quarter sessions

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quarter sessions. The office of justice of the peace can be traced back to the ‘keepers of the peace’ in 1195 and ‘conservators of the peace’ during the reigns of Henry III and Edward I, but the principal statutory provisions establishing the justices of the peace were those of the 14th cent., especially the Justices of the Peace Act, 1361. By a statute of 1362, the justices of each county were to meet four times a year and these sessions were therefore known as ‘quarter sessions’. At these sessions presentments of those suspected of crime were made to the justices and other matters, outside the realm of the purely judicial, referred to them. Between them the assizes and quarter sessions dealt with all serious crime. From time to time, the commission issued to the justices put certain limits on the range of crimes which could be dealt with at quarter sessions, but in 1590 it was finally settled that they had jurisdiction to try all offences, though it was provided that certain justices should be present where cases were difficult, and some cases were reserved for the assizes.

During the 18th cent. the practice arose of reserving the many capital cases for the assizes, and by the Quarter Sessions Act 1842 the jurisdiction of quarter sessions over such offences as treason, murder, felonies punishable with penal servitude for life, and certain other offences was removed. In 1914 quarter sessions were given appellate jurisdiction over petty sessions in certain circumstances. Quarter sessions were abolished by the Courts Act 1971.

Maureen Mulholland