See, for example, the several different offences under the general category of theft. At both the Middlesex Sessions at Hicks Hall for Middlesex cases and at the Old Bailey for City of London cases , the Grand Juries then met to assess the indictments and decide whether there was sufficient evidence to try the case before a trial jury. At this point prosecutors and their witnesses, but not defendants, could testify.
Those cases for which a grand jury believed the evidence was sufficient to warrant a trial were approved as "true bills"; those rejected were labelled "ignoramus" or "not found" and the case was dropped these cases do not appear in the Proceedings. The problem with this system was that the Grand Juries therefore often had very little information to go on and no legal training.
Consequently, for most of the period a significant number of cases were rejected and in the early nineteenth century the grand juries in London acquired the nickname "the hope of London thieves". From a clerk attended meetings of the grand jury at the Old Bailey to offer advice and thereafter far fewer cases were dropped at this stage. There were repeated calls for the abolition of the grand jury throughout the nineteenth century, all of which came to nothing.
Nevertheless, its role was gradually reduced as pre-trial investigations by justices and the police weeded out weak cases before indictments were drawn up. Charges of murder and manslaughter formulated by coroner's juries did not need to be approved by the grand jury and these cases automatically went to trial.
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The prisoners whose indictments had been approved by a grand jury were brought into the court and formally charged. Each prisoner was asked to plead to the charge, which was read to them, and the vast majority pleaded not guilty. Until the reforms of the early nineteenth century, the court encouraged this plea because if a defendant confessed to a crime there was no flexibility in the punishment they could receive, whereas if a trial took place evidence could be introduced which might determine whether the defendant merited a lesser sentence or a pardon.
With the decline in death sentences in the early nineteenth century guilty pleas became more common. Defendants who refused to enter a plea were, unless they were found mute "by visitation of God", subject to the ordeal of peine forte et dure , in which they were forced to lie down and have weights placed on them until they either relented or died.
This practice, however, was rare, and formally ended in , after which date standing mute was deemed the same as pleading guilty. In the presumption of guilt was reversed and refusal to plead was redefined as equivalent to pleading innocent.
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In the late seventeenth century cases at the Old Bailey were tried in batches, with juries hearing perhaps half a dozen trials before retiring to consider their verdicts sometimes the jurors did not even retire, they just huddled in the courtroom. They were able to do this because trials were very short, averaging perhaps half an hour per case. In a typical day early in the history of the Proceedings the Court might hear between 15 and 20 cases. With the abolition of the death penalty for many crimes in the s, trials became even shorter: in one commentator calculated that the average trial took only eight and a half minutes.
It is likely that the rapidity with which trials were held severely disadvantaged defendants, who had no time to accustom themselves to the courtroom environment. A further difference from modern practice is that the same jury heard numerous cases in a single sessions. New juries were not summoned for each case.
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Because the Old Bailey court covered two legal jurisdictions, there were separate juries for the City of London and County of Middlesex; while one jury considered its verdicts, the other heard a new batch of cases. As explained in searching for jurors , the Proceedings often indicate which jury tried each case.
In the pressure of business, and the growing imbalance between Middlesex and City of London cases, led to a change in practice: juries were now expected to present their verdicts immediately after each case, without leaving the room. This affected the arrangement of the courtroom remodelled in : whereas previously jurors sat on both sides of the defendant, now they needed to sit together in order to be able to confer quickly at the end of the trial in order to give their verdict; only in difficult cases did they leave the room.
In order to hear the increasing number of trials from Middlesex, additional juries were added in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Each trial started with the clerk reading the charge before the prosecutor presented the case against the defendant, followed by the witnesses, who testified under oath.
Witness testimony was the most common source of evidence. The defendant, who until was not put on oath it was thought this was a form of compulsion , was then asked to state his or her case. This testimony was often abridged in the published Proceedings. Cross-examinations were conducted by the judges , the defendant, or, increasingly, by defence lawyers.
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There was no presumption of innocence until the early nineteenth century , and no right to remain silent. Defendants were expected to disprove the evidence presented against them and establish their innocence. The assumption was that if defendants were innocent, they ought to be able to prove it.
They could cross-examine prosecution witnesses and, from , call their own witnesses but, unlike prosecutors, they could not compel witnesses to attend.
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And since trials were not scheduled, it was impossible to predict precisely when a witness would need to appear in court. Witnesses who could testify to the defendant's good character were especially helpful, since even if the defendant was found guilty, a good reputation might lead to a lesser punishment. Lawyers were rarely present in ordinary criminal trials prior to the last decades of the eighteenth century, and only began to appear in a significant number of trials at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Lawyers who appeared at the Old Bailey in the eighteenth century hardly ever made it to the very top of the legal profession.
They were often accused of being ignorant of the law and of a general incivility, something that was also said to characterise their bullying of witnesses. Such accusations were not always unfounded. In general, the Proceedings fail to report the legal arguments of prosecution and defence lawyers, preferring instead to concentrate on the confrontation between the victim and the accused. There were very few lawyers at trials at the Old Bailey until the s, and even for many decades after that the presence of lawyers was the exception rather than the rule.
Prosecutors had always been allowed to have lawyers, but very few did so until the s and s. Their use was encouraged by the growing government practice, from the late s, of funding prosecutions for the most serious offences, such as cases of seditious words and libel, treason, coining, and violent offences such as murder, rape, and robbery.
Once their presence as government prosecutors had been accepted, their services were gradually exploited by prosecutors in other cases. The growing use of lawyers during the eighteenth century appears to have in part resulted from the growth of commerce. It was merchants and shopkeepers who hired prosecuting counsel in significant numbers. The use of prosecuting lawyers was further encouraged by a statute which allowed the courts to reimburse the expences of poor prosecutors if a conviction was obtained.
A statute extended the payment of expences to all prosecutors of successful cases. By the use of prosecution counsel was widespread. Prosecution briefs written for some publicly funded cases have survived in The National Archives among the Treasury Solicitor's papers and are listed among the Associated Records.
Defendants in misdemeanour cases and treason cases from could also employ legal representation, but they were excluded in felony cases except for the purpose of raising narrow points of law until the mids. The justification for this prohibition was that they were thought unnecessary: it required "no manner of skill to make a plain and honest defence" Hawkins.
Moreover, judges were thought capable of looking out for defendants' interests. However, the increasing number of prosecution lawyers from the early s appears to have led the courts to allow defence lawyers in order to help maintain a balance. In addition, the concerns generated by "blood money cases" and the use of corrupt thief-takers encouraged the judiciary to permit counsel to raise points of law on behalf of the accused.
Even so, defence lawyers were not allowed to summarise the case in an address to the jury until In any case, they were rarely used until the late eighteenth century; and even in only between a quarter and a third of defendants in property cases had counsel. The biggest influence exercised by defence lawyers on trials was through the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. Defence counsel was often able to question the motives of the prosecutor in bringing the case, and of witnesses for testifying for the prosecutor.
When the principals were eligible to receive a reward for a successful conviction, as was the case with thief-takers, or, could earn immunity from prosecution for testifying against accomplices, their word in court was open to doubt. This led to the expectation that evidence from accomplices should be corroborated by another witness.
Defence lawyers also contributed to increased scepticism about hearsay evidence and pre-trial confessions, and their participation meant that in some cases defendants no longer needed to speak at all. This eventually led to defendants acquiring the privilege of remaining silent; and in the process contributed to shifting the burden of proof onto the prosecutor. Over the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the balance of power in the courtroom, which had been heavily weighted against defendants, shifted marginally back in their direction.
With the exception of cases of murder, however, this shift occurred only for those who could afford the cost of a lawyer. In the s, judges began to assign lawyers to speak on behalf of prisoners accused of serious offences. It was also possible for poor prisoners to secure legal representation by applying to defend in forma pauperis or to find funding for legal assistance through a benefactor.
The sheriffs of London provided a fund for such assistance from the early nineteenth century. However, relatively few defendants benefitted from these provisions. When filed in , the case was the largest molestation case in U. Since then, however, scores of charges and five co-defendants, including Virginia McMartin, have been dismissed because of insufficient evidence. UPI Archives. Latest Headlines. Plane crashes into Southern California house, killing pilot. Federal judge delays execution of 'Texas Seven' prisoner. Roger Stone's contact with Trump campaign highlighted in Russia probe trial.
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