Describe law and order in London in the late nineteenth century Essay

In the late nineteenth century, London was changing dramatically due to various events, and some sections of the law and order at the time were forced to adapt. With improved communications and press reporting, newspapers started influencing the publics’ opinion on law and order. A murder could be reported throughout the country instead of just the city it was committed in, and this meant that the newspapers had the power to spread waves of panic about crimes and murders, especially the famous ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders of 1888. Moreover, thanks to the French Revolution, Britain’s monarchy feared any sort of public protests or riots, and ensured that they were put down with extreme force, so as not to encourage a similar revolution.

A revolution that was taking place in Britain at the time was the Industrial Revolution. This Industrial Revolution, led to a population growth, and London became seriously overcrowded, poverty became common in some parts of the city like Whitechapel, and many of the people took to drink. This new city lifestyle led to a sharp increase in crime, especially crimes like thieving and pick pocketing as the criminals found it easy to escape in these neighbourhoods. This increased crime led to the formation of the Metropolitan Police Force, because some people felt that an organization was needed whose sole duty was to maintain law and order.

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When the police force was first formed, they were immediately faced with problems. The majority of the people hated the police, and many policemen were attacked around London because the people were not used to being policed, and they did not like it. Once, a man who stabbed and killed a policeman in a protest was declared innocent because the judge felt that the police had come down too hard, and the policeman deserved to be stabbed, such was the image of police at the time. This was not helped by the fact that many of the police recruits at the time were unstable, and had a love for drink.

However, the peoples’ attitude to the police started to change when they realized that they were having a positive effect on the level of crime in London. The police’s duties were not just crime prevention, but they also lit London’s lamps, controlled civil disturbances and riots, watched out for fires, and tried to solve crimes that had already happened.

Although the law enforcement system underwent dramatic changes in the late nineteenth century, the judicial system did not. Solicitors were still rarely used because they were too expensive, and the victim was supposed to gather evidence and bring the case to court themselves. Bringing a case to court cost money and so many crimes still went unpunished. Moreover, there was still no legal aid for the poorer victims, and the law and order system still favoured the rich, and lastly the cases were very short just like they had been before. However, there were a few changes namely, police started prosecuting criminals in the late nineteenth century, and imprisonment and a system of fines meant that judges had more sentencing options, and lastly, the accused were allowed to give evidence to court under oath.

In the nineteenth century, the types of crime were changing due to the effect of the Industrial Revolution. New factories were opening, and machines were taking over the jobs of a lot of workers. This led to there being a huge amount of poverty, and thus many of these poor people turned to pick pocketing and thieving as a means of survival. Another reason there was so much pick pocketing, was because there were larger cities, and larger crowds which made it easier to steal. Moreover, old crimes like highway robbery died out due to increased traffic and more patrols. They were replaced by new crimes like fraud, and robbing travellers on trains. Fraud began due to the huge new business ventures taking place around the country, and even counterfeiting and smuggling became more prominent.

All in all, the system of law enforcement underwent dramatic change during the nineteenth century, with the introduction of the Metropolitan Police Force, and although the judicial system did not change much, the changes in the policing and the increased number of criminals sentenced to imprisonment are crucial, as these were important steps in the development of the system of law and order. Moreover, during this period, the publics’ attitude to crime and punishment began to change and start to resemble what it is today.


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