Until the mid 19th century, the prosecutor was usually the victim themselves and few had access to a lawyer. Defendants rarely had access to a lawyer unless charged with a capital offence. This situation continued until near the end of the 19th century.
However, by Victorian times, travelling solicitors provided some help. They travelled from court to court and charged One Guinea (£1.05) for their services. Although this was not a huge sum, it was a lot more than most people could afford. So the solicitors were used only in about half of all cases.
Use of Prosecution Lawyers
Prosecutors were always allowed to have lawyers. From the late 17th century, there was government funding available to help with this cost, for the most serious offences. These included libel, treason, coining, and violent offences such as murder, rape, and robbery. However very few people used them.
However, in 1752 a statute came in which allowed the courts to reimburse a prosecutors' expenses, if the prosecutor was poor and a conviction was obtained. In 1778 the payment of expenses was extended to prosecutors of all successful cases. Despite this, there was always the risk you would not be successful and have to pay the lawyers yourself, so, in the early 19th century, they were rarely used. However, by 1834, the use of prosecution counsel was becomming widespread.
The post of the Director of Public Prosecutions (D.P.P.) was created in 1879, with a brief to oversee all criminal prosecutions. From now on, it was the task of the state to conduct the prosecution in court.
Use of Defence Lawyers
From 1696, defendants in misdemeanour (less serious) cases were allowed to have lawyers but not in felony (serious) cases. They were felt unnecessary as it did not require skill "to make a plain and honest defence" (Hawkins). By the mid 1730's, lawyers could also be used for felony cases but they were not allowed to summarise the case to the jury until 1836. It was thought that judges were capable of looking after the defendants' interests.
Defence lawyers were rarely used until the late 19th century, despite the fact that significant advantages could be gained by employing them. They were able to cross-examine the prosecutor and witnesses and question the motives for bringing the prosecution, especially where there was the potential to receive a reward.
They would also challenge hearsay evidence and their participation meant that defendants no longer needed to speak (this eventually led to defendants' right to remain silent).
However, few defendants were able to afford a lawyer and no state help was available, except in cases of murder.