It is the middle of the 18th Century and London is the jail capital of Europe. The jails stink, but not as much as the English justice system. It is unpredictable, disorganised and the toughest it has ever been. There is not really a police force, levels of crime are high and there is a need for low cost punishments. Punishments range from standing in the pillory, to branding, whipping and burning. Death is the penalty for over 200 offences. Even children are being hanged. This is not a good time to be on trial.
Courts were very different to courts today. The victim of the crime was usually the person who brought the case to court and presented the evidence. This meant that in most trials, the victim and the accused came face to face.
Prisoners were not allowed to see the evidence against them before trial. Before trial, the prisoner was expected to produce a written defence that was to be read aloud in court. This was a problem for the poor, who often couldn’t read or write.
What have you learnt about crime and punishment 300 years ago in England?