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Folk law | In suspicious circumstances

Andrew Lugger investigates the role of the coroner’s office and two of the most controversial inquests of the twentieth century

21 September 2012

The coroner’s courts commenced in 1194 and are among the oldest courts still in existence. Richard I was on the throne when Article 20 of the Articles of the Eyre compelled each county of the realm to elect Keepers of the Pleas of the Crown know as ‘crowners’ from whence the name coroner is derived.

There is some obscure historical evidence to suggest that a type of coroner existed as early as the reign of Alfred the Great. But despite this great antiquity, the coroner’s position always has been that of Royal Servant rather than that of a judge and their power to proceed to trial and judgment was taken from them by the Magna Carta.

The primary function of the coroner’s office nowadays is to inquire into cases of violent, unnatural or suspicious death,...

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