Magistrates’ Court Records... Magistrates’ Court Records
Magistrates’ Courts, previously Petty Sessions Court, play a key role in the criminal justice system and account for around 95% of the total number of cases in England. Acting as the lowest tier in the English Court System, the Magistrates’ Courts also deal with many civil cases including family matters, liquor licensing and betting and gaming. Magistrates’ Court generally heard crimes that could be tried summarily by the Justices of the Peace (JP), or Magistrates, without a jury. Magistrates cannot normally order sentences of imprisonment that exceed 6 months (or twelve months for consecutive sentences), or fines exceeding £5000.
From the 16th century onwards, JPs had divided themselves into local groups to deal with vagrancy, poor relief etc. These courts were known as Petty Sessions but not until 1828 did they become established by statute following the proliferation of work at the Quarter Sessions. Petty Sessions Courts were held for specific divisions of a county, and separately for boroughs at a regular interval. The Magistrates’ Court Act 1952 officially ended the Petty Sessions Courts, if only by name, and transferred their roles to the newly formed Magistrates’ Court. The historic Petty Sessions Divisions remained largely untouched by this restructuring, and it was not until 1969 that the Leominster and Wigmore divisions were amalgamated with the City of Hereford Division.
The court registers make up the majority of this collection. Registers can contain cases ranging from unpaid speeding tickets to minor larceny. The information stored in these registers also reflects the eclectic range of magistrates’ roles, including special notices of licensing.
All Magistrates’ Court and Petty Sessions’ records are restricted. Please seek advice from a member of staff for information on how to make a Freedom of Information or Data Protection request.
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