Advertisement

Courts, Prosecutors and Verdicts

  • David Taylor
Chapter
  • 39 Downloads
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)

Abstract

At the heart of the criminal justice system were the courts. Here those accused of crimes were tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to death, transportation, imprisonment or some other form of punishment. There were a wide variety of courts to be found in eighteenth-century England, but the most important were the Court of King’s Bench and the assize courts, which heard the most serious cases; the county and borough courts of quarter sessions, which heard less serious cases; and, finally, the courts of summary jurisdiction, which dealt with misdemeanours. Over the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, two important shifts took place in the distribution of cases. First, a number of felonies, notably grand larceny, were transferred from assize to quarter session, leading ultimately to the position whereby the former dealt with capital offences and the latter with non-capital offences. Second, there was a transfer of offences from quarter session to petty session as the scope of summary justice was expanded, most notably in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1857, it was estimated that justices at quarter sessions dealt with four times the number of indictable offences dealt with at assizes, while justices in petty sessions dealt with 20 times the number of cases dealt with in all other courts.2 By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the predominance of summary justice was overwhelming. Of all those dealt with by the courts, 98 per cent were tried summarily (91 per cent for non-indictable offences, 7 per cent for indictable) while the remaining 2 per cent were dealt with by the superior courts.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 3.
    W. Blackstone, Commentaries, 15th edn 1809, vol.4, pp. 342–2.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    D. Philips, ‘The Black Country Magistracy 1835–60: a changing elite and the exercise of its power’, Midland History, vol. 3, 1976, pp. 161–90; D. C. Woods, ‘The Operation of the Master and Servant Act in the Black Country 1858–75’, Midland History, vol. 7, 1982, pp. 93–115; R. Swift, ‘The English Urban Magistracy and the Administration of Justice during the early nineteenth century: Wolverhampton 1815–60’, Midland History, vol. 17, 1992, pp. 75–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 7.
    J. Davis, ‘A Poor Man’s System of Justice: the London Police Courts in the second half of the nineteenth century’, Historical Journal, vol. 27, 1984, pp. 309–35. The following paragraph owes much to this article.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 8.
    J. M. Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England 1660–1880, Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 46.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    D. Philips, Crime and Authority in Victorian England, London, Croom Helm, 1977, p. 117.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    R. P. Hastings, ‘Private law-enforcement associations’, Local Historian, 1981, pp. 226–32; A. Schubert, ‘Private Initiative in Law Enforcement: Associations for the Prosecution of Felons, 1744–1856’, in V. Bailey (ed.), Policing and Punishment in Nineteenth-Century Britain, London, Croom Helm, 1981; D. Philips, ‘Good men to Associate and Bad Men to Conspire: Associations for the Prosecution of Felons in England 1760–1860’; J. King, ‘Prosecution Associations and Their Impact in Eighteenth Century Essex’ both in D. Hay and F. Snyder, Policing and Prosecution in Britain 1750–1859, Oxford University Press, 1989.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    C. Emsley, Crime and Society in England 1750–1900, London, Longman, 1987, pp. 146–7.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    On the importance of the role of the magistrate at this stage in proceedings, see D. Oberwittker, ‘Crime and Authority in Eighteenth Century England: law enforcement on the local level’, Historical Social Research, vol. 15, 1990, pp. 3–34.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Sir John Hawkins, Charge to the Grand Jury of Middlesex, 1780, pp. 26–7, cited in Beattie, Crime and the Courts, pp. 268–9.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Cited in J. H. Langbein, ‘Shaping the Eighteenth Century Criminal Trial: a view from the Ryder sources’, University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 50, 1983, p. 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 24.
    J. R. Lewis, The Victorian Bar, London, Robert Hale, 1982, p. 29.Google Scholar
  12. 29.
    W. R. Cornish, ‘Criminal Justice and Punishment’, in W. R. Cornish et al. (eds), Crime and Law in Nineteenth Century Britain, Shannon, Irish University Press, 1978, p. 58; G. Parker, ‘The Prisoner in the Box – The Making of the Criminal Evidence Act, 1898’, in J. A. Guy and H. G. Beale (eds), Law and Social Change in British History, London, Royal Historical Society, 1984.Google Scholar
  13. 31.
    J. M. Beattie, ‘Scales of Justice: defence counsel and the english criminal law trial in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’, Law and History Review, vol. 9, 1991, pp. 221–67; D. Hay, ‘Controlling the English Prosecutor’, Osgoode Law Journal, vol. 21, 1983, pp. 165–86; S. Landsman, ‘From Gilbert to Bentham: the reconceptualization of evidence theory’, The Wayne Law Review, vol. 36, 1990, pp. 1149–86; J. Langbein, ‘The Criminal Trial before the Lawyers’, University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 45, 1978, pp. 263–316; B. Schapiro, ’ “To A. Moral Certainty”: theories of knowledge and Anglo-American juries, 1600– 1850’, The Hastings Law Review, vol. 38, 1986, pp. 153–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 36.
    F. W. Maitland, Justice and the Police, London, 1885, p. 139.Google Scholar
  15. 40.
    V. A. C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People, 1770–1868, Oxford University Press, 1994, Appendix 2, pp. 616–17.Google Scholar
  16. 44.
    P. King, ‘Decision-Makers and Decision-Making in the English Criminal Law, 1750–1800’, Historical Journal, vol. 27, 1984, pp. 25–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 45.
    J. Brewer and J. Styles, An Ungovernable People, London, Hutchinson, 1980, p. 48.Google Scholar
  18. 46.
    G. Rude, Criminal and Victim: Crime and Society in Early Nineteenth Century England, Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 65, 68, 72.Google Scholar
  19. 47.
    J. Davis, ‘Prosecutions and their context’, in D. Hay and F. Synder (eds), Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750–1850, Oxford University Press, 1989.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Taylor 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Taylor
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HuddersfieldUK

Personalised recommendations