1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Police Courts

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POLICE COURTS, courts of summary jurisdiction, held in London and certain large towns of the United Kingdom by specially appointed and salaried magistrates. They were originally called “public offices” (Middlesex Justices Act 1792), but after the establishment of the police force, in 1829, they came to be called “police offices,” although no change had taken place in their nature. They are so described in a report of a select committee which inquired into the system in 1837 and 1838, in the same report the magistrates who presided in the courts were first described as “police magistrates.” Police offices were first officially described by their modern title in the Metropolitan Police Courts Act 1839. In 1839 there were nine police courts; since 1792 there had been three magistrates to each court, and the act of 1839 retained twenty-seven as the maximum number at any time (s. 2). In 1835 unsalaried justices ceased to sit in the police courts along with the paid magistrates. The Metropolitan Police Courts Act 1840 gave power to map out the whole of the metropolitan police district into police court divisions, and to establish police courts wherever necessary, the artificial limit of twenty-seven magistrates being at the same time preserved. Additional courts have from time to time been established by orders in council, and in 1910 there were in London fourteen courts with twenty-five magistrates Their divisions are regulated by orders in council of 1903 and 1905; the nine original courts are Bow Street, Westminster, Marylebone, Marlborough Street, Worship Street, Clerkenwell, Thames, Tower Bridge and Lambeth.

The courts are held every day from 10 a m. to 5 p.m. except on Sunday, Christmas Day, Good Friday or any day appointed for a public fast or thanksgiving or bank holiday. The Greenwich and Woolwich court, which comprises one division, is held at Greenwich in the morning and at Woolwich in the afternoon. The chief magistrate (sitting at Bow Street) receives a salary of £1800 a year and the other magistrates £1500 each. The magistrates are appointed by the Crown; they must have been practising barristers for seven years or stipendiary magistrates for some place in England or Wales. One police magistrate has the same powers as two Justices, but may not act in anything which has to be done at special or petty sessions of all the justices acting in the division or at quarter sessions. He can do alone when sitting in a police court any act which any justice or justices can do under the Indictable Offences Act 1848, or under the Summary Jurisdiction Act; he has special powers under the Metropolitan Police Courts Act 1839, and is also given special powers under certain other acts. The Bow Street court has jurisdiction in extradition. The precedent of appointing salaried magistrates was followed for certain towns in the provinces by particular acts, and in 1863 the Stipendiary Magistrates Act gave power to towns and boroughs of 25,000 inhabitants and upwards to obtain a stipendiary magistrate.