|1. Neighbours suspect
that "X" is guilty of a felony.
||They convey their suspicions to a local Magistrate
(Justice of the Peace) who listens to what they
have to say - this is referred to as "laying an Information". The
Magistrate then considers the "Information" and decides on a course of
action. In reality he has two choices:
1. He can dismiss the accusations and take no
2. He can issue a Warrant for the arrest of the suspect.
|2. Magistrate issues
a warrant for arrest.
||The Warrant is given to the local constable who
places the accused under Arrest pending an "Examination" by the magistrate.
|3. Magistrate Examines
accused and accusers.
||At a time and place set by the magistrate, a
hearing (the "examination") takes place at which he listens to all
the accusers and the accused. His Clerk is by law obliged to write
down the testimonies of all parties. It is important to remember that the
Magistrate does NOT have the power to discharge the accused. Once
he has issued a warrant he must send the accused to the next Assize to
The accused is then either committed to gaol
to await the next county assize or could be bound-over to appear at the
Likewise all the witnesses enter into a "recognance"
and are bound over to appear at the Assize.
|4. THE ASSIZE:
The Grand Jury Hearing.
||At the Assize both the accused and their accusers
are interviewed in private by the Grand Jury who, often aided by the notes
made at the Magistrate's "examination", decide whether the accused should
stand trial before the Petty Jury - "the Jury of Life and Death" at the
Crown Court - usually presided over by a Judge (or Judges) of the Kings
If the Grand Jury decides that the accused has
a case to answer then the formal Bill(s)
of Indictment are drawn up and passed
to the Clerk of the Court.
|5. THE ASSIZE:
|| Here the full panoply of the Law comes
into force. There is a Jury of 12 men (no women). In the courtroom
are the Judges, Serjeants at Law, all the County Magistrates and lesser
officials. There is a Public Gallery - but there is no Council for the
The Clerk reads out the Indictment(s)
- always in Latin - and the accused enters a plea of "guilty" or "not guilty".
In turn the witnesses are called and give their "evidence" under oath.
Eventually the accused is asked if he/she has anything to say.
They are not permitted to testify under oath nor can they call witnesses
in their defence - but the CAN call upon friends to speak for them - needless
to say those accused of witchcraft had few friends! Before sending
the Jury out to consider their verdict the Judge would normally ask if
the accused had anything they wanted to say.
|6. THE ASSIZE:
|| The Judge would then send the Jury
out to consider their verdict. It was not normal for the Judge to
"sum-up" the case for the Jury nor to give them directions. If the
jury found the accused "not guilty" then she/he would be acquitted and
discharged. A "guilty" verdict led to the judge passing sentence.
|7. THE ASSIZE:
||Upon the Jury entering a "Guilty" verdict the
Judge would pass sentence as laid down in the 1604 Witchcraft Act - although
he did have the power to over-turn the verdict and discharge the prisoner.
Appeals against the death sentence were not uncommon and many accused as
witches had their sentences commuted to imprisonment - but because of the
condition of the gaols this was often simply a death sentence in another
form for many of the old women