Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Gold Mine of Legal History: The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Diogenes at Catholic World News has uncovered a remarkable website containing a searchable archive of what is known as Proceedings, a sort of magazine published under various titles and formats from 1674 through 1913. It is an informal record of nearly two and a half centuries of proceedings at London's Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey), containing summaries of trial testimony, verdicts and sentences from selected cases. Begun as a form of entertainment, the Proceedings at first covered mainly sensational or amusing cases; although it always had to be selective for reasons of cost, the coverage expanded, and ultimately came to be relied upon by judges and lawyers, among other things, as a handy summation of cases under review. The Proceedings is a fascinating record of criminal cases, from R. v. Susan Grimes (1725), in which a prostitute was accused (and acquitted) of stealing a gold watch from an Irish customer (whose drunken testimony was recorded phonetically), to R. v. Hawley Harvey Crippen (1910), a notorious case in which an American doctor was convicted and executed for murdering and dismembering his wife for another woman.

The Proceedings also (unwittingly) renders the signal service of testifying to the fortitude of the Catholic clergy at a time when it was considered high treason for a priest to function in England. Plugging the word "Romish" into the search engine brings forth, as Diogenes puts it, a cloud of witnesses.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds fascinating. I'm going to have to check that site out.