The Unwritten Law: Criminal Justice in Victorian Kent

The Unwritten Law: Criminal Justice in Victorian Kent

The Unwritten Law: Criminal Justice in Victorian Kent

The Unwritten Law: Criminal Justice in Victorian Kent

Synopsis

The Unwritten Law examines the values and assumptions of mid-Victorian England as revealed in the actual workings of the criminal justice system. The working definitions of criminality and justice were often influenced more by certain tacit assumptions than by the written law. Through a careful study of the ways that the status and circumstances of victims and suspects influenced judicial decisions, Conley provides important new insights into Victorian attitudes toward violence, women, children, community, and the all-important concept of respectability. She also addresses issues that continue to be of concern in today's society: How can equal justice be preserved when social and economic conditions and expectations are not equal? How can the rights of the accused be reconciled with those of victims--especially children? Can and should the courts interfere with the traditions of family and community? What standards can determine the criminality of a particular act and the justice and efficacy of punishment? This original analysis will hold special interest for students and scholars of British history, social history, and criminality and the law.

Excerpt

This book is a social history of criminal justice in Kent, a county in southeastern England, between 1859 and 1880. in the past twenty years the study of crime and justice as an aspect of social history has been developed by a number of scholars. in addition to emphasizing the significance of the history of criminal justice in its own right, such studies also have broader applications. Although the criminal courts dealt with only a small proportion of the population, their decisions are an important indication of where and how limits were set for the society as a whole. One major argument of this work is that despite the trend towards regularization that David Philips has described in his seminal work, the findings and actions of the criminal justice system were still primarily determined by the values and priorities of the local community. Whether a particular action was defined and treated as a crime depended on a number of factors, among which the written law was often the least important. While the guarantees of due process made it highly unlikely that an innocent man would be convicted, the discretionary powers granted policemen, justices of the peace, trial judges, and juries made it possible for violations of the law to be considered non-criminal. the criminality of an offense was measured according to the age, gender, and social status of both the victim and the accused. Depending upon the circumstances, identical acts might be punished with a heavy sentence, considered a minor infraction, or totally ignored. Though socioeconomic class played a significant part in judicial decisions, explanations, when offered, were usually couched in terms of respectability and community.

The first chapter deals with the methods, both official and extra- legal, that were used to police the community. It examines the . . .

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