This series contains the Oxford Circuit indictment files. Subsidiary documents, such as jury lists, presentments, commissions of judges, coroner's inquisitions, etc will often be found filed with them.
Each indictment gives the name of the defendant together with any aliases, his or her occupation, a parish of residence, the date of the alleged offence (by regnal year) and details of the alleged offence, together with the name of the victim. In practice, many of these details were incorrect. The defendant's occupation is normally given as 'labourer' and the parish of residence is invariably the parish in which the alleged offence took place.
The alleged offence is defined by lengthy and formal phrases. In some cases it was necessary to lengthen the membrane by sewing an addition alone to the foot of the original. Some indictments, especially in cases of serious misdemeanour, such as perjury or libel, are several membranes long. Indictments for felony are distinguished by the inclusion of the word 'feloniously'; indictments for an offence created by statute include the words 'against the statute' or 'against the form of the statute' but rarely specify the statute in question. They are often annotated at the bottom left-hand corner with a summary definition of the offence in question, eg 'murder', 'burglary', 'rape'.
Until 1933, when grand juries were abolished, the preliminary hearing had to be before a grand jury. As a result of that hearing, the indictment was either dismissed or found to be a true bill (in Latin,billa vera). Indictments that were dismissed were marked 'not found' or 'ign noramus ' and should have been destroyed, although in practice they were often kept. Indictments found to be true bills were then tried by a petty jury. During or after the trial the defendant's plea, the verdict and the sentence of the court were noted on the indictment, usually above the name of the defendant or at the top right hand corner.
Until 1916, assize indictments were either handwritten or partly printed and partly written on parchment. Until 1733 (with the exception of the period of the interregnum), they were written in Latin and in distinctive legal scripts. The annotations on indictments are often in Latin abbreviations which remained in use even after 1733.
Some of the more common abbreviations were: ca null; catalla nulla: no goods or chattels to forfeit cogn ind, cognovit indictamentum: confessed to the indictment (ie, pleads guilty) cul, culpabilis: guilty; ign, ignoramus: we do not know (ie, no case to answer); non cul nec req, non culpabilis nec retraxit quietus: not guilty nor did he or she flee (ie, did not attempt to evade justice and so is not liable to forfeit possessions); acquitted pose ponit se super patriam: puts him or herself on the country (ie, pleads not guilty). Sus, suspendatur: let him/her be hanged. Annotations in English sometimes use a literal translation of the Latin: even some twentieth century indictments use the words 'puts' or 'puts himself' instead of 'pleads not guilty'.
Assize indictments, whether before or after 1916, are endorsed with a list of prosecution witnesses. Between 1916 and the abolition of the grand jury in 1933, the names of witnesses examined before the grand jury were initialled by its foreman. Assize indictments after 1916. The general format of the indictment remained unchanged until 1 April 1916 when the Indictments Act 1915 came into effect (5 & 6 George V, c 90). This act directed that indictments should contain a statement of the specific offence 'together with such particulars as may be necessary for giving reasonable information as to the nature of the charge'. A set of rules governing indictments appeared as a schedule to the act. They stated that indictments could be on parchment or on durable paper, and that each sheet should be between six and twelve inches long and between twelve and fourteen inches wide, leaving a 'proper margin' of not less than three inches. The rules permitted the use of continuation sheets and of figures and abbreviations to express 'anything which is commonly expressed thereby'.
An expert rules committee was created with the power to vary or annul the rules laid out in the schedule. In practice the implementation of the act meant that after 1916 all indictments were prepared using standard, usually pre-printed, forms. These give the jurisdiction and venue, the name of the defendant, the plea, a summary statement of the charge or charges and particulars of the charges.
Unlike the earlier indictments, modern ones specify not only any statute that has allegedly been contravened but also specific sections of that statute. The name of the judge, the date of trial and the verdict and sentence are also recorded. They are accompanied by related records, such as recognizances, gaol calendars, coroners' inquisitions, examinations and depositions, jury panels, commissions, trial minutes and lists of justices of the peace. The inclusion of such documents varies from period to period, and from circuit to circuit.
Recognizances are either to prosecute and/or testify for the prosecution, or, more commonly, to require defendants to appear and face charges. They give names, parishes of residence and occupation. These details are usually far more accurate than those given on the indictments.
Gaol calendars give the name of the prisoners, the dates and reasons for committal together with the name of the committing magistrate. Petty jury panels usually give both the names and the occupations of jurors.
Indictment files of the Oxford circuit.Recognizances, depositions and gaol calendars rarely appear on the nineteenth century indictment files of this circuit. Where they survive for the earlier period, they have sometimes become detached from the main file and are loose in the box. After 1916 the indictments are rarely accompanied by any documents other than a statement of other offences to be taken into consideration. Coroners' inquisitions in cases of unlawful deaths do however continue to appear.