Law and War (Hardback)
Magistrates in the Great War
The office of justice of the peace has existed since the twelfth century, when good and lawful men were first appointed to sit in judgement of their peers. Unpaid and untrained, these lay magistrates were the backbone of the English judicial system, dealing with the vast majority of criminal cases in the police courts and the petty sessions.
By the start of the twentieth century, social attitudes were changing and the magistrates, drawn from the wealthier classes, were seen as out of touch with the communities they served. The new Liberal Government of 1906 instituted reforms, which allowed the appointment of the working classes.
Then came the Great War. Within days of the outbreak of hostilities, the government introduced the Defence of the Realm Act. With several amendments over the years, this all-encompassing legislation resulted in the creation of hundreds of subsidiary regulations, many of which affected the lives of ordinary people in a way they had never expected.
Many, including the magistrates themselves, fell foul of the myriad orders, covering billeting, licensing, lighting and rationing, which were enforced by the new special constables. At the same time, the conscription of the criminal classes saw a huge fall in the normal workload of the courts and the closure of many prisons.
The magistrates responded as best they could. Some magistrates went to war; some lost their lives. Others served in the many voluntary organisations and committees that appeared across the country, such as the Military Service Tribunals or the Volunteer Corps.
The end of the war saw a further change to the old order when the first women magistrates were appointed, marking the birth of modern magistracy.
In Law and War: Magistrates in the Great War, Swan provides a detailed and fascinating window into the impact of wartime legislation on the lives of ordinary people – housewives, landlords, neighbours, shopkeepers, etc. – and intertwines this with the development of the magistracy during the Great War.Peer review, Dr Aldo Zammit Borda, Commonwealth Judicial Journal
Although the office of justice of the peace can be traced back to 1361 in the reign of King Edward III, the magistrates’ court as we understand it today developed from the reforms to the system of summary justice which began in the middle of the nineteenth century. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 and Parliament’s frantic work to enact emergency legislation in the form of the Defence of the Realm Act, 1914 (DoRA), however, brought a new dimension to the work of the courts. The war required a shift in legal thinking, from one based around ‘the enemy within’ (the Stuart rebellions, the English Civil War, etc.) to deal with a nation at war and for the first time in a century facing a genuine prospect of invasion.
Swan undertakes meticulous research to document the main focus of this book, namely the experience of ordinary people and their interactions with the law and courts during and in the immediate aftermath of the war. In Chapter 7, for instance, the author describes how alcohol abuse was several orders of magnitude greater than anything seen today. Magistrates soon found that their existing licensing powers insufficient, which led to the enactment of the Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restrictions) Act, 1914. Sensitive to the fears of prohibition and the influence of the abstinence campaigners, the government used the theme of ‘efficiency’ to justify and promote a new attitude to alcohol consumption, and a new and separate Defence of the Realm (Liquor Control) Act, 1915 created the Central Control Board to oversee and coordinate the patchwork of orders in place around the country.
Another theme which is explored in this book is the rise of probation as an innovative and alternative sentencing option. Swan notes that, initially, the sentencing options available for magistrates were largely limited to fines or imprisonment. The latter was much more widely used, particularly for fine defaulters. In 1907, probation was very much an innovation and magistrates were still learning how to use it effectively. However, the war brought about a profound change in social conditions, in particular with respect to women and families. Youth crime increased rapidly, variously attributed to the absence of fathers and male teachers on military service, mothers absent on munitions work, and the subversive influence of the cinema. Given the limited sentencing options at the time, magistrates increasingly turned to the use of the relatively new option of probation.
Throughout the book, Swan presents a picture consisting of a patchwork of emergency legislation emerging as a reaction to the war, and discusses its impact on ordinary individuals. These include regulations under DoRA, such as the lighting regulation which had more impact on the community than any other, and brought thousands of people into court. But it also includes other legislation, such as the Aliens (Restriction) Act, 1914 and its role in the internment of tens of thousands of enemy aliens, following the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine in early 1915 and subsequent public disorder. The author concludes that the ‘great unpaid’ could be considered causalities in this war, because the legislators failed to impose order, enacted some poorly-drafted legislation, and responded weakly to the threats and challenges faced by British society at the time.
The information was interesting, so I'd recommend this book to people interested in this aspect of WWI.NetGalley, reviewed by Deborah White
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Criminal Women Famous London Cases (Hardback)
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