurisdiction.) But the power of the coroner is to be exercised within the limits of a sound discretion, as is said in 1 East, P. C. 382; and the law has provided various and summary modes of punishment in case of neglect, or improper discharge of the duties of the office. The coroner may be removed from his office at any moment, ex parte, by writ under the great seal de coronatore exonerando (Ex parte Parnell, 1 Jac.