The Old Bailey: Eight Centuries of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption

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9781840187625: The Old Bailey: Eight Centuries of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption

This is the history of the Old Bailey, an institution as flawed as all man-made attempts at justice are doomed to be. In the beginning there was barbarity and injustice. The court was thronged with a restless, muttering mob eager for the verdicts of "guilty" so they could enjoy public executions, hurling abuse and missiles at those with the noose around their neck. Today we fool ourselves that we have evolved beyond barbarism, but are made uneasy by the continuing exposure of miscarriages of justice. The Old Bailey has since seen its usual parade of misfits. With a mixture of racist murderers, road-rage killers, and lying and cheating top politicians, it is as difficult as ever to separate the good from the bad, but the ugly are easily recognisable. Ugliness is the theme here as we tour the courts of long ago, meeting the Dracula-garbed court chaplains, drunken, brutal judges, cold-blooded hangmen, through to the new breed of pseudo-respectable criminals of today.

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Compelling curiosities, horrific brutality, and cases of routine corruption are to be found in the history of London's Central Criminal Court--better known as the Old Bailey. Theresa Murphy sets the flaws of the modern British criminal-justice system in the context of Old Bailey history through a fascinating collection of historical anecdotes and outlines of more recent cases. More descriptive than analytical, The Old Bailey attains a grisly, chamber-of-horrors sort of appeal in its coverage of gruesome events. It can also be highly entertaining in its lighter, less macabre passages. Murphy provides sparks of contention as her criticisms of the system's continued flaws occasionally pierce the historical narrative. The courts in which judges are nurtured, she states, are "narrow and hardening"; even now, they are places of "ludicrous ill-fitting wigs" and "archaic language peppered with hypocrisy." She illustrates how today, as in the past, a high degree of power rests in the hands of judges, ensuring that "anomalies in sentencing must be expected and accepted." Posing questions rather than providing answers, this book should appeal not only to those who relish the more unsavory elements of social history, but also to anyone interested in pondering the development and current state of Britain's judicial system. --Karen Tiley,

About the Author:

The author of over 30 books, Theresa Murphy has written on diverse subjects ranging from television comedy, through nautical history, to worldwide travel.

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