"Internet Law Book Reviews" Provided by Rob Jerrard LLB LLM


Taken from a handout dated 1973.
The place where the Central Criminal Court now stands is the site of the principal west gate of the Roman City of London. Part of the adjoining Roman City wall can still be seen in the basement of the new east wing. Excavations in 1903 and 1907 uncovered signs that the gate was twice rebuilt by the Romans. At the time of the Norman Conquest it was known as Chamberlain's Gate and it is recorded in the Doomsday Book, page 309, as "kept by William the Chamberlain". At about that time the gate began to be used as a prison. It was renamed New Gate in the 12th Century, probably as the result of substantial rebuilding and by 1190 was again being used as a gaol. It served as a gaol both for the County of Middlesex and for the City of London. The officers primarily responsible for the safe custody of the prisoners were the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, who, by Royal Charters of 1131 and 1199, were elected by the citizens of London.

In 1423 the old gate and gaol were demolished and rebuilt in accordance with the wishes of Richard Whittington by his executors. Whittington's Newgate continued to serve as a prison until 1767 when it was decided to erect a new gaol from designs by George Dance. A sessions house for the 3ustices, distinct from the prison, was first built in 1539 and rebuilt in about 1770. Newgate itself was demolished in 1777, but the new prison of George Dance retained the famous name.

Newgate Prison and the sessions house were demolished in 1902 to make way for the present (old) building designed by E.W. Mountford, which was opened by H.M. King Edward VII in 1907.

Newgate was for centuries a symbol of the harsh criminal law of the time. when a person was sent to Newgate he was sometimes said to have "gone west". Some think this was the origin of the phrase used today. Carts set out from there for Tyburn (the present site of Marble Arch) with condemned criminals who, if they were petty thieves or murders, were subjected to abuse and a pelting with garbage, but, if they were notorious highwaymen, were often given a resounding cheer.

From 1783 Tyburn ceased to be the place of execution, and thereafter the death penalty was carried out in public outside Newgate prison, providing a "Roman Holiday" for Londoners. The crowds were so great that on more than one occasion many people were crushed and even trampled to death.

The last public execution took place in 1868 when Michael Barrett, a member of an Irish political organization known as "Fenians", was executed for the murders which resulted when his group blasted the wall of the Clerkenwell House of Detention and released some of their friends who had been placed there for the murder of Lord Henry Cavendish, Chief Secretary of Ireland, at Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Apart from the executions, which were all too frequent and for a wide category of crimes, Newgate was the place from which thousands started the long journey which ended in the colonies. For over 200 years transportation for periods varying from 7 years to life was a much used (and abused) form of punishment. For example it is recorded that in 1835 a 10 year old child was transported for life for a petty larceny. Newgate was breached twice during its long history. In 1381 1Wat Tyler and his mob stormed Newgate and released the prisoners. At the time of the Gordon riots in the 18th century the building was gutted.

In the old days there was only one Session every 12 months, sitting by authority of Royal Commissions of Oyer (to hear), Terminer (to determine), and Gaol delivery (to deliver the Gaol of its prisoners). In other words the Gaol was to hand over the prisoners to be tried and to determine whether they were guilty or not guilty.

The Court consisted of 8 or 9 Judges who were Barons of the Common Pleas, the Recorder, the Common Serjeant and Aldermen of the City. Crowds of prisoners were brought up to plead together, which is why the Docks are so large.

Prisoners were crowded into Newgate for so many months that they became infected with diseases of all kinds. In 1750 "Gaol fever" carried oft the Mayor, I Alderman, 2 Judges. I Under Sheriff and 50 others. The Courts were disinfected with sweet herbs and flowers, and this is still done on the first 2 days of each Session. The floors of the benches are strewn with sweet herbs, and flowers are carried by all in Court, i.e. The Lord Mayor, Judges, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Under-Sheriffs, etc.

In the old building on the first floor is a marble statue to the memory of Elizabeth Fry, who was born 1780, and died in 1845. It is said that she was very rich, but spent her money and time in assisting in the remodelling of the prisons, whereby the men and women were separated and the prisoners were cared for.

The Central Criminal Court was established by the Central Criminal Court Act 1834. That Act gave the Court jurisdiction "to inquire of, hear and determine all treasons, murders, felonies and misdemeanours" committed within the City of London and the County of Middlesex and in those adjoining parts of the Counties of Essex, Kent and Surrey within the parishes listed in the Act and "to deliver Newgate Gaol" of the prisoners therein. The preamble of the Act of 1834 reads: The Lord Mayor for the time being of the City of London, The Lord Chancellor or Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and all the Judges for the time being of H. Majesty's Courts of King's or Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer. The Dean of the Arches, the Alderman of the City of London, The Recorder, The Common Serjeant, the Judges of The Sheriffs courts of the City of London for the time being and any person or persons who hath or shall have been Lord Chancellor, Lord Keeper, or a Judge of any of H. Majesty's Superior Courts of Westminster together with such others as H. Majesty shall from time to time name and appoint by any General Commission as herein after stated, shall be and taken to be Judges of a Court to be called the Central Criminal Court. In 1888, the County of London was included in the Court's jurisdiction by the Local Government Act 1888.

The constitution and other matters concerning the jurisdiction, sittings and administration of the Court were brought up to date by the Administration of Justice Act 1964 which repealed the 1834 Act. The jurisdiction of the Court was extended to include the whole of Greater London.

The 1964 Act listed the following ex-officio judges of the Court under the headings "City" and "Supreme Court":-

City Lord Mayor of the City

Alderman of the City

Recorder of London

Common Sergeant

Supreme Court

Lord Chancellor

Lord Chief Justice

Judge of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court

Thus preserving the tradition that the Lord Mayor of London, who, as senior Magistrate of the City of London, is also the senior Judge of the Central Criminal Court. Indeed, the Commissions of Oyer and Terminer and of Gaol Delivery place the name of the Lord Mayor at the head of the list of Judges above even the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice of England.

In addition to the ex-officio judges of the City, of whom only the Recorder and the Common Serjeant sat regularly, one or more High Court Judges from the Queen's Bench Division sat almost continuously to try murders and other serious crimes. There were also a number of additional Judges who sat regularly. When necessary they were assisted by Commissioners - men of seniority and experience still in practice at the Bar - who were appointed by name and called upon to serve in a judicial capacity from time to time.

On I January 1972 the Courts Act 1971 came into effect. This Act established a single Crown Court to take the place of the old system of Assizes and Quarter Sessions, and having the same jurisdiction. The Crown Court sits at various centres throughout England and Wales. The Central Criminal Court is the name of the Crown Court Centre in the City of London, the name being specifically preserved by Section 4 (7) of the Act.

The Judges who now sit at the Central Criminal Court are as before except that the additional Judges and Commissioners are now Circuit Judges and Recorders. As far as the Central Criminal Court is concerned Section 4 (7) provides that where proceedings are to be heard and disposed of before a single Judge, the Lord Mayor of the City and any Alderman of the City shall be entitled to sit as Judges with any Judge of the High Court or any Circuit Judge or Recorder The staff, which numbers about 120, and is appointed by the Lord Chancellor's Department of the Home Civil Service, is responsible for preparation of the papers of the Court (including preferring the indictment and legal aid matters); arranging the hearing, and the availability of jurors; formalities in court during the hearing; payment of jurors and witnesses expenses, and the majority of counsel's and Solicitors' fees; and court records.

The court building now comprises the original wing, which contains 7 courts and was opened in 1907 on the site of Newgate Prison, and the new south wing which contains 12 Courts and was opened in 1972.

In March 1973 the building was damaged by an IRA terrorist bomb which exploded in a car parked by the pavement in Old Bailey. Many windows were broken and some structural damage was caused both to the Court and to neighbouring buildings, including the Old George Public house opposite the Court. Nobody was killed, although many suffered shock and injuries from flying glass. A piece of glass can still be seen embedded in an inside wall on the ground floor.

About 1500 cases (1973) are now committed to the Central Criminal Court for trial each year and 1200 members of the public are called upon each month to serve as jurors.



966 First reference to Court of Hustings. Genesis of London's legal Rights and customs.

1086 Reference to Newgate as a "Heynhouse" or hateful jail.

1132 Charter granted by Henry I to citizens of London confirming their ancient rights and granting new ones. The right to appoint their own "Justicier" was granted. "And none other shall be Justicier over these same men of London".

Pipe Roll of this date shows site value as 3.6.8d.

1241 Certain Jews imprisoned in Newgate until their kinsmen in Norwich paid a fine. Crime was the common one then brought against Jews, usually ill-founded, of circumcising a Christian child.

1235 Sheriff imprisoned for allowing a prisoner to escape. Prisoner supposed to have murdered a cousin of the Queen.

Wat Tyler broke open Newgate and freed the prisoners.

1414 Fever broke out. Keeper and 64 others died of it.

1423 There is a reference to "Whit's Palace". Money left by Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor, for charitable purposes was used for renovating Newgate.

1518 "Evil May Day". May put to death at Newgate for May Day rioting. King Henry VIII judged the prisoners in person. Many reprieved at foot of scaffold on the intervention of the King's wife and sister.

1539;First Court erected. Up to this time Courts held in the open (as Hustings) or on private premises.

1657 Press Yard in use in Newgate. For those who refused to plead, weights were placed on top of body and added to until dead. Those convicted of Felony forfeited their goods so this end was opted for by prisoners to avoid forfeiture. Mayor Strangeways died in this way.

Jury fined for not convicting defendants. imprisoned in Newgate until fines paid. Some sent message to Lord Chief Justice who reviewed their case and confirmed the important right of juries to bring in their own verdict without interference by the Judge. See plaque on ground floor of old building.

1689 Lord Chief Justice Wright imprisoned in Newgate.

1690 Record of man imprisoned for 47 years; married and had several children in Newgate. Held on a Fiat of the Attorney-General and never brought to trial.

1696 Keeper paid 3,500 for his post. Could charge "fees". Kept a sort of Wet Canteen where prisoners and warders regaled themselves with liquor. Prisoners usually paid.

1718 Hangman hanged for murder of a woman in Moorfields. Drunk from time of entering prison to time of execution.

1724 Jack Sheppard made his series of sensational escapes. Hanged at Tyburn when "All London turned out to see him".

1750 Outbreak of Jail fever (probably typhoid) in Newgate. Many died, including the Lord mayor and two judges. Bunches of flowers began to be carried and sweet smelling herbs spread about in an attempt to ward off illness. Still done today at opening of summer Sessions.

1772 Edward Dennis, public hangman, imprisoned in Newgate for pickpocketing.

1777 Gate removed. See plaque.

Mary Jones, aged 19, mother of 2 children, convicted at the Old Bailey of shoplifting in Ludgate Hill and hanged. Had baby at the breast while being taken from Newgate to Tyburn. Case used in Parliament in an attempt by Sir William Meredith to reduce the number of of fences carrying the death penalty, which totalled about 190.

1780 June. "No popery" riots by supporters of Lord George Gordon (1751-93). Excuse by underprivileged person for destruction and looting. Newgate broken into and rioters already imprisoned there released. Some due for execution next day.

Edward Dennis, public hangman, again imprisoned in Newgate and tried and sentenced to death for taking part in the riots in Holborn. Later reprieved so that he could hang his fellow rioters. In office 1771-1786. Had a right to the clothes and personal property of his victims.

1781 Lord Gordon acquitted of High Treason charge arising out of 1780 riots.

1783 November. Last execution at Tyburn. A place of execution for 600 years. 50,000 executions. Executions then carried out in front of Newgate Prison, opposite present old building, up to 1868.

1785 John Howard, prison reformer, introduced solitary confinement in Newgate.

1787 Lord Gordon imprisoned in Newgate with Jewish servant, being unable to find sureties after his conviction for publishing pamphlets libelling the Queen of France and the English Judges and Law.

1793 Death of Lord Gordon in Newgate.

1800 The Editor of the Times imprisoned in Newgate for libelling the Duke of York. Received state pension while in prison.

1813 Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, began work in Newgate.

1830 Last use of the pillory which had existed since time immemorial outside Newgate.

1835 Three boys under 14 hanged for burglary.

1868 Last public execution; Michael Barrett. Executions then within the walls.

1881 Newgate ceased as a prison.

1902 Last execution.

First hand appeared through the wall from the inside. It was that of a workman engaged in demolishing Newgate to make way for the new Court building. This fulfilled an old prophecy that "an innocent man will one day break through the walls of Newgate".

1907 New Court opened by King Edward VII.

1941 North West corner hit by bomb. 2 officials killed. Court 2 destroyed.

1950 Rebuilding commenced.

1952 New Court 2 opened.

1956 North murals painted by Professor Moira to replace those destroyed.

1972 New South block opened, containing 12 modern courtrooms.

1973 West front damaged by IRA car bomb. No one killed but many injured by flying glass.

Scanned and Edited by Rob Jerrard

Sunday 12th July 1998. IF you can update this please do so and I will re-publish it.