Court of King's Bench: Crown Side: Indictments Files, Oyer and Terminer Files and Informations Files
This series contains several related but nevertheless distinct elements: term indictment files and separate oyer and terminer and informations files of the King's Bench.
The bulk of the series consists of a long series of King's Bench term indictments files running from 1385 to 1675, which includes in the reign of James I some term files containing informations only.
There are also, for some terms in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries during which the court held provincial sessions in various county towns, separate files containing the indictments and other material arising from the court's oyer and terminer (trailbaston) jurisdiction in the county in which it was then sitting; the last such session was held in 1421.
Another category of oyer and terminer files resulted from specific commissions issued at various dates between about 1351 and 1539 to justices who subsequently returned them into King's Bench, where they were kept separately from the ordinary term files.
There was a considerable increase in the number of informations filed in the indictments files about 1616, which was probably the reason for the creation of a separate series of informations files, which run only from about 1617 to 1623. Subsequently informations appear again in the main series of term indictments files, and they continued to be used to a considerable extent in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Each of the term indictments files was originally separate, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries a considerable number of them were stitched together to make units composed of two or more files. Many of these, at an earlier stage of the arrangement, had had their membranes numbered in pencil and had been given new parchment wrappers. A few that had for three centuries been in the Assize and Quo Warranto Rolls series, had received similar covers, and had had their membranes numbered in ink in the 1830s. These and other indications, from medieval dockets and covers to modern repairing notes on the first or last membrane of a file, have made it possible to restore most of these term indictments files to their original separate identity.
The original arrangement of the files ended in 1675 with KB 9/931. Piecemeal writ-sorting between about 1920 and 1939 added over twenty further files, some of which were fitted in to the earlier part of the numeration because of their date, and then the Kings Bench writ sort by C A F Meekings between 1966 and 1974, added KB 9/954-1104. A few more (KB 9/1105-1114) were added in 1996 after sorting of King's Bench sacks was resumed.
Coroners' inquest files can be found in JUST 2
For a register of indictments and informations from 1661 to 1733, which can be used as a means of reference to the appropriate files, see KB 15/58
The long series of term indictments files apparently came into existence sometime between 1361 and 1385. By 1385, the indictment, an accusation made by a jury of twelve or more laymen sworn to enquire on the king's behalf and recorded before a court of record, had been established as the standard method of prosecution in place of the earlier methods of presentment and appeal. By the end of the fifteenth century the rules of the form and content of indictments was settled. They had to include five basic elements: the name and addition of the accused; the date and place of the offence; the name of the victim; details of the goods stolen or the weapon used; and the nature of the offence.
Juries represented local communites, especially townships or hundreds, and in the case of the grand jury usually represented a whole county. They were summoned before various kinds of court, such as those of JPs, coroners and sheriffs, or before royal judicial commissioners, and given articles on the basis of which they were to make accusations, according to the remit of the court. The accusations were made either directly from the knowledge of the jurors themselves (presentments), or from their endorsement of a private bill of complaint submitted to them as a 'billa vera', 'true bill'.
The information was a category of accusation which grew up alongside the indictment and the appeal in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was a bill of accusation brought as a private action by an individual suing both on his own behalf and for the crown, and was restricted to use only in cases of trespasses against statute law; by the fifteenth century statutes took account of informations by prescribing a specific financial penalty of a half to anyone successfully suing on behalf of the crown, and during the sixteenth and later centuries such activity became increasingly common.
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