Law and History Review

Forum: From the Twelve Judges to the Court for Crown Cases Reserved

The Court for Crown Cases Reserved, 1848–1908

Phil Handler c1

Convicted felons at the Old Bailey and on assize in nineteenth-century England had no right of appeal. They had either to submit to their fate or, if they had the means, petition the Crown for a pardon. The legal avenues for redress were limited. A writ of error would lie to a superior court for legal errors that appeared on the face of the record but by the nineteenth century this was seldom used. More significantly, it was open for the trial judge to reserve questions of law for the informal and private consideration of all the common law judges. In their illuminating studies of this practice in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, James Oldham and Randall McGowen elucidate the ways in which the judiciary used reserved cases to develop legal doctrine and to shape the operation of criminal justice. The trend toward increased formalization of procedure that they identify, culminated in 1848, when Parliament created the Court for Crown Cases Reserved (CCCR). The new court adopted the existing method of reserving cases, but was a court of record that sat and gave judgment in public. It became the highest judicial forum for the determination of questions of criminal law until 1908, when it was superseded by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

(Online publication February 14 2011)

Phil Handler is a lecturer at the School of Law, University of Manchester <>. He is grateful to the anonymous reviewers for this journal for their very helpful comments.