The Trial of John Wheeler for Theft with Violence: Highway Robbery

This is a strange case in which it appears that evidence was given against the prisoner by a thief-taker who perjured himself for the blood money given by the government to bounty hunters who prosecuted a person to conviction. Part of its significance lies in the fact that were the prisoner found guilty of theft to the value of 4s 6d he might well be executed as the Judge, Mr Baron Hotham, indicated.

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The Trial of William Horton for Theft

This was the trial of an eleven year old boy – William Horton – who was indicted for stealing various articles of linen and clothing to a total value of 13 shillings.

The first witness called by the prosecution was John Birdsey.  He testified that he was a watchman and that on the 10th June at 2 am the prisoner and two more passed him and wished him good morning.  At 3 am they passed him again and he saw they were loaded with something beneath their clothes.  He pursued them and they dropped the bundle and ran away.  He managed to catch Horton.

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Garrow and Horatio Nelson – The Trial of James Carse for Murder

This is an interesting case in which Captain Nelson (he was not yet an Admiral) gave evidence for a deranged sailor and made some interesting statements about service in the royal navy. It was also a case in which the Judge, Mr Justice Heath, correctly told the jury that in a trial for murder (but not otherwise) the burden of proof lay on the prisoner to prove his innocence. That remained the position in law until the House of Lords belatedly reversed it in the case of Woolmington in 1935.

James Carse was indicted on 12 December 1787 for murdering Sarah Hayes with a clasp knife with which he cut her throat, an injury from which she died instantly.

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Garrow Trials

Garrow’s London was a vast cosmopolitan city with a small central area that was alive with criminal activity.  Despite the wealth concentrated in the West End of London the artisans and the poor of the city generally lived in insalubrious and crime-ridden areas so graphically described later by Dickens.  Most of them were law-abiding but there were criminal districts where schools of particular crimes were concentrated including shoplifting, coining and horse stealing.  At the time many goods which are mass produced and cheap today were made by hand and were expensive to buy.  These included handkerchiefs, clothing, pots and pans, goods made of wood or cast iron, rope and spoons and forks all of which were frequently stolen and easily sold.

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Law Society Gazette Competition

The Law Society Gazette offered three subscribers an opportunity to win a Garrow’s Law DVD by completing the sentence “I think history will determine that I have made much more of a difference to the law than William Garrow because ……”

In the issue of 11 February 2010 they give the results as follows:

Robert Miller, solicitor at claimant personal injury firm Fentons in Manchester, finished the sentence thus: `I have made great strides in respect of the rights of claimants, coining the term, “innocent until proven an insurance company”.

Ian Godfrey, senior partner at Shepherd Harris & Co in Enfield, wrote: ` I have coined the term, innocent until proven guilty, but you get a discount for an early plea and the case can be proved in your absence and as this is a fixed-fee case, you had better plead guilty immediately’.

Andrew Stynes of Ipswich and Chelmsford firm Prettys, says: `History is written by the winners, and that will be me’.

Garrow v. Erskine

A Battle of Forensic Giants

William Garrow and Thomas Erskine were good friends. They were also two of the greatest barristers this country has ever seen. Garrow as champion of the poor and disadvantaged in the Old Bailey and Erskine as a freedom fighter in the shockingly biased State Trials that stained English criminal law at the end of the eighteenth century. But the two of them overlapped.

Sometimes they appeared on opposite sides in a trial and sometimes they worked together. One of the trials where they were opponents was that known as “Mrs Day’s Baby”. It is reported in the book “Sir William Garrow: His Life Times, and Fight for Justice” on pages 66 and 67. However, there is an aspect of it not mentioned in the book. The case was heard at the Huntingdon Assizes before Mr Justice Heath in 1797. It caused an enormous amount of gossip and large crowds attended the hearing. The issue before the court was whether the defendant, who was heir to a large estate, had in reality been a child purchased from a poor woman in a workhouse.

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