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CHAPTER XIV.

THE CRIMINAL LAW COURTS OF TO-DAY.

§ 138. The Assizes.-This is the popular designation of the Courts held by the judges who go on circuit through the various counties. Since 1875 there has been considerable rearrangement, and the country is now divided into eight districts or "circuits." The judges go to all the county and other assize towns three or four times every year and try the civil and criminal cases that have occurred in the district. Barristers accompany the judges on circuit in order to act as counsel for or against the prisoners. As a general rule only cases dealing with the more serious crimes are brought before these courts, but they have authority to try all crimes.

In 1834 the Central Criminal Court, which is popularly known as "The Old Bailey," was established to take the place of the Assize Court for offences committed in the City of London, the County of Middlesex and certain specified parts of the counties of Essex, Kent, and Surrey. Practically it is the Assize Court for London and sits at least twelve times a year.

§ 139. Quarter Sessions.-These are courts held in every county once a quarter at stated times for the trial of offences of a less serious character than those usually tried at the Assizes. The Court is composed of two or more of the justices of the peace for the county. One of these is made chairman and acts as judge, consulting his

colleagues when he thinks fit. Certain boroughs have a Court of Quarter Sessions of their own. In these an official known as the Recorder, who must be a barrister of five years' standing, is the sole judge.

Sessions for the Administrative County of London are held twice a month at Newington and Clerkenwell. They are presided over by a paid judge.

Besides trying various offenders Quarter Sessions acts as a Court of Appeal from justices sitting as courts of summary jurisdiction, and on matters of rating, licensing and poor-law administration. In these cases they sit without a jury.

§ 140. Summary Jurisdiction is the description given to the powers of justices of the peace in trying minor criminal offences. The absence of a jury is of the essence of the proceedings. The Court is termed Petty Sessions and is formed of two or more justices. Each county is divided into several districts, and in each a Petty Sessional Court is held. Boroughs which have a separate commission of the peace hold their own Petty Sessions presided over by their own justices. The justices are unpaid, but in London and certain other large towns their place is taken by paid magistrates, who must be barristers of a certain standing. One of these magistrates has the same powers as two justices.

The Petty Sessional Courts try and determine a very great number of cases, and their jurisdiction tends steadily to increase. They have power to fine and also to imprison, but the whole of their powers are derived from statutes, and they must not exceed the limits there laid down. In the majority of cases they cannot award more than six months' imprisonment. The matters which come before them include petty assaults and thefts, applications for judicial separation, offences relating to game, offences

against order, such as drunkenness and vagrancy, cruelty to children, breaches of bye-laws and adulteration of food. In some cases which would otherwise have to go to Quarter Sessions or Assizes, the justices have jurisdiction if the accused consents to be tried by them.

By an Act passed in 1907 any court, instead of sentencing an offender, may discharge him if in view of all the circumstances it considers such a course desirable. It may place the offender under a probation officer and order him to comply with such regulations as it may lay down to secure his leading an honest and industrious life in the future. Acts of 1908 have created Borstal institutions for offenders under twenty-one and have given power to detain habitual criminals for lengthy terms.

One justice sitting alone has jurisdiction over certain very small offences, such as drunkenness, but he cannot inflict a higher fine than twenty shillings or greater imprisonment than fourteen days.

§ 141. Procedure to Trial.-Besides the determination of minor cases, as stated in the last paragraph, the justices have another duty to perform. In more serious cases they hold a preliminary enquiry to see if there is sufficient evidence to warrant sending the accused for trial to Quarter Sessions or Assizes. If the examining justicefor one is sufficient for this purpose-sends the accused for trial, a written accusation called a "Bill of Indictment is drawn up. This is laid before the grand jury at the Quarter Sessions or Assizes as the case may be. The witnesses for the prosecution appear before the grand jury, and if the latter think there is sufficient evidence for the accused to be tried they return what is called a "True Bill." It is not necessary for the grand jury to be unanimous, but there must be at least twelve members in favour of the verdict.

As a general rule any person may bring an accusation before the grand jury, but for certain offences the preliminary examination before a justice which is usual in other cases becomes essential.

§ 142. Procedure at the Trial. The trial takes place before the Judge at Assizes or the justices or Recorder at Quarter Sessions, sitting with a petty jury, which numbers twelve. Counsel usually appear both for the prosecution and the defence. Counsel for the prosecution opens the case by stating the principal facts it is intended to prove. His witnesses are then examined, cross-examined and reexamined. After the witnesses for the prosecution have been heard counsel for the defence opens his case, and his witnesses are examined, cross-examined and re-examined. Next counsel for the defence sums up his case and is followed by counsel for the prosecution in reply. If, however, no evidence is called for the accused, or he is the only witness, the final speech of counsel for the prosecution must precede that of counsel for the defence. Before 1898 the accused and his wife were not allowed to give evidence, but by a statute passed in that year this is now permitted if the accused desires it. They cannot, however, be compelled to give evidence. After the speeches of counsel the judge sums up the evidence and instructs the jury on the points of law involved. They then consider their verdict, which will be either "guilty" or "not guilty." They must be unanimous. If they cannot agree they are discharged and the prisoner is retried. If the jury have given a verdict of guilty the judge pronounces sentence. In the case of murder this must be death, but in other cases the judge has a discretion, provided that he does not exceed the maximum laid down for the offence.

§ 143. Appeal.—The Criminal Appeal Act of 1907 came into force on the 18th of April, 1908. Before this an

appeal was allowed only on a point of law, and then not unless the presiding judge or justices thought fit to reserve the point for the consideration of the Court for Crown Cases Reserved. But by the above-mentioned Act a Court of Criminal Appeal has been established, and every person convicted on indictment, i.e. convicted at Assizes or Quarter Sessions, may appeal against his conviction. This appeal may be on a point of law, or against his sentence, or, with the consent of the presiding judge or the Court of Criminal Appeal itself, on a question of fact. The Court has full powers as to evidence and other matters and will set aside the conviction if there has been in any way a miscarriage of justice, but it will not set aside any conviction even if there has been some technical mistake if no substantial miscarriage of justice has occurred. If a sentence is appealed against the Court may increase or diminish it. The judges of this Court consist of the Lord Chief Justice of England and the judges of the King's Bench Division of the High Court specially appointed for the purpose. Each appeal must be heard by an uneven number of judges, not less than three.

Where a point of law of exceptional public importance is involved an appeal may, with the sanction of the Attorney-General, be made against the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal to the House of Lords, but otherwise the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal is final.

§ 144. Other Criminal Courts.-The Coroner's Court is composed of the Coroner sitting with a jury which may number from twelve to twenty-three. Its business is to inquire into cases of violent or unnatural death, or sudden death where the cause is unknown. The Coroner must also hold an inquest where he has reason to believe that any death is due to a cause other than illness. If the jury by a majority of twelve return a verdict of murder or

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