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The Court for Crown Cases Reserved, 1848–1908


Convicted felons at the Old Bailey and on assize in nineteenth-century England had no right of appeal. They had either to submit to their fate or, if they had the means, petition the Crown for a pardon. The legal avenues for redress were limited. A writ of error would lie to a superior court for legal errors that appeared on the face of the record but by the nineteenth century this was seldom used. More significantly, it was open for the trial judge to reserve questions of law for the informal and private consideration of all the common law judges. In their illuminating studies of this practice in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, James Oldham and Randall McGowen elucidate the ways in which the judiciary used reserved cases to develop legal doctrine and to shape the operation of criminal justice. The trend toward increased formalization of procedure that they identify, culminated in 1848, when Parliament created the Court for Crown Cases Reserved (CCCR). The new court adopted the existing method of reserving cases, but was a court of record that sat and gave judgment in public. It became the highest judicial forum for the determination of questions of criminal law until 1908, when it was superseded by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

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Why is it that an appeal is given to twenty pounds and denied to a sentence of death or transportation? It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it is because the one always affects the rich, the other usually the poor.Law Times 11 (1848), 339

L. Radzinowicz and R. Hood , “Judicial Discretion and Sentencing Standards: Victorian Attempts to Solve a Perennial Problem,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 127 (1979): 12881349

P. Handler , “The law of felonious assault in England, 1803-1861,” Journal of Legal History 28 (2007): 183206

S. Peters , When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children and the Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

N. Lacey , “In Search of the Responsible Subject: History, Philosophy and Social Sciences in Criminal Law Theory,” Modern Law Review 64 (2001): 350–71

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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