Summary proceedings and social relations in the city of London, c.1750-1800
Historians of crime and the criminal justice system have largely neglected the summary process. While an important theme of previous work on the history of crime has been concerned with the use of law, most research has focused on the jury courts
of assize and quarter sessions and has used records from provincial England. When summary proceedings have been considered attention has mostly focused on the prosecution of specific offences. By focusing on the summary courts of the City of London this work offers both a summary and a metropolitan dimension to this debate. We know relatively little about the nature of summary courts in this period and whether they are best seen as criminal or civil proceedings: this study addresses that issue throughout. Despite the size and importance of London to eighteenth-century English society we have very few studies of its criminal justice system in this period. The research presented here extends our knowledge of petty crime and its prosecution in the late Hanoverian capital.
Using the large number of minute books that have survived for the City summary courts as a basis, this dissertation takes both a quantitative and qualitative approach and examines: the position of these courts within the criminal justice system of London; the networks of policing and watching that served the City; the nature and prosecution of property and violent crime; and the regulation of trade, morality and everyday life in the City of London.
In doing so it reveals that, in the City of London, participation in the law at the summary level was extensive and touched all classes of the population. It was at the summary level that most people experienced the law in eighteenth century. As such the summary courts operated as a filter to the wider criminal justice system. The law was also used by a much wider range of people - including many women - than some previous histories have allowed. This thesis therefore supports recent work that has suggested that the criminal justice system was not a rigid tool of an elite class. However, it also concludes that in the City of London the summary courts were an integral part of a wider disciplinary network that regulated everyday life in the capital. Indeed, the City emerges as a highly regulated urban centre in this period. Throughout it argues that discretion and negotiation were at the heart of the summary process and that these were by nature civil rather than criminal courts