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Statements and Indictments

Statements and Indictments

Inditcment for sheep stealing 1833
Inditcment for sheep stealing 1833

Prior to any charge being brought, the victim, the witness and the accused would provide statements under oath in front of the magistrate.


The statements or testimonies of the victim or witnesses were known as 'Depositions' and the statements from the accused as 'Examinations'. The disposition hearing (where the decision is made about charges should be brought) would usually take place at the residence of the magistrate and be written down by a clerk for use in court at a later date.

If the magistrate thought the offence to be serious, and there was sufficient evidence of guilt, the accused was bailed or held in custody, and a formal criminal charge known as an 'indictment' issued. The witnesses were then 'bound' to appear in court. Petty or 'summary' offences were not indicted.


An indictment was a written statement which charged the person(s) with the commission of a crime or other offence. The indictment was the 'charge' used to begin criminal proceedings. In the case of misdemeanours (less serious crimes) tried at Quarter Sessions, this could be the criminal information laid by a single individual, rather than a 'presenting jury'.

At the Quarter Sessions and Assizes, the bill of indictment was first placed before the grand jury, whose function was to hear evidence for the Crown. If it was decided that there was a case to be answered by the accused, the indictment was declared to be a 'true bill' (billa vera); if not it was 'no bill' (ignoramus - meaning we do not know). In the former case, the accused then went forward to a full trial.

For more information see Types of offences Picture Gallery