Criminal Justice

Discretion characterised the enforcement of the criminal law in London. Many accusations were resolved by informal accusation or through summary justice, while others went to trial in one of several courts. Punishments were financial, corporal, or took the form of transportation or imprisonment.

An écorché figure of a man standing, his left arm raised (broken above the elbow), and his right hand holding a baton An écorché figure, c.1770s, probably created from the body of an executed criminal under the direction of William Hunter. Royal Academy of Arts, 03-1435. © The Royal Academy of Arts.

Key Features, Chronology of Change, Historiographical Perspectives, Victims and Prosecutors, Criminals and the Accused.

Prosecutors and Litigants
Prosecutors, Informers, Thief-Takers, Vexatious Prosecutions.

The Night Watch, Constables, City Marshall, Beadles, Bow Street Runners.

Reformation of Manners Campaigns
First Societies 1690-1738, 1757-63 Society, Opposition to Informers and Reforming Constables, Legal Opposition, The Proclamation Society 1787.

Justices of the Peace and the Pre-Trial Process
Trading Justices, The "Court Justice", Summary Justice, Magistrates' Courts, 1792 Middlesex Justices Act.

The Courts
Sessions of the Peace, Old Bailey, King's Bench, Church Courts and Civil Courts.

The Criminal Trial
Trial Procedure, Testimonies, Solicitors, Barristers, The Impact of Lawyers, Verdicts.

For Misdemeanours, Death, Transportation, Imprisonment, Pardons and Pleading the Belly, Refusing the Royal Pardon.

Prisons and Lockups
Rebuilding and Reform, Prisoners and the Making of the Modern Prison, Descriptions of Nineteen Prisons and Lockups.

Houses of Correction
Offences and Punishments, Prisoners, London Houses of Correction (City of London, Middlesex, Surrey, Westminster).

Bridewell Prison and Hospital
Government, Apprentices, Prisoners, Conditions.


If you are just getting started you may wish to consult the Research Guides provided; read the article on How to interpret an Eighteenth-Century Manuscript; and review the descriptions of the individual Document Types.

See the London Lives Bibliography for a comprehensive list of the publications used in the development of these pages.