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Crimes Tried at the Old Bailey

Explanations of Types and Categories of Indictable Offences

This page provides explanations of all the offences tried at the Old Bailey, organised according to general categories as defined by this project.

Contents of this Article

Introduction

As the central criminal court for the City of London and the County of Middlesex, the Old Bailey was where all trials took place for serious crimes occurring in the London area north of the Thames. This includes all trials for felony (crimes which were, or had been at one time, punishable by death), and some of the most serious misdemeanours. Specific offences were defined either by common or statute law. In the 240 years covered by the Proceedings, numerous statutes defined new offences (often as a result of the new types of property coming into use). Many more statutes were passed specifying new punishments for offences which already existed. Often what appear to be minor differences between similar offences resulted in significantly different punishments.

The general categories of crime type used in this project are modern ones, and were created in order to facilitate statistical analysis. Nonetheless, the specific categories follow, as much as possible, the precise descriptions of offences used in the original Proceedings, which in turn tend to repeat the language of the actual indictment on which the defendant was tried. William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England book 4 (1769) has been consulted for contemporary definitions of eighteenth-century offences, and James Fitzjames Stephen's A History of the Criminal Law of England (1883) for nineteenth-century definitions.

Breaking the Peace

A rural scene with ten men in a general fight.  Several have on colourful jackets and hats, suggesting that they are Londoners; while the rest are using pitchforks and are more simply dressed.  One appears to be wearing a smock-frock.

With the exception of certain types of riot and assault, most offences in this category were misdemeanours, and not punishable by death. Trials for these offences were, therefore, most often heard at an inferior court, the Sessions of the Peace. Only the most serious cases were tried at the Old Bailey.

Assault

Assault forms a broad category which includes both physical attacks on others (whether or not the victim was seriously injured) and cases in which the victim was terrified by gestures or shouting. This includes mayhem (violently inflicting bodily injury on a person) and maliciously shooting at someone.

In the nineteenth century, as society became less tolerant of violence, two statutes turned the most serious offences of this sort into felonies, punishable by death. In 1803 Lord Ellenborough's Act extended the death penalty to attempts to kill, disable, or commit grievous bodily harm with firearms or other lethal instruments, such as knives. The vast majority of assault charges tried at the Old Bailey were cases of serious assault where wounding or maiming was involved. In 1828 the Offences Against the Person Act removed the requirement of the use of an offensive weapon and for some years after any seriously threatening assault could be punishable by death. Changes in the definition and punishment of attempted murder in 1837 saw assault become a non-capital crime.

Barratry

The offence of frequently stirring up quarrels by spreading false rumours and prosecuting malicious lawsuits.

Libel

Libel signifies the malicious defamation of any person in print, writing, signs, or pictures designed to expose that person to public hatred, or to provoke wrath in the victim. Oral insults could not be prosecuted at the Old Bailey. Libels which undermined the authority of the King or Queen were normally prosecuted as seditious libel. The 1881 Newspaper Libel and Registration Act made newspaper proprietors directly accountable for the content of their publications. This Act forms the first legal acknowledgement of the influence that the popular press could have on public reputation.

Riot

Rioters throw pieces of furniture onto a large bonfire, in front of the stone facade of the Newgate Prison.  Fire fills the windows of the prison, and a figure carrying a large red standard is standing at the right hand edge of the picture.

A riot was held to have taken place if 3 or more people assembled to do an unlawful act, usually commit a breach of the peace, and then performed it. Also included in the category of rioter are those who only assembled with the intention of committing such a breach, whether or not it was performed. Unlawful Assembly was the normal charge in this instance. If individuals assembled unlawfully and then moved towards committing a riot but did not actually achieve their purpose, they were charged with a Rout. Normally only the most serious riots were prosecuted at the Old Bailey. Included among those riotous offences which were subject to trail at this court were two felonies punishable by death: violation of the 1715 Riot Act, which required members of groups of 12 or more rioters to disperse within an hour of the reading of the proclamation; and riotously demolishing a house.

Threatening Behaviour

Includes any kind of physical or verbal behaviour embodying a serious threat, including sending a threatening letter.

Vagabonding

Includes people calling themselves "Egyptians" (Gypsies), those labelled as "vagabonds" for begging under false pretences, and those offending as rogues and vagabonds who had been convicted twice before. Most people accused of vagrancy and related offences were tried and punished using summary judicial procedures and do not appear at the Old Bailey.

Miscellaneous Breaking the Peace

Includes throwing squibs (firecrackers); affrays (two or more people fighting in a public place); trespass on the property of another (where this was a criminal and not a civil offence); and appearing in armed groups with blackened faces (an offence under the 1723 Black Act).

Damage to Property

This category of offence includes types of malicious damage to private property that were considered crimes against the public (as opposed to personal wrongs, which were civil offences). Some of these offences became capital under the Black Act (1723, repealed in 1823), so called because it was passed in response to an outbreak of poaching committed by men who disguised themselves by "blacking" their faces.

Arson

Arson was defined by William Blackstone as "the malicious and wilful burning of a house or outhouse of another man". This was an offence designed first and foremost to assure the security of people's homes, and all arson charges tried at the Old Bailey involved the malicious burning of dwelling houses.

Miscellaneous Damage

Includes:

  • malicious burning of non-dwelling buildings or other items such as hayricks or stalks of corn
  • killing or maiming domestic (farm) animals
  • cutting down, destroying and removing trees, roots, or plants
  • cutting down a riverbank
  • destroying a fish pond
  • cutting or defacing a piece of clothing while it was worn
  • cutting and destroying silk in a loom, or damaging the tools used for silk weaving (a statutory offence from 1766)
  • demolishing or attempting to demolish a house (when not part of a riot)
  • breaking and entering a building (not a dwelling house) with intent to steal

 

Deception

A category of offences defined by the dishonest acquisition of property, money, or other benefits.

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy itself was not a crime, but it became one if the bankrupt broke the law by failing to surrender himself to the Commissioners of Bankruptcy in order to make a disclosure of his possessions, or by concealing possessions and/or books of accounts from the Commissioners. While the definition of bankruptcy remained markedly consistent across the period 1674 - 1913, its punishment became gradually less severe as time progressed. Following trends already underway, the Bankrupt Consolidation Act of 1849 made conspiring to defraud creditors in a bankruptcy punishable by transportation or by imprisonment with or without hard labour for up to seven years.

Forgery

The fraudulent making or altering of a written document to the detriment of another man's right. Includes fraudulently copying or counterfeiting documents other than money, such as stamps or bonds. Because the financial system depended on paper credit, this was seen as a particularly serious offence. For counterfeiting of money (including possession of forged banknotes), see coining.

Fraud

Fraud includes any criminal deceit or false representation. Impersonating someone else, obtaining goods under false pretences, using and selling counterfeit stamps, and bribery all fall within this category of offence. Examples include using marked cards in a card game in which wagers were laid; or pretending to be a servant sent to collect goods from a shop in order to obtain goods without payment.

Perjury

Wilfully testifying falsely under oath in a judicial proceeding. This offence also encompasses subornation of perjury, the offence of procuring someone else to commit perjury.

Miscellaneous Deception

This category includes charges for unlawfully inserting names into register books, making false declarations and illegally procuring documents such as marriage licenses.

Killing

Infanticide

The killing of a new born child. Most cases infanticide involved unmarried mothers, and were prosecuted under a 1624 statute which dictated that if the death of the baby was concealed, the mother was presumed guilty of infanticide unless she could prove that the baby was born dead. The requirement placed on the defendant to prove her innocence was a reversal of the normal practice of requiring the prosecution to prove guilt. For most of the eighteenth century, however, women were acquitted of this charge if they could demonstrate that they had prepared for the birth of the baby, by, for example, acquiring some kind of clothing for the child. This statute was repealed in 1803, when proof of the murder became a requirement for conviction. This statute also empowered juries to return a lesser-verdict of concealment of birth, punishable by a maximum of two years imprisonment.

Manslaughter

An unlawful killing without premeditation or malice. Deaths which occurred in the course of fights, or during legitimate activities such as physically disciplining one's wife or servant, or driving, were typically tried as manslaughter. Many people initially charged with murder were actually convicted of manslaughter, on the grounds that the killing was not premeditated.

Murder

Premeditated, deliberate killing. Many people tried for this offence, notably duellists, were convicted of the lesser offence of manslaughter. Between 1752 and 1832 the Murder Act dictated that that the bodies those executed as murderers should either be delivered to the surgeons to be "dissected and anatomised" or hung in chains.

Petty Treason

This is an aggravated form of murder defined by the Treason Act of 1351 as the killing of a master by a servant, a husband by his wife, or an ecclesiastical superior by his inferior. Because such crimes subverted normal hierarchies, the punishment was more severe: women convicted of this crime were (until 1790) sentenced to be burned at the stake, while men were to be drawn on a hurdle, hanged, and quartered. Petty treason was abolished in 1828 when it ceased to be an offence distinct from murder.

Miscellaneous Killing

This category includes indictments for assaults which resulted in a death. Most trials falling in this category simply do not specify any of the types of murder or manslaughter listed above.

Offences against the King (Queen)

This is a broad category of offences where the victim was not a private citizen, but was either the King (Queen) himself or his subjects in general.

Coining offences

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This category includes a number of offences in which coin or paper money (the King's currency) was counterfeited or interfered with, or in which individuals used or possessed forged or diminished currency. These offences include the following:

  • coining (counterfeiting coins)
  • possessing moulds for the manufacture of coins
  • manufacturing counterfeit paper money, banknotes or bills of exchange
  • filing, milling, colouring or "diminishing" coins (in order to use the filings to create more coins or to sell the metal)
  • possessing counterfeit money or putting it in into circulation ("uttering")

Although included here, counterfeiting gold or silver coins was technically a form of treason.

Religious offences

Failure to practice the Protestant religion according to the rules of the Church of England, by for example:

  • acting as a Catholic Priest, seducing the King's subjects into the Catholic Church, and refusing to attend Church of England services (recusancy). These offences were abolished with the passage of the Catholic Relief Acts in the nineteenth century.
  • pretending to have divine powers
  • speaking or publishing blasphemous words
  • witchcraft (this crime was abolished in 1736)

Seditious Libel

Publishing writings which subverted the authority of the King (Queen). The text of such material is sometimes included in the trial proceedings.

Seditious Words

Speaking scandalous, seditious, and traitorous words against the King, including cursing him. The offending words are normally included in the trial proceedings.

Seducing from Allegiance

Enlisting a subject in support of a foreign state or monarch, thereby forcing them to renounce their allegiance to the King. This offence usually involves support for the Jacobite Pretender to the British throne in opposition to the Hanoverian succession of 1714.

Tax Offences

Includes all dealing in "uncustomed" goods (those for which no import duty had been paid), particularly smuggling. This offence also includes rescuing goods from customs and excise officers who had seized them, and obstructing or shooting at customs officers when performing their duty. Many of these offences took place outside London and Middlesex, including some which took place at sea. This category also includes counterfeiting marks indicating that duties had been paid on goods such as playing cards, and selling falsely marked goods of this sort.

Treason

Betrayal of the King or conspiring to overthrow him. This category of offence includes aiding, receiving, or protecting a traitor. Counterfeiting coins was a species of treason which has been categorised under coining. Petty treason has been categorised as a form of killing. Until 1870 men found guilty of treason were sentenced to be drawn and quartered; until 1790 women were to be burned at the stake.

Miscellaneous Offences Against the King

This category includes soldiers deserting military service; refusing to take the Oaths of Allegiance (in the 1680s and 1690s); communicating with or assisting the enemies of the crown; revolt on the high seas; and attempting to shoot the monarch (a remarkably common offence, particularly in the nineteenth century).

Sexual Offences

This category includes the most serious forms of what was defined as inappropriate sexual activity. The most common forms of illicit sexuality, adultery and prostitution, were religious rather than criminal offences and were not prosecuted at the Old Bailey. Some early Proceedings do, however, include detailed testimony from trials for these offences, and were including in order to promote sales. Owing to changing sensibilities, from the last decades of the eighteenth century there was an increasing reluctance to discuss sexual details of any kind, and rape and sodomy trials came to be reported in only the baldest form. For details of this self-censorship see the sexual offences section of the Value of the Proceedings page.

Assault with Intent to Rape

This charge was levelled when an attempted rape was unsuccessful, and where it was therefore thought impossible to prove an actual rape, or else where the victim of a rape did not want the perpetrator to be sentenced to death. This offence was a misdemeanour. See also: Rape. Rape ceased to be a capital offence in 1841 which may help to account for the substantial increases in the prosecution of both rape and assault with intent to rape evident from the 1840s onwards.

Assault with Sodomitical Intent

This charge was levelled in cases of attempted or actual anal intercourse where it was thought impossible (or undesirable) to prove that penetration and ejaculation had actually occurred. This offence was a misdemeanour. See also: Sodomy. Prosecutions for this offence become markedly more common from the 1840s.

Bigamy

Marrying a second spouse while the first spouse was still living. The circumstances surrounding marriage throughout the period covered by the Proceedings ensured that many people were potentially guilty of this offence. Legal divorces were very difficult to obtain, while popular "divorces" were accepted by many. Spouses disappeared, losing contact for long periods, often on voyages at sea. One spouse frequently just could not always know if the other was still living. Up to Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753, the legal status of some marriages was also ambiguous, making it unclear whether a first, legal marriage had actually taken place.

Keeping a Brothel and Procuring

Keeping a house where prostitution or sodomy was encouraged to take place. As misdemeanours, these offences were for the most part tried in different courts, the Sessions of the Peace and Court of King's Bench. However, a few brothel house keepers were prosecuted at the Old Bailey in the late seventeenth century; and a few keepers of "molly houses" (for sodomy) in the eighteenth.

In the 1830s a new offence of procuring a woman for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual activity was created.

Indecent Assault

This was an offence established in common law during the eighteenth century and codified in the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. This Act stated that any individual found guilty of an indecent assault upon a female would be imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years, while an indecent assault upon a male was punishable by penal servitude for a term not exceeding ten years. Given the lack of details provided, it is unclear precisely what the term "indecent assault" meant, but it is likely that it was an umbrella term used to describe crimes of a sexual nature which did not involve actual sexual intercourse.

Rape

Forced sexual intercourse with a woman against her will. In order to convict a man of this offence it was necessary to prove that penetration had occurred. Due to the difficulty of proving this offence, many men accused of sexual assaults were prosecuted for assault with intent to rape. Rape ceased to be a capital offence in 1841, and from this date the number of prosecutions and in particular, successful prosecutions, rises dramatically. In the eighteenth century the conviction rate for rape fell as low as 5% of all cases in some decades. From the 1840s onwards this rises to approximately 50%.

Sodomy

Anal or oral intercourse between a man and another man, woman, or beast. In order to obtain a conviction, it was necessary to prove that both penetration and ejaculation had occurred, and two witnesses were required to prove the crime. Both the "active" and "passive" partner could be found guilty of this offence. But due to the difficulty of proving this actual penetration and ejaculation many men were prosecuted with the reduced charge of assault with sodomitical intent. Details of sodomy prosecutions were censored from the Proceedings from the 1780s onwards. For more information on the gay communities of London see the Homosexuality pages.

Miscellaneous Sexual Offences

This category includes indictments for indecent exposure, the sale of obscene prints, and offences described only as being of an "indelicate" or "indecent" nature.

Theft

A young girl, sitting down, staring to her right.  There is a number, 285 pinned to her breast.  Her hair is tied back.

This is by far the largest category of offences in the Proceedings, and includes all cases of theft except robbery (see theft with violence). Theft was a common law offence, but there were a large number of statutes which mandated specific punishments for particular types of theft. All forms of theft were felonies, but the specific offences and associated punishments varied widely. Thefts were differentiated from one another according to the value of the goods stolen, and the location and manner of the theft. For monetary values, see Information on Pounds, Shillings, and Pence. For further information on the contexts for theft see What People Stole.

Animal theft

This category includes theft of domestic animals, including sheep, cattle, horses, pigs, and fowl. Horse theft was considered the most serious of these offences and by statute was punishable by death. Similarly, statutes passed in 1741 and 1742 made sheep and cattle stealing capital offences. The poaching of game has been categorised under game law offences.

Burglary

Burglary was defined as breaking into a dwelling house at night with intent to commit a felony (normally theft), or actually doing so. Offences of this sort committed during the day time were defined as housebreaking. "House" in this context could also include attached buildings, shops and warehouses. This offence was considered to be particularly serious because there were likely to be people sleeping in the house.

Embezzlement

Thefts committed by clerks, servants, or other employees of goods belonging to, or in the security of, their employers. During the eighteenth century increasing concern about thefts of this sort led to the passage of statutes which prescribed the death penalty for several types of embezzlement, including the theft of notes, deeds, bills, etc. by any officer or servant of a company (1742), of specifically the South Sea Company (1751) and the Bank of England (1795 and 1797). In 1800 another statute prescribed transportation for any servant or clerk who, having received money or property on their master's behalf, embezzled or secreted the same.

The enactment of these and other statutes led to a rapid expansion of prosecution for embezzlement offences in the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, many such cases were prosecuted simply as petty, grand, or (after 1827) simple larceny, or as summary offences (adjudicated by magistrates acting outside the courts). See also stealing from master and theft from the post.

Extortion and Blackmail

Any case of obtaining payments or benefits from another by the use of threats. This category of offence includes cases where individuals were threatened with prosecution for a criminal, ecclesiastical, or civil offence. Extortion and blackmail are particularly associated with embarrassing crimes such as adultery or sodomy. In 1823 the offence of threatening with intent to extort was made punishable by transportation for life.

Game Law offences

Only persons who met specified property qualifications, essentially gentlemen and the aristocracy, could legally hunt game (such as deer, rabbits, or pheasants). Anyone else hunting these animals, whether using nets, guns, or other animals, were committing a crime, even if they owned land upon which the game was found. Prosecutions under these statutes frequently occurred outside the courts, under summary jurisdiction, but some offences were made punishable by death under the "Black Act" (1723) and in the process brought within the jurisdiction of the Old Bailey. This Act made it a capital offence to hunt, wound, or steal deer, conies, hares, and fish in the King's forests; break down the heads of fishponds; or simply go about armed and disguised anywhere game was kept. This act was repealed in 1823, but being armed and entering into enclosed land in order to remove game remained a crime throughout the period covered by the Proceedings.

Grand Larceny

This is the most common offence found in the Proceedings. It involves the theft of goods of the value of 1 shilling or more, but without any aggravating circumstances such as assault, breaking and entering, stealing "privately", or taking from a series of specified locations such as a house. Occasionally juries used their discretion to find people accused of such thefts guilty of the lesser crime of petty larceny with a partial verdict. By finding the defendant guilty of the theft of goods worth less than one shilling, the jury ensured the defendant would receive a lesser punishment, most notably a punishment other than death. Grand Larceny was abolished in 1827 when a new offence of (simple larceny) removed the distinction between grand and petty larceny.

Housebreaking

Breaking into a dwelling house in the day time with intent to commit a felony (normally theft), or actually doing so, thereby putting the inhabitants of the house in fear. Such offences when committed at night were charged as burglary.

Petty Larceny

Theft of items under the value of one shilling (12 pence). There was some uncertainty whether this offence was actually a felony, but as the least serious form of theft it was never punishable by death. Most minor thefts were tried by justices of the peace outside the court (using their powers of summary jurisdiction), and convicted offenders were punished without trial. Petty Larceny was abolished in 1827 when a new offence (simple larceny) removed the distinction between it and grand larceny.

Pickpocketing

Up until 1808, this crime involved "privately" stealing from the person of another, which meant without their knowledge, goods worth more than a shilling. The difficulty of proving that the victim had no knowledge of the crime made it difficult to convict defendants of this offence, though many were found guilty lesser charges through use of partial verdicts. Many pickpocketing cases involved prostitutes stealing from their clients. From 1808 the definition of the offence was loosened to include any theft from the person. In other words, victims no longer needed to prove that the theft was committed without their knowledge. The same statue removed the death penalty for this offence.

Receiving Stolen Goods

By a statute of 1691 receiving stolen goods, knowing them to be stolen, made the recipient an accessory to a felony. Normally, prosecutions under this heading were only possible after someone had been convicted of the original theft.

Shoplifting

A well dressed woman stands in a shop held firmly from behind by a man in a blue coat.  A young man is kneeling in front of her, pulling a piece of lace from beneath her skirts.  A constable with his staff, dressed in black, is standing to one side.  An older woman stands to the left, her hands held up in shock, while two further women are standing at the shop door apparently discussing the scene in front of them.

The offence of "privately stealing" 5 shillings or more worth of goods from a shop was defined separately as a capital offence in 1699. This reflects concern over the apparent increase in this offence, which was thought difficult to prevent, and reflects the rapid growth in the number of shops in London. Theft of this sort taking place before 1699 is also included in this category. In 1823 shoplifting ceased to be a capital offence. For statistical purposes please note that not all thefts from shops were defined as ‘shoplifting’.

Simple Larceny

A category created in 1827 following the abolition of the distinction between petty larceny and grand larceny. This offence covered all types of theft perpetrated without any other aggravating circumstance, such as assault or breaking and entering, theft from the person or from a specified place. Following the passage of the Criminal Justice Act in 1855, many of these cases were tried summarily by magistrates rather than at the Old Bailey.

Stealing from Master

This offence was created in 1823 following the passage of an Act "for the further and more adequate punishment of servants convicted of robbing their masters". While theft by servants was indirectly legislated against in 1713, this was the first Act to deal explicitly with theft by employees (not just domestic servants) and arose in response to industrialisation and the corresponding increase in concern about workers' behaviour.

Theft from Post

In 1767 it became a felony, without benefit of clergy, to rob mail or steal letters from the Post. According to the Blackstone, the "great malice and mischief" involved in such a crime meant that it should be punished more severely than most other types of theft.

Theft from a Specified Place

Included in this general category are thefts from warehouses, ships, manufactories, churches, lodging houses, and domestic houses (where no breaking and entering took place. See also housebreaking and burglary). This category of offence also includes removing fixed material from a building (such as lead from a roof). Some of these crimes violated specific statutes which prescribed the penalty for specific offences. In 1713, for example, a statute made a capital offence theft from dwelling houses of goods over the value of 40 shillings. Although such a theft could be prosecuted as a capital offence under a different heading, the desire to create a new and specific offence is entirely typical of eighteenth-century legislative practise.

Miscellaneous Theft

Includes cases of theft where insufficient information is given concerning the value of the goods stolen, the location of the theft, or the manner of the theft, to place the offence in any of the above categories. Usually these case involve relatively minor thefts, to which the publishers of the Proceedings did not wish to devote much space. This category also includes grave robbing.

Theft with Violence

The combination violence and theft made these offences some of the most serious tried by the court.

Highway Robbery

A man on horseback holds out a pistol towards a stationary coach with a single figure insidee.  The highwayman is masked but well dressed.   Another man on horseback holds the reins of the coachhorses.

A robbery (see below) which took place on or near the King's Highway. Although these crimes frequently took place on the outskirts of London, street robberies within London are also included because the streets of London were designated as highways by one of the Transportation Acts. Because such crimes interfered with the freedom to travel, they were viewed as particularly serious. Many highway robbers travelled on horseback, but the tradition of the "polite" gentleman highway robber was not always realised in practice. Following improvements in policing, road transport, banking and credit, the mounted robber disappeared from English roads in the late 1820s. The last series of prosecutions for highway robbery were heard at the Old Bailey were in 1830. In the next eighty years only three more cases were tried; one in 1832, one in 1877, and a final case in 1897.

Robbery

An open and violent assault, resulting in the forcible removal of property of any value from the victim, and putting him or her in fear. This category of offence also includes robbing the mail (where the crime involved force) and attempted robbery.

All Other Offences

This category includes a number of offences which do not fit into any of the other general categories, or where the Proceedings do not specify the offence, stating, for example, that the accused was charged with "a misdemeanour".

Concealment of Birth

In 1803 the law on infanticide was revised, and proof of murder became a requirement for a conviction. Where a murder charge was likely to be impossible to prove, the accused could be charged with "concealment of birth" instead, which was punishable by a maximum of two years' imprisonment. In addition, in cases where the defendant was charged with infanticide the jury were empowered to return "concealment of birth" as a lesser verdict.

Conspiracy

This category was only used when the nature of the conspiracy was unclear or the offence conspired at, could not be placed in any of the other specific categories.

Habitual Criminal

A product of increasing sophistication in the recording of criminal activity, increasing levels of policing, and concerns about the emergence of a "criminal class", the concept of the "habitual criminal" emerged in the late nineteenth century. In 1908 individuals who had been convicted of three or more offences and, being able to do so, had failed to make any efforts to obtain an honest living could be charged with the additional offence of being an "habitual criminal". If convicted they were sentenced to an open-ended period of preventive detention "for the protection of the public."

Kidnapping

Forced abduction, including:

  • taking a man, woman, or child from their own country
  • abducting an heiress in order to force her into marriage

This was a misdemeanour. However, in 1814 taking a child under the age of ten by force or fraud was made a felony. This category of offence also includes trading in slaves, which was outlawed in 1807. As a result, many detailed slave trade trials were prosecuted at Old Bailey during the first half of the nineteenth century and recorded in the Proceedings.

Perverting Justice

This includes offences involving obstructing the judicial process, such as:

  • attempting to pervert the course of justice
  • rescuing prisoners from gaol or permitting prisoners to escape
  • assaulting police officers in the execution of their duty
  • encouraging people to commit crime or comforting and concealing those who had committed crimes
  • falsely charging another with a felony (when this does not involve extortion)
  • compounding a felony (agreeing not to prosecute an offence in return for some kind of private compensation, such as the return of stolen goods or payment of damages). This includes the corrupt practices associated with "Thief-Taking" (brokering the return of stolen goods back to their owners, and enticing thieves to commit crime and then receiving rewards for their arrest and prosecution).

Piracy

Until 1834, Piracy on the high seas fell under the jurisdiction of the Court of Admiralty. Although trials for this offence often took place in the Old Bailey, these were mostly reported separately from the normal Old Bailey Proceedings and only a few are included here. With the passage of the Central Criminal Court Act in 1834, the offence came within the formal jurisdiction of this court.

Returning from Transportation

Returning from transportation before the period of the sentence had elapsed was a felony punishable by death.

Unlawful Abortion

Before 1803, abortion was punished by a fine or a short term of imprisonment, and abortions which took place before "quickening" (i.e. when a woman could feel the movement of the foetus at around thirteen weeks) went entirely unpunished. The first prosecutions for this offence (for attempting to induce a miscarriage) at the Old Bailey occurred in 1823.

Over the course of the nineteenth century the law regarding abortion was progressively tightened. In 1837 the concept of quickening was removed, but it was only after the passage of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that the pregnant woman (as opposed to the abortionist) could be prosecuted.

Miscellaneous Other Offences

Includes:

  • enticing an artisan to live and practice in another country
  • practicing a trade without having served a full apprenticeship
  • engaging in activities which suggest the intent to commit a crime, such as unlawfully entering a house, or possessing picklock keys
  • being attainted of felony by not surrendering within 40 days after the publication of an order of council (an offence under the Black Act)
  • neglecting to take care of children, causing unnecessary suffering and injury
  • unspecified misdemeanours and felonies

 

Introductory Reading

For more secondary literature on this subject see the Bibliography.

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