CORONER'S Ixnunwr IN SCOTLAND.—A long account appeared in the columns
of the daily papers last week, of a murder at Dundee, in Scotland ; and was very faithfully copied by most of our weekly brethren, to whom a murder is at all times a most acceptable article. We looked at the affair; and seeing the particulars arranged with all the re- gularity of an English inquiry,—a coroner sitting, an inquest jury summoned, witnesses examined, and a verdict pronounced,—seeing these things stated as occurring in a quarter of the empire where there is no such officer as coroner, where inquest juries are unknown, and where consequently no such investigation could take place, and no such decision could be come to,—we threw the account aside, convinced that the whole was a tissue of falsehood, or that, by some singular agreement in error, the whole of the London editors had laid the scene in a wrong place. Nor can we.view without some contempt the gross carelessness or equally gross ignorance of the journals which could permit such a document to pass without comment, and even in some cases could placard it as a piece of important intelligence. It turns out, as we at first suspected, to be wholly without foundation—a hoax, and a very stupid hoax into the bargain ; manufactured, the North Briton insinuates, in the Modern Athens, but as we would rather conclude from internal evidence, in the Modern Babylon itself. The history of this hoax leads not unnaturally to the consideration of Coroners in Scotland, which it had without au- thority supreme or subordinate introduced there. The want of such an office has been often complained of by our Northern brethren • and by one of those coincidences that the people of the press are fond Of noting, at the very moment that this Dundee inquest was passing through the English journals, we find the Scotch newspapers discussing the propriety of supplying it. The state of the law and the practice in Scotland re. specting suicide, or alleged suicide, may startle some of our English readers. We give the following account from a very sensible article in the Caledonian Mercury of Monday last. "As matters are now regn- lated—where an individual has been the occasion of his own death, whether by accident or design (and to this we request the par- ticular attention of Mr. Solicitor-General Sugden, and the other English lawyers who have taken the Scots law under their spe- cial care and protection, and who perhaps may not be aware of the fact) no inquiry is ever made ! Whether he dropped out of a thirteen pair of stairs window, or threw himself out of it—whether, as in a case lately recorded in our columns, he casually slipped into a barrel head foremost, or wilfully pitched himself into it—whether he went to the water and drowned himself, or 'will he, ,,ill he,' the water came toliim—the people of Scotland take no account of these trifling circum- stances. The neighbours and the public are left to form their own con- jectures—the consequence of which is, that wherever there are plausible grounds for inferring suicide, they infallibly infer it ; and individuals are frequently set down as having been guilty of self-murder, upon suspicions whiCh the light of legal investigation would have completely dis- pelled, and the verdict of a Coroner's inquest have for ever set at rest." —This, it must be acknowledged, is bad enough ; but there is worse behind. "There is only one occasion on which any inquiry ever takes place ; and that is where some individual or other happens to have been the proximate cause of the person's death. Then it is, and then only, that the Procurator Fiscal feels it his duty to take a precognition [a pre- liminary examination, similar to our Police Office examinations, but conducted privately] of the circumstances. But observe what follows. The case is reported to the Crown counsel ; and an indictment is forth- with prepared, charging the unoffending and unhappy cause of a pure misfortune with the crime of culpable homicide, for which he is accord- ingly taken bound to stand his trial. Doubtless the Lord Advocate is at full liberty to exercise the province of a Grand Jury, and to allow the matter to drop if he himself is satisfied ; but this being a delicate prero. gative, he naturally feels that it is proper that the public and the country at large should also be satisfied, and as the only method of effecting that object, a public trial is resorted to. What is the result ? An innocent
person, and one whom the public prosecutor himself fully believes to be innocent, is placed at the bar, accused of a heinous crime. He is put to the expense of retaining counsel and agent for his defence—the case
proceeds—the Crown counsel gives it up, and tells the Jury that the prosecution has only been brought for the sake of inquiry ! The pri- soner accordingly is acquitted ; and the Judge, in dismissing him from the bar, gives him to understand that no degree of blame whatever was imputable to him—that he had acted with all possible discretion —that his conduct, so far from having been reprehensible, had been actually meritorious, and that the defunct owed his death entirely to his own obstinate folly and rashness." In cases of murder, there can be no doubt, as the editor remarks, that much vela- able evidence is hazarded, if not lost, from the want of an instant exami- nation into the facts, and many crimes go unpunished in consequence. "It too frequently happens, that before the voice of public rumour has reached the Procurator Fiscal, and he has had time to hasten to the spot, the body has been conveyed to its long home, where it has lain for several days. The person, we shall suppose, has died by poison— the body is disinterred ; a post mortem. examination ensues ; but the work of decomposition has begun, and the usual tests (some of which are not very conclusive at best) are applied in vain ! In the country, especially in the more remote districts, we have reason to know that this happens in almost every case; and if the instances are rare in which the crime is not in one way or other brought home to the accused, this, we think, will be found to have arisen from the care and skill with which precognitionS are usually got up, and partly because the drug employed has usually been arsenic, the presence and effects of which, as of all mineral poisons, are more easily detected than those of the vegetable kind. If the end had been accomplished by laudanum, in the state to which we allude, its discovery might fairly have bid defiance to the united efforts of the whole medical faculty. In like manner, in a body approaching to a state of putrefaction, where wounds have been the oc- casion of death, the shape and appearan cla are no longer capable of being traced with that precision which is surTetimes necesssary."—Upon the whole, we think our respectable contemporary is fully justified in call- ing on those persons who are so busy in revolutionizing the law of Scot- land, to take this part of it into consideration.