The Summary Courts and the Prosecution of Assault in Northampton and Nottingham, 1886-1931
thesisposted on 07.06.2012, 11:54 by Michelle A. Abraham
The focus of research has traditionally been upon the higher courts of the Quarter Sessions and the Assizes where the study of violence has tended to rest upon areas of a serious or lethal nature. Comparatively much less attention has been given to minor violence prosecuted in the Petty Sessions. The research presented in this thesis offers a contribution to the existing historiography, specifically in relation to the manner in which the summary courts dealt with the prosecution of assault. This extant court registers of Northampton and Nottingham provide a comparative quantitative analysis of the levels of prosecuted assault, which during this period declined. Outcomes for the verdict and sentencing patterns of in excess of 6,000 cases strongly indicate there was a definite focus upon male offending. Female offenders were found guilty less often and the resultant sentencing policy was also less harsh in comparison. Assaults upon the police were highly likely to be found guilty and the sentences were found to be harshest for this group of defendants. Qualitative analysis supplements the statistical research using local press trial reports providing a contextual understanding of how and why assaults came to occur, which commonly located assaults in the streets, the public houses and the homes of Northampton and Nottingham. The summary courts were accessible to the majority of the population and the process was highly discretionary. Individuals used the courts for their own ends and the process was neither linear nor predictable in its outcome. Magistrates were shown to act as brokers of settlement, often attempting to preserve civil relations between individuals as far as possible, as much as being an arbiter of the law when dealing with assault cases.