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Court Procedures - Quarter Sessions

Town Hall Colchester - Quarter Sessions
Town Hall Colchester - Quarter Sessions

In addition to its role in criminal justice, quarter sessions had a variety of other responsibilities. One was to act as a court of appeal over decisions taken by justices acting in petty sessions, particularly in relation to poor law matters.

The Justices at the quarter sessions were also responsible for looking after the local Gaols and their running. Therefore, at the start of the court sessions, they would hear reports from prison staff, such as the Gaoler, Chaplain and Surgeon, as well as the visiting justices.

Procedures - Criminal Business

The official call would be made to open the Quarter Session court. Prior to the trials, the grand jury would be sworn in and retire to consider the indictments and return these to the clerk. Those whose incitments were found to be a 'true bill' would be tried.

The trial followed a set format. The petty jury was sworn in. Then the Prosecution would outline details of the case and the Witnesses for the prosecution were called and sworn in and gave their evidence. They could be cross examined by the defence lawyer (if present).

Following this, the Witnesses for the defence (where present) were called. They could then be questioned by the defence lawyer (if present) or defendant and cross-examined by the prosecution.

The prosecution would then make its closing speech and the defendant made a statement.

After 1836, the defence lawyer was also allowed to address a closing speech to the jury, which would then retire to consider the verdict before sentencing.

An Example of a quarter sessions: Huntingdon Michaelmas Sessions 1869

quarter sessions: A Brief History

quarter sessions: Picture Gallery