ComputerRef No1
Finding No110-195
TitleWorcestershire Quarter Sessions Records
AccessConditionsSome closed for 75 years
AdminHistoryAn Act of Parliament of 1361 provided that Justices of the Peace should meet to conduct local business four times a year. This was the origin of Quarter Sessions. Although they retained their original name for more than 600 years, many of them were in continuous session in their closing years.

Justices still retain their 14th century power to bind over 'unruly people' to keep the peace. This is not a punishment but a preventative measure. They have always undertaken the greater part of the judicial work carried out on behalf of the Sovereign. However, since Justices of the Peace were not professional lawyers, serious crimes would often be referred on to the Assizes, to be handled by professional judges

In addition to their judicial responsibilities, they took on more and more administrative duties from the 14th until the 19th century. They were local government within a county (or other area of their jurisdiction). They fixed wages and prices, built and controlled roads and bridges, had oversight of various aspects of the Poor Law.

As early as the 14th and 15th centuries there is evidence that Justices of the Peace conducted minor business outside the normally constituted Quarter Sessions, and by the 16th Century, JPs had divided themselves into local groups to deal with vagrancy, poor relief etc. In 1605, local sessions for the dispatch of urgent business not requiring jury were instituted by an order of the Privy Council. From 1691 onwards Justices of the Peace were required to hold special highway sessions.

As the work increased these groups came to be known as Petty Sessions, but they did not become established by statute until 1828. In that year the county Justices were authorised to divide their counties into Petty Sessional Districts. In each of these the JPs engaged a local attorney to act as clerk.
So, in effect, Petty Sessions took on part of the workload of the Quarter Sessions and dealt with minor crimes, juvenile offenders, licensing and civil matters such as bastardy, child maintenance and adoption and many matters relating to highways, such as stopping up orders. Petty Sessions Courts might meet daily

Between 1829 and 1888, JPs were relieved of some of their major administrative duties with the exception of the licensing of premises selling alcohol; from 1888 elected County Councils took over the administrative duties of the courts.

In 1846 County Courts, dealing with civil cases, were created

The Courts Act 1971 drastically altered the legal system which had continued for 600 years by providing for the abolition of courts of Assizes and Quarter Sessions and their replacement by a new Crown Court; Magistrates Courts replaced the Petty Sessions
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