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heads. It must not be supposed that I am insensible to the dangers involved in the proposed change, but I believe the disadvantages would be far more than outweighed by the benefits which would be gained. I therefore venture to urge on you a remedy which has more than once before been in substance suggested. It seems to me that the object, if it be, as I believe, desirable, is far from unattainable. The work, if it is to be properly done, must of course be committed to the hands of men of the highest legal ability; men in no way inferior to the best of those who adorn the Judicial Bench. To obtain such men you ought to give them the same remuneration, and confer on them the same rank, as you do on the judges. And, inasmuch as you could not hope within the limits of less than what I may term the judicial life, to see the task accomplished, there would, I think, be no difficulty in inducing men thoroughly qualified to enter upon a career so eminently useful. They should be left to deal in such order as they thought best with the various branches of law. And thus each year, one or more codification bills, the result of their labours, might be introduced in Parliament. Of course it would be essential to the scheme that Parliament should accept these bills as a correct statement of the law, making no attempt while passing them to alter or amend it, but leaving this, if necessary, to a future occasion. I do not think there would be any great difficulty in persuading Parliament to take this course, as all must be agreed that if the law in any respect be bad, the first step towards making it better must be to know precisely how bad it is.
I shall, of course, be met in many quarters with a cry of horror at the expense this would occasion. But the expense would really not in itself be very considerable, and in comparison with the saving it would ultimately effect, and the benefit that would flow from it, would be absolutely inconsiderable. It would be quite sufficient to appoint three such Commissioners as I have suggested, and the whole expens
of the work would be covered by less than £20,000 a year. You think nothing of such a sum when with missiles from monster guns you demolish iron-clad targets, and yet surely it is as high a duty in a civilized community to do its utmost to provide within its borders an efficient, cheap, and satisfactory administration of justice, as it is to protect itself from outward aggression. I am as ardent an advocate of economy as any man, but I believe it to be the falsest economy-indeed, to be the most vicious extravagance—to shrink from a small addition to present expenditure, when you are well assured that it will ere long repay itself tenfold.
I turn now to a very different subject, and one which recent circumstances have forced upon public attention. It is nearly three centuries ago since Shakespeare taught us to look for absurdities in “ Crowner's Quest Law.” And many have been the stories, during the intervening years, of extraordinary and ludicrous verdicts, rivalling in their absurdity the law laid down by the Coroner. In spite of all this, the Coroner is appointed, his Court is constituted, and proceedings before him are conducted, almost exactly in the same fashion as they were in the days of Queen Elizabeth. Not because the evils have been unnoticed or unfelt, but by reason of that constitutional apathy which seems with us to render reform impossible, until the evil is felt to be absolutely intolerable. At length, I believe, we have reached that point with this branch of our law. The proceedings at a recent inquest, which are doubtless so familiar to all present, that I need not particularly refer to them, though I cannot but say that in the opinion of many, and certainly in my own opinion, they will disgrace the annals of our jurisprudence,-have forced on the public mind the conviction that the mode of appointing Coroners, the constitution of their Court, and the mode of conducting proceedings before them, urgently require revision and reform. It may not be out of place, on such an occasion as the present, to consider what direction this reform ought to take. At the very out
set, I think it will almost be conceded that the mode in which Coroners are appointed is radically bad. The office is essentially a judicial one. The Coroner has often to lay down the law on questions of considerable delicacy and difficulty—he has to determine what evidence shall be admitted, what rejected—and he has to, or at least ought to, keep within its due bounds the inquiry before him. Of all modes of obtaining the best man for such an office, election by the freeholders of the county is surely about the worst. No one would dream of extending it to other judicial offices. Nor do I think that in the case of boroughs things are much better, for the election by the town council can hardly be considered a guarantee of a satisfactory appointment. Let me not be misunderstood. I am far from denying that, able and competent men have at times obtained the office under the present system, but there have been many appointed who were very much the reverse, and what we have to deal with is the question what the system is likely to lead to.
I feel most strongly that the present mode of appointment ought at once to cease, and that the Coroner should no longer be elected, but should be chosen for his office by the Home Secretary; and he should be a man similar to the best of the stipendiary magistrates in ability, training, and judicial qualities. I am not going to re-argue the old controversy whether the lawyer or the doctor be the better fitted for the office. It will be seen presently, that I entertain no mean opinion of the functions of medical men in connection with Coroners' inquests, but what I insist upon is that certain legal and judicial qualities are essential to the efficient discharge of a Coroner's duties. If you can find these pre-eminently in a medical man, by all means appoint him, but I own I should no more expect to find them there, than I should expect to find amongst my brethren of the bar one skilled in the diagnosis of disease.
Suppose, then, that you have secured the appointment of
such a judicial officer as I have indicated, you ought, of course, to afford him the best possible means of arriving accurately at the cause of death. This leads me to the next reform which I have to propose. What happens now in the case of a sudden or violent death? Almost invariably the medical practitioner who happens to be nearest is sent for. He examines the body, gives evidence of its condition, the position and character of the wounds, if there be any, and to him is very frequently entrusted the duty of making the post-mortem examination. How long is it sirice death took place : whether the wounds could or not be self-inflicted : what was the probable weapon or other cause of death ? for all these and many other most material facts you have to place reliance almost exclusively upon the evidence of this expert. What guarantee have you that he will be the person best fitted to lead you to a right conclusion in these matters ? It is as likely as not that such investigations have never occupied his attention since he was a student, and that even then he was but ill-qualified to conduct them. Even supposing there was a time when he was capable of forming an opinion on such matters, it is only too likely that during years exclusively occupied with the treatment of ordinary human diseases, his knowledge and skill in this special department have become rusty and unavailable. I believe I shall have the concurrence of the highest medical authority when I say, that the investigations to which I have referred require special training, skill, and experience, and that it would be quite false to suppose that you are likely to find them in every practitioner to whom chance may direct your steps. And yet how much may depend on your finding them! The guilty may go unpunished, the innocent be in peril, and clouds of suspicion may embitter a whole lifetime -all for want of this requisite skill and experience. Be it observed, too, that blunders thus made are for the most part irreparable. As a rule, no subsequent examination can afford the information which at first was patent to skilful eyes and a trained intellect. Even if the Coroner possessed the highest medical skill and scientific attainments, he could not supplement the lack of observation, or check the blunders arising from an inaccurate or ignorant exposition of the sup. posed facts. The magnitude of the evil, to which I have been calling attention, was deeply impressed on my own mind some years ago by an incident which came under my notice. A highly respectable medical man was called as a witness to prove that he had examined some stains found on the clothes of a prisoner, and on a weapon in his possession. After describing the mode in which he conducted his investigation, he declared without hesitation that the marks were produced by human blood. Being somewhat startled at so positive a statement on a point which I had understood could not be ascertained with such absolute certainty, I narrated the circumstances, shortly afterwards, to a medical man of the highest scientific attainments. He could hardly believe that such evidence had been given, and assured me that even if the investigation had been properly conducted so positive an opinion could not have been justified, but that carried out in the way described no opinion worthy of the name could be formed, inasmuch as the process adopted was so blundering and vicious as to render any real result impossible. “We often,” he said, “as a test question in examinations, require a description of the mode of examining supposed blood stains, and if an answer were to describe such a process as was detailed in the witness-box, the candidate would most probably have failed to obtain his diploma.” The evidence to which I have alluded was given on a trial for murder. A man and woman stood in the dock in peril of their lives. Fortunately there was ample evidence apart from the doctor's to bring guilt home to them. But the incident is surely one which may well make us tremble. The remedy is happily not far to seek. It would be arrived at, I think, by appointing in every county and borough one or more persons selected on account of their special fitness