Using the Criminal Law, 1750-1850: Policing, Private Prosecution, and the State

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750-1850. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1989.


Criminal Law 1750-1850 England; Development of Private Prosecution; Executive Prosecution Service; Police Malpractice; Police Prosecution England; Private Prosecution England


An overview of the development of private prosecution into police prosecution in England 1750-1850, with comparisons to the earlier development of public prosecution systems in the British North American colonies (and United States), Ireland, and Scotland. The constitutional significance accorded private prosecution in England well into the nineteenth century contrasts sharply with the belief in those other jurisdictions, and in civil law regimes, that private prosecutions should be tightly controlled. The new English police, after 1829, increasingly took over prosecution, but with no more powers than those of private citizens, who retained the right to instruct counsel and conduct prosecutions, and did so, even in murder cases. In spite of growing evidence of corrupt police prosecutions by the mid-nineteenth century, Parliament continued to fear that a prosecution service controlled directly by the executive, particularly one now likely to be elected on a more democratic franchise, could be an instrument of political oppression. The result was that private and police prosecution endured in England into the twentieth century. The eventual creation of a Crown Prosecution Service in 1986 was prompted in large part by striking evidence of police malpractice.

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