The Forgery Act 1830

A new method of dealing with punishment was needed, as the death penalty was increasingly problematic and whippings (and other such punishments) were seen as not harsh enough. The answer came in 1718 with the introduction of transportation. This was useful to the authorities as not only was it viewed as an intermediary sentence, but also certain types of criminals, such as highwaymen, were beginning to gain a certain kudos and respect among the masses and execution meant martyrdom. Initially transportation was to the Americas, and following the war of independence in 1775, to Australia.

The Americas were of further use as many of the magistrates in shipping ports (such as Bristol and Liverpool) were also merchants and plantation owners, and so could sentence petty criminals to hard labour in their businesses. Problems with transportation came following the War of Independence, and later, objections from Australia coupled with increasing emigration to these places anyway. This method was abolished in 1857, but new methods of punishment were beginning. Due largely to the changing ideas from punishment to detection and rehabilitation, people began to want less drastic measures.

The main pioneer of this was Robert Peel who in 1823 passed the Gaols Act while in the position of Home Secretary. This was the first piece of national legislation to deal with the many problems of the prison system, now making it a viable alternative to the more brutal methods employed previously. In 1825 Peel also aided with the passing of the Jury Act, which clarified and sorted out the many problems of the jury practice. Peel, arguably the most influential person on the modern legal system, also championed many other important acts, to which many had the aim of reducing the number of capital offences such as the Forgery Act 1830.

However, the one aspect that Peel will probably be most remembered with is the establishment of the Metropolitan Police8, the first modern police force in the world. This suggestion had been dismissed in 1822 by Lord Liverpool, holding a conservative majority in parliament, but increased fears as to the rise of the working classes and Wellingtons more liberal government helped Peels case – he had already helped with the change of the Corn Laws and Tests Act which also faced great resentment. Until this point, the extent to which a policing force was in place can be argued.

Previously the system had developed a little from the principles of 'hue and cry' and Tythings and Hundreds to a system where people were employed by communities to watch over during the night (so called 'nightwatchmen') and a growing field was that of 'thief takers'. These thief takers were employed in order to track down criminals and were paid on delivery of a suspect to the magistrate. However, the development of offering rewards for the return of stolen goods led to many cases of corruption9.

Recognising the many problems, Sir John and Henry Fielding set up the Bow Street Runners in 1748 while acting as magistrates. These runners would be despatched to apprehend a culprit when a crime was reported and would receive there fees from the apprehension and any rewards on offer from the victim. However, this only existed in London and with minimum supervision. In 1800, a further step was taken by Patrick Colquhoun developing the Thames River Police in order to supervise the river and the surrounding property.

Although these forces remained in place after the forming of the Metropolitan Police, it was not too long until they were absorbed. In conclusion we can see that this was possibly the most influential period in the development of the criminal law and the associated institutions. A shift from punishment to the beginnings of rehabilitation took place and the many fundamental concepts of a fair system were beginning to appear to create a solid foundation for what we have now.

The ideas of Justice, equality, reasonableness and the rule of law took over from a simple system of 'you have done me a wrong, I will get my revenge'. Social and political changes gave us a shift from crime being a purely personal matter to crime being a matter for legislation and thus a breaking of codes (technically) chosen by representatives of the people as a whole. Despite many objections from those in control, the legal system was forced to change to follow the emerging ideas of the masses.

The extent to which this was just a shift of control and control by new means could be argued, but it is a fact that by 1850 many more people were in control making the system more just. As democracy was developed, so must the law. With the increase in complexities of people's everyday life, the governance of society must develop to fit in with these changes. No longer was a system of ad-hoc principles and personal law suitable to the new industrial towns and cities and regulation and detection needed to be taken out of the hands of the individual.

The developments were problematic with people fearing the loss of control, however it remains that changes were acceptable and so a matter of time was required for people to get used to the forward thinking ideas. These changes also show us that not everyone can be happy with any change made, and during this period it began to be accepted that it is important to please the majority most of the time.