Sunday 17 July 2016

Law and War

While writing about Chelmsford in the Great War I was struck by the impact of wartime legislation on the lives of ordinary people.

Under the myriad regulations introduced under the Defence of the Realm Act, the Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restrictions) Act, Aliens (Restriction) Act, and Military Service Act, many people found themselves inadvertently in breach and up in front of the magistrates.

These were not the 'criminal classes'; they were housewives, servants, shopkeepers and workers. But their stories, recorded in the local newspapers, provide a fascinating insight into the way in which the war took over British social life and attitudes.

The English magistrates' court, or court of summary jurisdiction, deals (and dealt) with almost all criminal matters. Simple offences are heard by the magistrates, and more serious matters are sent to the Crown courts. The system was much the same in 1914. I wrote an article on the subject for the Magistrates' Association, and subsequently gave a presentation. Such was the interest that I continued my research, and I have spent the last year examining court records, legal textbooks, and local newspapers, to write an account of the wartime legislation and the magistrates' courts during the Great War.

The resulting book, 'Law and War', is currently with my editors at Pen & Sword Publishing and is due for publication in early 2017. I will shortly set up a new blog to discuss some of the stories, personalities, and those interminable regulations!

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