Crime and Punishment Through the Ages

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This is a question that could easily be debated in either direction depending on how one looks at it. This paper will be focusing on the British Justice in the early modern period that would appear to show favor with the criminal. In order to make such determination, one must delve into the both sides of the system and see which weighs heaviest on the scales.

In some ways the system appears very similar to today’s idea of innocent until proven guilty; even if in fact that’s not what it was. One of the most important facts of early British justice system is that a victim who wanted the criminal who wronged him charged or convicted was expected to pay for the expenses and even possibly have to find and provide the evidence or proof himself. Meaning that all responsibility to prosecute a criminal resided with the victim who was also frequently the prosecutor and it was on the victim’s shoulders to file charges with the resident judge/magistrate and his burden to present the evidence. (Herrup 26, 88-89) The victim of course did not have to prosecute if he did not choose to; it was up to his discretion. (Taylor 109-110) The victim did have some options; a constable would in fact collect evidence for the prosecution/victim if he would be reimbursed for his time and expenditures. A constable usually only acted when called upon because they were unpaid and usually had another fulltime job to consider.(Gaskill chapter 7) There are exceptions to this, for example, a constable could receive rewards for captured criminals.

One must also consider that almost all the constable’s powers were derivative; because of this it was a bit more difficult to handle crimes where there was no real victim; which is in favor of the criminal( Crime and ...

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Herrup, Cynthia. The Common Peace: Participation and the Criminal Law in Seventeenth-Century England. Paperback Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Mclynn, Frank. Crime & Punishment: In Eighteenth-Century England. London: Routledge, 1989.

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Sharpe, J.A. Judicial Punishment in England. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.

Sharpe, J.A. Crime in Early Modern Europe 1550-1750. 2nd Edition. Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 1999.

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