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Inquisition Upon Treasure

Page history last edited by Tess Barrett 9 years, 9 months ago

 

The Coroner's jurisdiction over treasure is a vestige of his duties as tax collector. Many standard authorities on the Law relating to Treasure either confuse with detail or in attempting brevity omit essentials. All Treasure found in England and Wales must be reported and surrendered to Her Majesty's Coroner for the District where found. Treasure is any gold or silver in coin, plate or bullion or any object suspected of being so.

 

Upon receiving the report the Coroner must summon a jury and hold an inquest upon the Treasure. No other course is open to him in Law. The purpose of the inquest is to determine by a public judicial inquiry certain facts, namely (as set out in the form of Inquisition upon Treasure that I have settled):

 

1 a description of the treasure (most importantly whether it is in fact gold or silver);

2 where found;

3 whether intentionally hidden or concealed or accidentally lost or intentionally abandoned;

4 whether the owner is unknown;

5 the Identity of the Finder;

6 whether the Finder concealed his find.

 

If the Jury concludes that the Find is gold or silver, that it was intentionally hidden or concealed and that the owner is unknown, then the Coroner declares it to be Treasure Trove and thereupon seizes it for the Crown. Not until that moment does the Treasure become Treasure Trove. The understanding of this point is critical to the understanding of the whole of the Law and Practice relating to Treasure. It is the inexact use of the term ‘Treasure Trove’, e.g. ‘Treasure Trove Inquest’, ‘Treasure Trove Law’, instead of Inquest upon Treasure’, ‘Law relating to Treasure’, that leads to the majority of misunderstandings about this branch of Law. Once it is understood that there is a distinction between ‘Treasure’ and ‘Treasure Trove’ and what that distinction is, then the Law and Practice is clear.

 

The word anciently, which some would insert in question 3 above for it to read ‘whether anciently and intentionally…', is not to be given its modern usage of ‘long, long ago’, but merely means ‘at some past time’. In my opinion it is mere verbiage and has been deliberately omitted from my Form of Inquisition. If the Crown is interested as a matter of revenue collection in the seizure of all concealed or hidden gold or silver of unknown ownership and there exists a system of public judicial inquiry to ascertain these facts, what does it matter whether the concealment or hiding took place last night or last century?

 

There are two anomalies in the Law of Treasure to which I must refer. First, there now exists metals and objects of moveable property capable of being concealed or hidden and found of greater value, both in terms of money and archaeological or historical value, than gold or silver. Secondly, The Theft Act, 1967 abolished the Common Law offence of Concealment of Treasure. Instead there may now lie a prosecution for Theft under Section 1 of the Act, but this would require either the proof of non-abandonment beyond a reasonable doubt or the adoption of the legal fiction that the finding of gold or silver automatically vested the property in the Coroner. In view of these difficulties it is now doubtful whether or not the Coroner has any enforceable jurisdiction over Treasure.The basic Common Law purpose of the Law of Treasure was to preserve the Nation's assets for the Crown. This purpose is no longer achieved but could be by simple statutory reform.

 

Trenton would be redefined as ‘all personal property of antiquarian interest found buried, hidden or concealed’. The Coroner would have an absolute discretion whether or not to hold an inquest, with guide lines laid down that he should do so in cases of great public interest, dispute or where the find was of great monetary value. A new statutory offence of concealment of treasure would be introduced. It would be triable by the Coroner sitting with a jury. Appeal against conviction and/or sentence would lie to the Crown Court.

 

The new statute would be in addition to, save as where it varied, the Coroner's existing powers and duties at Common Law.

 

Anthony Morris, Ll.B.

 

One of Her Majesty's Coroners for the County of North Yorkshire (York Coroner's District)

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