Road traffic offending and an inner-London magistrates’ court (1913-1963)

Donovan, Pamela and Lawrence, Paul (2008). Road traffic offending and an inner-London magistrates’ court (1913-1963). Crime, History and Societies, 12(2) pp. 119–140.




This article examines the impact of the growing number of prosecutions for road traffic offences at Clerkenwell Court in central London. The average number of cases heard in each courtroom remained stationary and additional traffic prosecutions were accommodated by reductions in prosecutions for drunkenness or disorderly behaviour and for regulatory offences. This change in police prosecution policy impacted on the court’s proceedings and increased the court’s workload because motorists were more likely than drunks to argue their cases and to employ legal representatives. Sentencing patterns, the memoirs of magistrates and court clerks and other published documents indicate that the court staff viewed traffic offending as essentially ‘regulatory’ and distinguished it from ‘serious crime’ except when somebody was killed or a court order was ignored. The court prioritised its own resources to deal with ‘serious crime’ at the expense of traffic prosecutions. The results of this study support Howard Taylor’s thesis that resource constraints had an important influence on police prosecution policies, but show that not only police resources but also court resources and the discretionary powers of individual magistrates were important factors in prosecution patterns.

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