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Observations on Coroners

Observations on Coroners
Title: Observations on Coroners
Release Date: 2018-10-15
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Observations on Coroners, by William HewittThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and mostother parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms ofthe Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org.  If you are not located in the United States, you'll haveto check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.Title: Observations on CoronersAuthor: William HewittRelease Date: October 15, 2018  [eBook #58104]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK OBSERVATIONS ON CORONERS***

Transcribed from the [1852] Samuel Daynes edition by DavidPrice, email [email protected]

Public domain book cover




Author of an Essay on theEncroachments of the German
Ocean, with a design to arrest its further depredations.


Uniusætatis sunt quæ fortiter flunt,quæ
pro utilitate scribuntur æterna.”



Entered at Stationers’Hall.


p. 3Tothe Right Honourable The Secretary of State, for the HomeDepartment.


The importance of the subject, I humbly anticipate will besufficient excuse for the liberty I have taken, in dedicating toyou the result of my experience connected with Coroners’Inquests.

The instances narrated with reference to apparentdelinquencies, in non-medical Coroners, contained in thefollowing pages, occurred in my immediate neighbourhood, and maybe believed, as resting on the brow of truth.  Yet I mostheartily coincide in acknowledging the integrity and worth, ofGentlemen pursuing vocations, for which they have alone beenamply educated; and it is only when they assume a position, oraccept office to execute duties they are incompetent to perform,as is frequently observed, that I deem it my duty to wield my penagainst such appointments: not less for the sake of humanity,than for the dignity, and I might add, the disregarded importanceof the medical profession, to which I have the honor tobelong.

I am, Sir,

Your very humble and obedientServant,
The Author.


“If there’s a hole in a’yourcoats,
      I rede you tent it:
A Chield’s amang you, taking notes,
      And, faith, he’ll prentit.”

It is no inglorious vanity inEnglishmen to consider the laws of their country afford anexample for other nations to follow.  Founded on the lastingrock of integrity, shewn in the strict regard for the liberty ofthe subject, they command the obedience and the admiration ofthousands.  But events, as they transpire, unfold thehumiliating circumstance, that blemishes dimly seen in thedistance become prominent on the near approach of extendingknowledge; thus disclosing the fact, that this is aprogressionary as well as a probationary world in which we live,and that perfection in human institutions cannot be attained,unless, through the power of an Infinite Being, the mortal in hisearthly career be permitted to assume immortality.

p. 6Trial byjury appears the great feature by which the laws are regarded;and a better test for its usefulness cannot be pourtrayed thanwhen with becoming dignity, discrimination, and foresight, it isemployed to search into the cause of the death of a fellowcreature; consequently no judge in the lands hold a higherposition than a coroner, for almost unlimited power is allowed,perfectly in accordance with the sacred trust imposed uponhim.  But the responsibility attached to office, involvesduties of extraordinary character; and the public have a right toexpect that efficient pains-taking persons should be appointed,so that enquiries should be conducted in a clear,straightforward, impartial, manner; otherwise innocence might betarnished, criminals might escape, and laws—coeval withlife, framed for its protection—might be considerednon-entities.

Coroners are officers at common law, because they dealprincipally with the pleas of the crown; and, possibly, the namemay be derived from the manner of holding the inquest incorona popupuli.  The Lord Chief Justice of theQueen’s Bench is, by virtue of his office, principalcoroner of England; and may, if he pleases, exercise thejurisdiction of coroner in any part of the realm.  In formerdays they were the principal conservators, and principalmagistrates, within their counties, p. 7and they may now bind to the peace anyperson who make an affray in their presence.

The office of Coroner is of great antiquity, for in the daysof Alfred, King of England, they existed, for he punished withdeath, a judge who sentenced a party to suffer death upon thecoroner’s record, without allowing the culprit to traverseor be tried in another court.  Coroners were ordinarily madeby grant or commission, without election—such are thecoroners of particular lords of liberties or franchises, who bycharter, have power to create their own coroners, or to becoroners themselves.  Thus, the Lord Mayor of London, is bycharter of 18 Edward the Fourth, Coroner of London.  TheBishop of Ely also has power to make coroners in the Isle of Ely,by charter of Henry the Seventh—Queen Catherine had thehundred of Colridge granted her by Henry the Eighth, with powerto nominate coroners.

The Cinque Ports [7] have their own coroner.  The Deanand Chapter of Westminster have their own coroner, who by theirappointment, is coroner of the city and liberties ofWestminster.  The p. 8Wardens are coroners of the Stannariesin Cornwall.  The Master of the Crown Office, or Clerk ofthe Crown, is Coroner of the Queen’s Bench, and hasjurisdiction over matters arising within the prison of that courtand Marshalsea.  He holds his office by letters patent,under the great seal.  In addition to which, there are manyexclusive jurisdictions and corporations, for which coroners areappointed.

In each of the twelve shires, in Wales, and Cheshire, &c.there are only two coroners, which are settled by stat. 33 H. 8,c. 13 and 34 H. 8, c. 26.

But the two principal jurisdictions over which by theKing’s grant, coroners may be appointed, are those of theAdmiralty and the Verge.

At common law, if any felonies or treasons were committedwithin any creek or arm of the sea, which was in the body of thecounty, the common law courts had jurisdiction; but by stat. 15Richard 2, c. 3, it was provided, that in “case of thedeath of a man or mayhem, done on great ships hovering in themain stream of great rivers only beneath bridges nigh to the sea,the admiral shall have cognizance of the same rivers.”

It is said that his jurisdiction extends only to rivers thatare arms of the sea, namely, that flow and re-flow, and beargreat ships.  When the haven, &c. is within the body ofthe county, the p.9common law tribunals have a concurrent jurisdiction, andthe Coroner of the County as well as of the Admiralty, may takeinquisition of deaths, &c. happening there.

Therefore, when a man-of-war was infra corpuscomitatus, the land coroner was holden to have jurisdiction;and if the captain refuse the coroner admission, on board, thecourt will grant an information.

Again the Admiralty jurisdiction extends only to such deaths,&c. as happen in great ships, and not to such as occur insmall vessels.

When the jurisdiction of the County and of the Admiralty isconcurrent, the coroner who first seizes the body, is entitled totake the inquisition; and if he proceed to do so, the authorityof the other is determined.

The other great jurisdiction is the Coroner of theKing’s House, usually called the Coroner of the Verge, whoit seems anciently was appointed by the King’s letterspatent, but by stat. 33 H. 8 c. 12, the granting thereof, issettled in perpetuity in the Lord Steward, or Lord Great Masterof the King’s house for the time being.

Anciently the Coroner of the Verge had power to do all thingswithin the Verge belonging to the office of the Coroner, to theexclusion of the Coroner of the County; but because theKing’s Court was often moveable, it is ordained by stat. ofArticuli p.10super Cartas, c. 3, that on the death of a man, theCoroner of the County shall join in inquisition, to be takenthereof, with the Coroner of the King’s house, and if ithappen it cannot be determined before the Steward, process andproceedings shall be thereupon had at common law.

But yet in the case of death within the Verge, the Coroner ofthe County cannot take an inquisition without the Coroner of theVerge; and if he does it is void, but if one person be Coroner ofthe County, and also of the Verge, the inquisition before him isas good as if the offices had been in several persons and takenby both.  And though the court remove, yet he may proceedupon that inquisition as Coroner of the County.

Beside those above enumerated, there are particular coronersfor each county, who hold their offices (virtuta electionis) inpursuance of the statute 3 Edward I. c. 10, wherein it isprovided, that “through all shires sufficient men shall bechosen to be Coroners, of the most loyal and wise knights,”which know well and may best attend upon suchoffices, and “which lawfully and shall attend and presentpleas of the crown.”  Therefore the election of acoroner, is by the freeholders of the county, in pursuance of awrit, called a writ De coronatore eligendo, directed tothe Sheriff.

This statute does not define the precise number which variesin different counties, according to p. 11usuage.  In some there is onlyone—in others, there are two, four, and six coronersappointed.  But as no number is limited by the statute, itis competent for the Lord Chancellor if he thinks fit, to issue awrit for the election of one or more additional coroners, uponthe petition of the freeholders of a county, and the approbationof the justices, certified at the general quarter sessions of thepeace, holden for the county.

The degree of knighthood, observes “Sewell on the Law ofCoroners,” is now no longer an essential qualification forthe office of coroner.  Yet candidates for that office mustit is said, have land sufficient to take upon themselves thatdegree, whether they be really knighted or not.  They mustbe possessed of an estate in fee, within the county, over which,if elected, their jurisdiction will extend.  The statute 14Edward 3, s. 1 c. 8, enacts, “that no coroner be chosen,unless he have land in fee sufficient in the same county whereofhe may answer to all manner of people.”  No preciseamount of estate is defined by this statute, but the coronerought to have sufficient property to maintain the dignity of hisoffice, and to answer any fine that may be set upon him for hisbehaviour.  But if having an estate in fee within thecounty, it be insufficient to answer his fines, that will notoperate as a disqualification or be a ground for his removal, ifhe be of sufficient estate to execute his p. 12office, forthe county, upon his default, will be liable to the fine aspunishment for having elected an insufficient officer.

The authority of the coroner is twofold:—

1.  Judicial

2.  Ministerial

In his judicial capacity, he has to enquire when any one comesto his death suddenly or violently; how and by what means suchdeath was caused; to pronounce judgement upon out-lawries; toinquire of lands and goods, and escapes of murderers, treasuretrove, wreck of the sea, deodands, &c.

Before the statute of Magna Charta, c. 17, (4,) coroners heldpleas of the crown, but that power is taken away by a more recentenactment.  The Sheriff in his tourne might by the commonlaw, inquire of all felonies, save the death of a man, but it isdoubtful whether the coroner can inquire of any felony but thedeath of a person, and that super visum corporis, exceptin Northumberland, where the coroner may, by custom, inquire ofother felonies.

In his ministerial capacity, he has to execute theKing’s writs, when the Sheriff is a party to the suit, orkin to either of the parties, or on default of the Sheriff, butthey are only authorized so to act in the execution of a processdirected to them when their acts are void, unless they alljoin.

Coroners are conservators of the King’s peace, andbecome magistrates by virtue of their election p. 13andappointment.  This privilege, independently of their moreofficial duties, they are entitled at

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