Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Historically, the Courts of Quarter Sessions, or Quarter Sessions, were periodic courts held in each county and county borough in England and Wales until 1972, when together with the Assizes courts they were abolished by the Courts Act 1971 and replaced by a single permanent Crown Court of England and Wales. The Quarter Sessions derive their name from the fact that they were required by a statute of 1388 to be held at least four times a year. These were later settled as Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas sessions.
Quarter Sessions were also held in the colony of New South Wales.
The Quarter Sessions generally heard crimes which could not be tried summarily by the Justices of the Peace without a jury in petty sessions, which were sent up by the process of indictment to be heard in Quarter Sessions. The Quarter Sessions in each county was made up of two or more Justices of the Peace, presided over by a Chairman, who sat with a jury. In county boroughs which were entitled to have their own Quarter Sessions, there was a single Recorder instead of a bench of justices.
The Quarter Sessions did not have jurisdiction to hear the most serious crimes, most notably those which could be punished by capital punishment or later life imprisonment. These crimes were sent for trial at the periodic Assizes.
The Quarter Sessions also had some limited civil jurisdiction, and until 1888 also had an important administrative function in their respective counties. These functions included:
- Repair of roads and bridges
- Highway diversions
- Construction and maintenance of county buildings
- Administration of the county gaol
- Supervision of public and private lunatic asylums
- Supervision of petty sessions
- Licensing of public houses
- Supervision of the Poor Law (pre-1834)
- The county militia
- The police
- Setting county rates
Much of the court’s administrative business was delegated to committees of magistrates, who had specific responsibillities. Most of these administrative functions were transfered to county councils when they were established in 1888.
In some counties there were multiple Quarter Sessions, quite apart from the urban areas : for example, Yorkshire had its North Riding, West Riding of Yorkshire, and East Riding of Yorkshire; whilst Northamptonshire's Soke of Peterborough was administered separately. These divisions were carried on to the administrative counties that county councils covered.
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