Gray, D. (2012) Justice at its roots: the current state of research into summary proceedings and petty sessions in England. Invited Presentation presented to: British Crime Historians Symposium 3, The Open University, Milton Keynes, 06-07 September 2012.
In 1986 Joanna Innes and John Styles called for the development of research into the lower reaches of the criminal justice system. Since then a number of projects have been completed, new sources have emerged and considerable new ground has been broken. This paper will provide an overview of the current state of research into summary proceedings and the role of the magistrate. It will identify some of the current themes in this research and consider a number of problems encountered by researchers and how these might be overcome. The importance of understanding the ways in which petty sessions and the semi-private hearings conducted by justices in the long eighteenth century has now been established. However, there is still much to be achieved. This paper will seek to illustrate ways in which the history of the development of petty sessions across the eighteenth and the evolution of police courts in the nineteenth can be considered in relation to a number of historiographical themes in the history of crime and punishment. Thus it will consider the importance of gender, class, policing, regional variation and the ongoing debate about the use and availability of the law.