Administration of The Justices

The Administration of The Justices

ALTHOUGH it is not possible, within .tithe scope of this book, to give details of legislation and of the dates of the passing of the various Acts which to an ever-increasing extent added responsibilities to the justices, a general survey of the administration during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will, it is thought, be of some interest.

Map of Middlesex showing the Hundreds in relation to roads, railways and canals
From “Highways and Byways of Middlesex”

Justices of the peace were commissioned by the King to keep the peace in their county, and had power at their sessions of the peace to hear and determine all lesser offences below the category of felony. This system has not greatly altered today. Sessions of the Peace for Middlesex were held more frequently than elsewhere in the country, owing to the populous nature of the County. The administration of justice in Middlesex was somewhat abnormal in other ways, as no assizes were ever held there, and felonies and more serious crimes were tried under a Commission of Gaol Delivery, which sat at Justice Hall in the Old Bailey to deal with prisoners in the Gaol of Newgate, the common gaol for both the City of London and the County of Middlesex. The Clerk of the Peace for Middlesex also acted as Clerk of Arraignments for the Middlesex side of the Gaol Delivery.

Constables were elected by each parish and high constables were appointed for each hundred. These persons had very wide powers and besides their responsibilities for keeping order in the streets and open spaces had the right to enter any house where irregularities were suspected. If any breach of the law was discovered, the local justice would issue his warrant, and the prisoner would be brought before him and enter into a bond to appear at the next Sessions. He would of necessity have to name at least two sureties who would stand bail for him. Witnesses had also to bind themselves to appear and give evidence.

If the crime was of a serious nature, the person would be imprisoned in Newgate and await his trial at the next Gaol Delivery. Every inhabitant was bound to assist the constables in the execution of their duties and to answer a ” hue and cry” if raised. That is to say, if a prisoner escaped or ran away from justice, a constable could raise the cry in the King’s name, and anybody in the vicinity would be compelled to join in the chase.

Each parish would also appoint night-watchmen, who were responsible for patrolling the streets by night. In addition to their police functions, constables were responsible for reporting roads and bridges which needed repair and for ensuring that village stocks and archery butts were in good order.


With these rather amateur methods of keeping order, the criminal’s chances of escaping arrest were great and the system was wholly inadequate to control the crowded population of the London suburbs. By the middle of the eighteenth century the incidence of robbery and violence had increased alarmingly. Two notable Justices, Henry Fielding the novelist and his blind half-brother, Sir John Fielding, made a sustained and systematic attempt to combat the wave of crime. They not only sought out offenders and punished them severely, but they endeavoured also by the suppression of gaming houses, playhouses, night-houses, fairs and pleasure grounds, licensed alehouses and gin shops and other places of ill-fame, to stamp out the many social evils which bred poverty and crime. From his Bow Street office in Westminster, Sir John organized new and more effective police patrols, the members of which became popularly known as the “Bow Street Runners “. Although they operated chiefly in Westminster, they did useful work in the County at large and were the best safeguard of law and order until the Metropolitan Police Force was established by Robert Peel in 1829.


Newgate served both the City of London and the County of Middlesex as a common gaol for felons and those accused of the most serious crimes awaiting trial at the Old Bailey. In the early seventeenth century the County built its own gaol in addition, the New Prison at Clerkenwell, and also a house of correction at Cold Bath Fields, Clerkenwell, in which vagabonds, insolvent debtors and persons charged with minor crimes were placed. Westminster had its own prison, the Gatehouse, and a house of correction in Tothill Fields.

As Sessions were held regularly, few prisoners were left in gaol for any length of time, and they would either be convicted and put to death, otherwise punished, or discharged. Those who for any reason had to spend any length of time in gaol often died of gaol fever owing to the insanitary conditions of the gaols. Long terms of imprisonment were not introduced until the introduction of penal servitude in the middle of the nineteenth century, as a substitute for transportation.

Prisoners had to provide their own food and were compelled to work. Those committed to hard labour could earn anything from 1½d. to 3d. a day, and in return the keeper allowed them a quartern loaf among eight prisoners and “good water “. Those committed for want of bail received no food or drink at all “except what he sometimes sent them to keep them from starving “.

Sometimes the “Quakers’ Workhouse” took pity on the prisoners and sent them broth. The condition of many of those serving sentences was “near unto starving “, and some were so faint or ill from want of food that they had to be discharged. On one occasion the keeper of the Bridewell had boiled some beans and left the water “in the kettle”; some of the prisoners discovered this and a fight ensued to dip their bread in the bean water. They were even glad to eat pea-shells. As a result of the investigation it was decided that a penny a day should be allowed to each prisoner. If expended on necessary food “and not on gin “, this amount, in the opinion of the justices, would be sufficient.


The opening of the eighteenth century witnessed the beginning of reforms which continue to the present day. These began with an investigation into the appalling conditions in Newgate and in the houses of correction, which were overcrowded and insanitary. The gaol-keepers received little or no salary, but made what profits they could from work done by the prisoners or from food supplied to them.

In 1741 a committee of justices was appointed to investigate the conditions at the Clerkenwell house of correction. They found that inquests were seldom held on persons who died there, owing to the demands made by the coroner and the jurors for fees which the gaoler had to find from his own pocket. An exception was the case” of Matthew King, “one of Turpin’s gang”, who was shot in the breast before he was arrested. Owing to the fact that the coroner happened to be holding another inquisition nearby, he consented to examine the cause of death without fees. Many of these conditions were gradually improved by order of the justices, and the house of correction at Cold Bath Fields was rebuilt in 1794, largely as the result of the recommendation of John Howard, the famous prison reformer.

The year 1826 brought further innovations. A small committee of ladies, prominent among whom was Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, was permitted by the justices to visit the female prisoners in the house of correction. Members of the committee attended twice a week, usually in pairs. Besides teaching the women reading, writing and Scripture, they often acted as intermediaries between the prisoners and their accusers, endeavoured to find shelter for the destitute on their release and arranged for the sick to be admitted to hospital. This was one of the earliest systematic attempts to promote the welfare of prisoners after their discharge.


The most severe punishment awarded was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This was the punishment usually imposed upon persons convicted of high treason. The traitor was laid upon a hurdle and drawn along the ground to the gallows and there hanged by the neck, but so that his neck was not broken. He would then be cut down while still living, and his entrails would be pulled out of his stomach and burnt; his head was afterwards cut off and his body divided into four parts. His head was hung up in some prominent place “where the King should command “.

For coining or falsifying money of the realm, although adjudged high treason up to a comparatively recent date, the culprit was drawn on a hurdle and hanged only.

It was petty treason for a servant to kill his master or mistress, or a husband his wife, or a clergyman his prelate, and for this the culprit was merely hanged by his neck until he was dead.

For a woman who had committed high or petty treason, the punishment was to be drawn and burnt alive.

Nearly all other crimes including the theft of goods worth more than 12d. were adjudged felonies, and for any of these a prisoner was hanged by the neck until he died and all his possessions were forfeited.

Pleading to Felonies

There were, however, exceptions to the foregoing. If a criminal wished to preserve his possessions for his successors, it was open to him to refuse to plead, which was known as “standing mute “, and he was then awarded the punishment known as the “peine forte et dare“. In this case he was returned to prison and laid on his back naked upon the floor in some low, dark room, and his arms and legs were drawn with cords to the four corners of the room. Large weights of iron and stone, which were increased day by day, were then placed on his body. He was allowed bad bread and foul water on alternate days, and so he remained until he died. There are many cases to be found in the records of even women undergoing this terrible torture.

In cases of felony it was possible for the accused to “plead benefit of clergy “, that is to say he could demand to be given the Bible, and the justices would select a verse for him to read. If he could read this successfully, he was branded with a hot iron on the brawn of the thumb of the left hand and discharged. If he could not read, or if it was found that he had already been branded, he suffered death by hanging in the usual way.

Primitive Forms of Punishment

A verdict of petty larceny was returned in cases where the goods stolen were below the value of 12d., and we constantly find instances in the records where the value of the goods has obviously been reduced by the justices in order to bring the crime within the bounds of petty larceny. For this the punishment was whipping. The prisoner was generally committed to the house of correction, and on a given day, usually a market day, was taken out, stripped to the waist and tied to the back of a cart. He would then be whipped along the street for some considerable distance. In earlier days the convict would sometimes lose an ear instead of being whipped.

For forgery, theft, libel, using false weights and measures, forestalling the market and offences against the baking and brewing laws, a person would be sentenced to sit in the stocks, and the nature of the crime was written on a piece of paper nailed over his head.

For striking and thereby drawing blood in the King’s Court, the criminal had his right hand cut off in court, and we find a case of this in the County Sessions Records of 1610, when Robert Allaley had been charged with housebreaking at Kingsbury. He stood mute, and was sentenced to the peine forte et dure, but as the gaoler was leading him from the court he turned round and struck him. The court promptly ordered that his right hand should be cut off there and then, and that he should lose the benefit of standing mute and be hanged, whereby he forfeited all his estates.

Drunkards, vagabonds, profane swearers, loose, idle and disorderly persons, night-walkers and the like, were put into the stocks for varying periods of time.

Scolds: A scold—that is, a woman who spread scandalous rumours about her neighbours —was condemned to the “cucking-stool “. This consisted of a chair tied to a board placed on a pedestal, after the fashion of a see-saw, over the village pond, or other convenient water. The culprit would then be tied into the chair and the chair ducked so that the prisoner was totally immersed. The victims of her slander no doubt looked on with righteous satisfaction.


Although it had been introduced in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, transportation to the colonies for life, or for a term of years, did not become a common punishment until early in the eighteenth century. The culprits were sent out to the colonies in America or, after 1786, to one of the other British colonies. The worst part of this punishment was the journey out, as the conditions in the transports were appalling. Strange to say, it seems almost possible that some persons deliberately committed crimes in order to be transported at the expense of the country. When the convict reached the colony he was handed over or sold to a master, and his subsequent enjoyment of life depended naturally on the character of his employer. During the War of Independence transportation was temporarily suspended and criminals were lodged in hulks on the Thames. Transportation was not finally abolished until the eighteen-sixties. As late as 1822 a boy aged 13 was sentenced by the Middlesex justices to transportation for life for stealing a handkerchief worth 10d.

Some 16th and 17th century cases

It will, perhaps, be of interest to quote some of the more unusual cases which are recorded in the printed calendars of the Sessions Records.

On the 1st August, 1561, John Grysley of South Mimms, with other honest persons, was shooting with bows and arrows at the butts when, unaware of the presence of Thomas Mosse, he drew his bow and sent from it a shaft that by mischance, striking the same Thomas in the neck, killed him. It was found to be involuntary homicide and the accused received the Queen’s pardon.

In 1569 Matthew Vincent of Ickenham, who did not possess goods to the value of 40s., unlawfully kept dogs for coursing hares, and at Hillingdon he broke into the warren of Edward, Earl of Derby, and hunted his rabbits.

Several cases of witchcraft are found: Elizabeth Ducke of Harmondsworth enchanted an ox in 1575; Helen Beriman bewitched four calves at Laleham in 1576; Joan Barringer of Harrow Weald practised her “detestable arts” on Rose Edlyn, whereby she died, in 1584; Elizabeth Roberts was held responsible for the death of four persons in 1601; Agnes Godfrey was accused of the like practices at Enfield in 161o and again in 1613; and Ann Beaver at Edmonton in 1612 and again in 1625. Most of these persons were discharged.

During the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth, and immediately after the Restoration, many persons were charged with speaking insulting words either against the Monarch or against Parliament, in accordance with the changing politics of the justices.

Many games were held to be illegal, mainly no doubt because indulgence in such pastimes would prevent persons practising at the butts and becoming proficient in archery. During a game of football at South Mimms in 1585, one of the players went to kick the ball, but kicked another player instead and caused his death.

Duels were of fairly frequent occurrence, but the survivor was generally brought before the justices, and often condemned to death.

Eleanor Trevener gave a dish filled with “pieces “mixed with ratsbane (or arsenic) to her mistress at Enfield in 1591 with a view to murdering her; and John Pemmer of West Drayton administered poison in the form of powdered hellebore roots “in a potion” to the sick wife of Robert Fisher of Harlington. In 1633 Sarah Braynt of Heston mixed a pancake of flour and water, into which she put ratsbane and gave it to her husband; she was condemned to be burned to death.

In 1599 John Smithe, described as a gentleman, entered the parish church at Ruislip and there “disturbed and molested Henry Studley, clerk “, when he was about to administer and celebrate the Divine Sacrament, and “threw down and abused the blessed sacrament”; Edward Backhouse was charged with molesting, disturbing and disquieting Mr. Prichard, minister of West Drayton, while he was preaching a funeral sermon in 1658; and in 1662 John Ketch was arrested for “the riotous and forcible breaking of the church doors of Ashford “, and for speaking “opprobrious” words against the government and in derogation of the Book of Common Prayer “.

The observance of Sunday was strictly enforced, and any one found drinking in a tavern during the hours of divine service was brought before the justices.

A curious case arose in 1649, when Anne Curtyn was arrested on the charge of being a Jewess, and the case was referred to “the Assembly of Divines”. After their finding that she was “obstinate” in her profession of the Jewish faith, the Court decided that it was entirely an ecclesiastical matter, and she was discharged from prison.

When William Hide, “Master of the Free School at Harrow Hill “, was chosen in 1652 by the Court Leet as “Head-borough” for the Manor of Harrow, he appealed to the justices that his “time was required among his scholars” and he was discharged from the execution of this office.

Cases of abduction are occasionally to be found, as in 1591, when Richard Lylliard and Anthony Walden took Mary Burton aged thirteen from her lawful guardians with a view to obtaining her inheritance, which she would receive on her marriage; and in 16o8, when Joan and Christopher Ward were charged with attempting “to take away a young gentlewoman from her parents by night “.

Ralph Shakespeare of Isleworth was bound over in 1666 “for refusing to appear on shipboard in the fleet”, he being impressed to serve the King “in this famous expedition “. The expedition referred to was that by General Monk against the Dutch commanded by de Ruyter and van Tromp. At this period the press gang was no doubt active throughout Middlesex, as it was in other counties.

Laws against Nonconformists

When the Church of England was established in this country after the separation from Rome, persons who followed the old religion were looked upon with the gravest suspicion. Anybody who had not been to his or her parish church regularly and who had not attended holy communion for more than a month, was brought before the justices as a “recusant “. When once convicted as such, a recusant was bound to report every month to a justice and to conform with other vexatious regulations. Failure to comply entailed a heavy fine.

Persons accused of any form of nonconformity were likewise subjected to various types of persecution.

Laws regulating Taverns and Vagrancy

Inns and taverns were licensed by the justices and, if misbehaviour was reported, the proprietors lost their licences.

Rates were raised when occasion demanded and in some cases assessments were made for the purpose of restoring or rebuilding the parish church, while the conveyance of vagrants and the maintenance of bastard children caused a constant drain on the ratepayer’s pocket.

When a person was unable to support himself, he was sent to his “place of legal settlement “, which was in most cases his birthplace; but naturally every parish fought against taking on the burden of supporting the pauper, and consequently a sort of game of shuttlecock took place, whereby the wretched vagabond would be sent from parish to parish until in some cases he eventually died.

On his second conviction of being a vagabond, an accused person would be burnt in the gristle of the right ear, but on his third conviction he would be hanged. So strong was the feeling against gypsies that in 1594, when certain inhabitants of Hounslow were seen “in the consort or society of vagabonds commonly called Egipcians “, they were sentenced to be hanged.

Regulation of Wages and Apprenticeship

The wages of servants were fixed by the justices, and relations between masters and employees were subject to supervision by the Court. Apprenticeship deeds were also registered by the justices, and any infringement of the terms of those agreements by either party was brought before the Court.

Accounts of many of these disputes are preserved in the sessions records. In one case an apprentice complained that his master compelled him to wear a “girdle of quicksilver” in order to destroy the vermin on his body. Other cases of cruelty towards apprentices are to be found, and the case of Matthew Nicholas, who was apprenticed to William Lovejoy of Uxbridge, may be quoted as typical. Lovejoy used to send his apprentice on Sundays “sometymes two, three, four, fyve or sixe myles from home” to gather wood and fuel, and misused him by fastening a “lock with a chaine to it, and tyinge and fettering him to the shoppe “. On other occasions he and his wife used to whip him until he was “very blooddy and his flesh rawe over a great part of his body, and then salted him and held him naked to the fyre, beinge soe salted to add to his paine “. This occurred in 1655.

Building and Food Regulations

During the reign of James I, strict regulations as to building of houses were enforced, and under these no house was allowed to be erected unless it was surrounded by four acres of land. No inhabitant was allowed to take in lodgers or inmates without permission of the justices.

Meat was not allowed to be sold in Lent, nor on days on which fish only was ordered to be eaten, and the justices took care that these regulations were enforced.

The price of various commodities was fixed by the justices, and the parish constables were responsible for seeing that bread was of the right measure and beer of the correct strength.

One of the most unpopular schemes was that by which purveyors to the royal household were allowed to demand supplies whenever the King or Queen was resident within the “Verge “. This was an area of twelve miles around any royal residence. As the monarch was generally residing in Middlesex, the County suffered considerably, and, to make matters worse, these purveyors were often of an unscrupulous character, and kept the people from whom they had demanded supplies waiting a long time for their money.

Stopping-up Highways

Permission to stop up or divert footpaths and highways was within the jurisdiction of the Court of Quarter Sessions and those who did so illegally were dealt with by the Justices.


Maintenance of highways was until comparatively recent times a responsibility of the parish and not the county. As time went on, increasing commercial and social progress called for better facilities, and many Local Acts of Parliament were passed authorizing the construction of roads by bodies of commissioners appointed for that purpose. Some of the important, roads which served as through routes were designated “turnpikes “. These turnpike roads were almost invariably toll roads, at any rate for a period of years after their construction, the money received in tolls being used for the upkeep, such as it was, of the roads.

The Highways Act of 1878 created a new class of highway called “main roads “, which included many of the turnpike roads. The cost of maintaining the main roads was raised partly by the justices out of the county rates and partly by the local “highway authority” out of its rates.

The Local Government Act of 1888, as you will read, transferred the liability for the repair and maintenance of these main roads to the county councils, which were given the powers of highway boards.


Apart from any ancient custom in a particular locality, no person was obliged by law to make a bridge, and this statement is embodied in Magna Carta. At common law—that is, by the immemorial custom of the country—the repair of bridges forming part of a highway was generally the liability of the inhabitants of the county or of some particular division of it.

In the reign of Henry VIII the Statute of Bridges was passed embodying the common law liability. Liability for the repair of a bridge included that of repairing the approach roads for a short distance on each side.

The responsibilities of justices in quarter sessions were accordingly extended to matters affecting county bridges, and by the Statute of Henry VIII they were authorized to levy rates on the inhabitants of the county to meet the cost of repairs.

The Bridges Act of 1740 gave the justices in quarter sessions power to purchase land for the purpose of building or repairing bridges. The general county liability to repair was modified by the Bridges Act of 1803, which  excepted new bridges erected by private individuals if the county surveyor was dissatisfied with the work. All these powers and duties were transferred to county councils by the 1888 Act.

It should be borne in mind that not every bridge which carries a highway is a “county bridge “. Certain of these bridges were made by private bodies or individuals who remained responsible for their maintenance.


By various Acts of Parliament relating to the care and maintenance of poor persons of unsound mind and, in particular, by the Lunatic Asylums Act, 1883, the justices were required to arrange for the provision of asylums. This duty was to be exercised through a committee of visitors (afterwards called the Visiting Committee) on which was conferred the necessary powers.

Industrial Schools

By two Statutes passed in the year 1866, certain duties were given to county justices in regard to the provision of reformatory industrial schools. To these schools were sent juveniles who had committed some minor offence or whom it was thought desirable to remove from the care of their parents.

Miscellaneous Duties

The county justices also gave effect to a number of miscellaneous statutes on subjects such as protection of wild birds, diseases of animals and the verification and inspection of weights and measures.

The justices controlled the granting of licences for music and dancing in London and Westminster, and within a radius of twenty miles thereof.

In regard to other social services which have not been particularly mentioned in the foregoing pages, it may be said that, generally speaking, and in so far as they existed at all, they were not organized on a county or municipal basis, but were dependent upon the efforts of private citizens.

The reader will now have some idea of the various authorities and persons responsible for the administration of the County of Middlesex up to the year 1888.


Before dealing, in Part II of this book, with the establishment of County Councils in 1889 and with the transfer to these authorities of many of the powers and duties previously vested in the justices of the peace, it may be as well to summarize the position regarding the justices of to-day.

Appointment and Duties

The office of justice of the peace for a county is a Crown appointment made at the discretion of the Lord Chancellor upon recommendations received from local advisory committees which he appoints to act under the chairmanship of the Custos Rotulorum (keeper of the rolls). This office in Middlesex is held by the Lord Lieutenant. Justices are, subject to certain conditions, appointed for life. The duties can, broadly speaking, be divided into two categories, attendance upon the Bench at quarter and petty sessions, and availability to the residents of the various districts who may have to obtain the signature of a justice to certain types of documents.

The names of persons whose appointment has been approved by the Lord Chancellor are entered upon the commission of the peace, a parchment roll kept in the custody of the Clerk of the Peace. Until the reign of Edward VII a new commission was commenced in each new reign, but that practice has ceased. When the names have been entered upon the commission the newly appointed justice takes the statutable oaths at quarter or intermediate sessions and is then qualified to take up his or her duties. The first women justices for Middlesex were appointed in 1920. In Middlesex there is one commission of the peace for the whole County.

It is interesting to note that at the time of the passing of the Local Government Act of 1888, the justices presiding at the sessions for the County of Middlesex were paid. The Act abolished this, at any rate as regards the quarter sessions for the new administrative county, but in 1934 the Middlesex County Council obtained an Act of Parliament legalizing the payment of salaries to the chairman and deputy chairman of the court of quarter sessions and the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, provided for the payment of travelling and lodging expenses incurred by any justices in the performance of their magisterial duties.

The justices in the area of each commission of the peace were, even in early times, divided into groups for the different districts in which they lived and they dealt at petty sessions, which are held locally, with minor offences committed in their “petty sessional division “. The more serious offences were and are tried at quarter sessions, held many years ago at the Sessions Houses at Clerkenwell and Westminster (now at the Middlesex Guildhall) and so called because as a rule they were held quarterly. To-day in Middlesex, as in many other counties, the number of cases has become so great that intermediate sessions are held in practically every intervening month.

There are other still more serious offences which are referred to the higher Courts, such as treason, murder, capital and certain other felonies, offences against the Sovereign’s title, the Government, etc., blasphemy, bigamy, libel, certain types of bribery and forgery, offences under the Official Secrets Acts and a number of other major offences.

The justices who sat in a petty sessional division used to appoint the clerk for that division, whilst the justices sitting in quarter sessions appointed a clerk to act generally for the whole County and in particular at quarter and intermediate sessions, who was given the title of “clerk of the peace “. The Local Government Act of 1888 provided that the clerk of the peace for each county (with the exception of the new County of London) should be the clerk of the county council, and this was the position for upwards of forty years. You will read later of how and when this was changed and of the provisions of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949.

Standing Joint Committees

In most counties, the chief function of these committees is the control of the local police force but, owing to the fact that the whole area of Middlesex is within the Metropolitan Police Area under the jurisdiction of the Home Office, its Standing Joint Committee has no such duties. Outside the metropolitan area the control of the police in municipal boroughs generally used to devolve upon the “watch committee” of each corporation, whilst elsewhere it was in the hands of the justices, until the duty was transferred to the standing joint committees.

In the metropolitan area (outside the City of London) no change was made under the 1888 Act. In other counties outside the metropolitan police district the control of the police was transferred to standing joint committees, composed of representatives appointed half by the justices at quarter sessions and the other half by the county council. In Middlesex, although the police remained under the control of the Home Office, a “standing joint committee” was appointed to deal with functions other than those relating to the police.

It will be realized that in 1888 most counties had shire halls, guildhalls or other buildings in which the courts of quarter sessions were held and where the officers dealing with county administration were accommodated. It would have been impracticable to provide that one building of this nature should be under the control of two distinct bodies—that is, the justices for judicial matters and a county council for administrative work—and in many counties it would have been unnecessary for the county council to have separate premises.

Standing joint committees were accordingly given charge of all matters relating to accommodation for the quarter sessions and all property to be utilized Jointly with the county councils.

Similarly the standing joint committees controlled the officers who served both the quarter sessions and the county council. It has already been mentioned that the clerks of the peace became clerks of the county council, and it followed that the deputy clerks of the peace became deputy clerks of the county council. The standing joint committee appointed and controlled these officers until 1931; the change which then took place is referred to later.

Standing joint committees also considered the provision of petty sessional court houses and in Middlesex this committee, in 1938, assumed responsibility for appointing the clerks to the justices and their assistants.

The duties and responsibilities of standing joint committees have now been materially amended by the provisions of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, which came into full operation on 1st April, 1953, and which provided for the establishment of magistrates’ courts committees.

Magistrates’ Courts Committees

The Middlesex Magistrates’ Courts Committee functions for the whole County since there is no borough with a separate commission of the peace, and its members include justices representing each petty sessional division in the County.

The Committee is empowered, amongst other matters, to make representations to the Home Secretary regarding any alteration of the petty sessional divisions. It has also taken over from the Middlesex Standing Joint Committee the appoint ment of the clerks to the justices and their staff.

Under the provisions of the Justices of the Peace Act, the County Council assumed responsibility for the provision of petty sessional courthouses, etc., and for expenses incurred by the Magistrates’ Courts Committee, so there is close coordination between the Council and the Committee on all matters involving expenditure.

County Confirming and Compensation Committee

This Committee is appointed annually from Licensing Justices nominated by Petty Sessional Divisions to confirm liquor licences granted locally at “Brewster Sessions “. It also has power to order compensation for redundant “on-licences “.


Supervision of Offenders

It is now over forty years since statutory recognition was given to the Probation Service by the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907. Since that date probation as a method of treatment for selected offenders of all ages has become an integral part of the administration of justice.

Historically probation has developed as an alternative to imprisonment and offenders placed on probation by the courts are not only given another chance, they are provided with constructive help in their efforts towards social rehabilitation.

Assigned to all the magistrates’ courts in Middlesex and the Court of Quarter Sessions are men and women probation officers whose duty it is ” to advise, assist and befriend” all persons placed in their care by order of the court.

The causes underlying anti-social actions are not always readily ascertained, and seldom are they of recent origin when such conduct has led to an appearance before the magistrates. The unravelling of behaviour problems and the task of establishing a firm yet sympathetic rapport, which will result in creating within an offender the desire to become a responsible and useful member of the community, is slow and exacting, frequently requiring specialist medical, mental or psychiatric assistance.

No less difficult or important is the task of advising parents whose children have become beyond control, of assisting juveniles in need of care and protection or re-educating those parents who have been found guilty of neglecting their children.

Matrimonial Conciliation

The effect of an unhappy home life upon children by depriving them of security, affection and the guidance of both parents is well recognized, and in all magistrates’ courts in the County there is available to estranged parties seeking relief from matrimonial problems a service of trained conciliators. These men and women bring an unbiased approach to the situations that have arisen, in an effort to find a solution that will bring the most lasting benefit not only to the applicants but to the whole family unit.


It may not be generally appreciated that when boys, girls, men and women are committed by courts to training establishments, plans are immediately put into operation for their subsequent return to society. When so requested by approved school managers or the Central After-Care Association, the probation officers keep in touch with the homes of offenders while they are undergoing training, and assist in sorting out the many personal and domestic problems that arise through a member of the family group being removed. They also make preparatory arrangements for accommodation, employment and general after-care on release; thus an offender is given an opportunity of making a fresh start with every hope of ultimate success.


In addition to their statutory duties the County probation officers are available to give advice and assist the many applicants who come to the courts with a variety of personal problems, although wherever possible the applicant is referred to the appropriate specialist agency.

In the work of social re-adjustment and rehabilitation carried out by probation officers there is the closest co-operation and consultation with the many social service departments of the County Council, particularly, Children, Education, Health and Welfare, and with all other statutory and voluntary social agencies to ensure that maximum assistance or advice is given.

The Probation Service in Middlesex is administered by a committee of justices from each of the petty sessional divisions, and of which the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions are members by virtue of their office.