By the 17th century most of the major judicial privileges of the ancient borough and city courts had passed to the circuit judges except in the city of London and the adjoining county of Middlesex. In this area criminal jurisdiction was exercised at the Old Bailey and Guildhall sessions under commissions of oyer and terminer (to 'hear and determine' offences specified) for London and Middlesex and of a commission of gaol delivery (to try or release the prisoners) for Newgate.
Each commission was directed to the Lord Mayor of London, as chief justice ex officio, and his fellow commissioners, who included civic dignitiaries, the great officers of state, and the common law judges. In 1834, by an act of that year, a Central Criminal Court was established for the trial of treasons, murders, felonies and misdemeanours committed in London and Middlesex and certain parts of Essex, Kent and Surrey. It was also empowered to try offences committed on the high seas or elsewhere abroad previously tried at the Admiralty Sessions.
The Central Criminal Court, sitting under commissions of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery, and holding at least twelve sessions in each year, consisted of the Lord Mayor of London as chief commissioner, and included the judges of the common law and certain other superior courts, the aldermen of the city, the Recorder, the Common Serjeant and the judges of the Mayor's and City of London court.
In practice, cases were heard mainly by the recorder of London, the Common Serjeant of London and a judge of the Mayor's and City of London court, with the more serious trials being reserved for the judges of the superior courts (the High Court from 1875) according to a rota.
There were initially two courts, Old Court and New Court, which from 1910 were known as the First Court and the Second Court. A Third Court was added in 1846, a Fourth Court in 1859 and a Fifth Court in 1911.
Under the Central Criminal Court Act 1856 the court was empowered to hear cases outside its ordinary jurisdiction to ensure a fair trial where local prejudice existed or where, due to its frequent sessions, it could offer an early trial and so avoid the delay in waiting for the next assizes. The power of the court to hear cases outside its ordinary jurisdiction was further extended by the Jurisdiction in Homicides Act 1862. In 1875 the court, together with the courts of assize, became a branch of the High Court of Justice under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873.
The Central Criminal Court Act 1834 was repealed by the Administration of Justice Act 1964 which reconstituted the court and specified that its area of jurisdiction should be Greater London.
In 1848, the Court for the Consideration of Crown Cases Reserved was established under the Administration of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1848 (11 & 12 Vic c78) and was presided over by Judges of the High Court who sat as occasion required. By the Crown Cases Reserved Act 1848 there was a limited right of appeal from decisions of the Central Criminal Court to the Court of Crown Cases Reserved.
Cases originally heard at the Central Criminal Court were occasionally reserved on questions of law for the opinion of this court. The court's jurisdiction was transferred to the Court of Criminal Appeal, established under the Criminal Appeal Act 1907 (7 Edw VII c23), and the court was wound up in 1908. The Court of Criminal Appeal continued to operate until the transfer of its jurisdiction to the Court of Appeal under the Criminal Appeal Act 1966.
Following the abolition of courts of assize and quarter sessions under the Courts Act 1971 and the establishment of a Crown Court of the Supreme Court it was provided that when that court sat in the city of London it should be known as the Central Criminal Court; it was also provided that the Lord Mayor of the city and any aldermen should be entitled to sit as judges of the court, together with any judge of the High Court or any circuit judge or recorder.
In 1972 the Crown Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature was established under the Courts Act 1971. The Crown Court was given exclusive jurisdiction in trial on indictment, including proceedings on indictment for offences within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty of England and also took over the appellate jurisdiction of quarter sessions.