King's Bench indictment files covering London and Middlesex only.
There are some gaps before 1702, but from that date the series is almost complete.
They have an internal filing order, beginning with indictments brought into court on writs of certiorari, then Middlesex indictments, presentments, informations by the master of the Crown Office and informations ex officio.
The files do not include a very large amount of London material, and what there is consists of indictments brought into King's Bench on writs of certiorari and informations. It may be that London was included in the same file as Middlesex because of the similar lengths of the periods during which writs had to be returned to the court; it bore the same relationship to King's Bench as other counties.
The Middlesex material includes presentments made by petty constables, including those for the liberty of Westminster, to two grand juries, one for Ossulstone hundred and one for the rest of the county, for minor offences; indictments in the first instance, mostly cases of assault rather than felonies, received as a result of the court's overriding jurisdiction in the county by virtue of its residence there; indictments, recognizances, special verdicts and summary convictions removed from inferior jurisdictions under certiorari; and criminal informations, especially informations by the master of the Crown Office and by the attorney general (informations ex officio).
|Administrative / biographical background:
The files include the presentments made by constables for a variety of minor offences in Middlesex (including the liberty of Westminster), where by virtue of its residence at Westminster the court had jurisdiction in the first instance. In the 1820s they were defined in the words of the precept charging the high constable of a hundred to report them as: ' high and petty treasons, extortions in officers in taking unlawful fees, or other oppressures, deceits, riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, batteries, bloodshed, rescuing of prisoners, whatsoever defects in weights or measures, hue and cries not prosecuted, watches and wards not kept, and against all forestallers, regrators, ingrossers, champarties, unlicensed alehouses, drunkenness, swearing, blasphemy, disordered houses and disorders in alehouses, harbouring of inmates and incroachments upon commons, building of cottages against the statute..., all annoyances and defaults in not repairing the highways and bridges, of perprestures or encroachments, and of not cleansing the streets or not paving the streets, or of not cleansing of ditches or common sewers, and of all houses for incontinency or bawdry unlawful haunters of taverns and alehouses, all persons that profane the Lord's day, all labourers of jurors, and generally of all manner of trespasses and offences whatsoever'. The presentments can therefore provide local information about social and economic affairs in Middlesex.
The presentments were made to two grand juries summoned in each term, one representing Ossulston hundred, the heavily urbanised part of Middlesex, which included the Westminster, Holborn, Finsbury, Tower and Kensington divisions and the liberty of the Tower, and one representing the less urbanised hundreds of Edmonton, Gore, Elthorne, Spelthorne and Isleworth. When each grand jury met it issued a precept to the high constable of each division asking for the presentments of all nuisances within their districts; the high constables in turn issued precepts to the petty constables of their parishes, who subsequently appeared before the appropriate grand jury. When they did so the clerk of the grand jury engrossed on parchment and filed presentments for the different offences, and against any constables who had refused or neglected to attend. The individuals presented were then summoned by the sheriff to make an appearance to be dealt with, and normally suffered the monetary penalty of the cost of making an appearance.
The Middlesex jurisdiction of the court allowed it to receive indictments in the first instance relating to Middlesex, since its presence in the county extinguished the power of all other judges during term time. This came to be inconvenient, so in 1785 a statute (25 George III c 18) was passed to allow the Middlesex sessions to continue, but not be opened, during the King's Bench term. The indictments were drawn by counsel for the person or persons preferring the indictment and then engrossed by one of the clerks in court before being passed to the appropriate grand jury, who then examined witnesses before either finding a 'billa vera' (true bill) and endorsing it with those words, or not, in which case the bill was endorsed 'ignoramus' (we have no knowledge). The true bills, which the grand jury thought gave a case to answer, are those now in the files; rejected indictments do not normally survive, although some contents of KB 10/92, found among miscellanea in 1852, are rejected indictments, although not endorsed 'ignoramus'.
The files also include indictments removed from inferior jurisdictions by writ of certiorari, as well as recognisances, special verdicts and summary convictions removed by the same means. The courts in question in Middlesex were in particular the general and quarter sessions of the justices of the peace. Orders removed by certiorari, and returns to the other prerogative writs, were filed in the recorda files, now in KB 145 and KB 16. Like the criminal information, the certiorari came in the late seventeenth century to be seen as an instrument of vexation, so its use was curbed by statute. By acts of 1694 and 1696 (5 & 6 William and Mary c 11; 8 & 9 William III c 33) no defendant was allowed to remove an indictment by certiorari without finding two manucaptors to undertake £20 recognisances to ensure that the matter came to trial; if he subsequently lost the case he became liable for his opponent's costs. The use of the certiorari was further limited by statute and case law during the eighteenth century, and then in 1835 (5 & 6 William IV c 33) the rules applied to defendants were extended to prosecutors. The same statute also removed the limitation on the sum of bail imposed by the act of 1694. Before 1835 the certiorari was used to remove a wide range of relatively trivial offences into King's Bench, but afterwards it became increasingly associated with the removal of indictments for serious and complex misdemeanours, such as fraud and conspiracy.
Criminal informations are common on the files in the seventeenth century, but then become less numerous than indictments until the early nineteenth century. Four kinds of informations appear, the main two being:
Informations ex officio were those exhibited by the attorney general, prosecuting on behalf of the king, without prior notice and without the need to establish a prima facie case against the defendant or defendants. They tended to be used in respect of misdemeanors, and usually concerned offences against the crown revenue, or seditious libels.
Informations by the king's coroner and attorney (also known as the master of the Crown Office), were exhibited by him at the instance of private individuals in cases of alleged misdemeanour. The alleged misuse of such criminal informations led in 1692 to a statute (4 & 5 William & Mary c 18) forbidding their exhibition without the express leave of the court, and making unsuccessful prosecutors liable to costs. It became necessary for prosecutors to swear affidavits to make out a prima facie case, and until the early nineteenth century defendants normally revealed their defence, also by means of an affidavit, as a means of attempting to prevent the exhibition of the information. Such affidavits as survive are in KB 1. As a result of the act the use of the criminal information was increasingly limited to gross and notorious misdemeanours, like criminal libel and riot.