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Judicial impartiality and the use of criminal law against labour: the sentencing of workplace appropriators in Northern England, 1840-1880

Barry Godfrey
Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies
Vol. 3, No. 2 (1999), pp. 57-72
Published by: Librairie Droz
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42708372
Page Count: 16
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Judicial impartiality and the use of criminal law against labour: the sentencing of workplace appropriators in Northern England, 1840-1880
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Abstract

This article explores the framework of penalties available to magistrates for the punishment of workplace embezzlers; and the penalties actually imposed on thousands of factory woollen workers in nineteenth-century Yorkshire. That period saw a key shift in the social composition of petty sessions' courts which raised issues of judicial impartiality. For example, a first glance, the impact of magistrates who were themselves owners of woollen factories on conviction rates for embezzlement seems considerable. Approximately eight out of every ten accused workers who stood in the dock before them were convicted and sentence to a large fine, or one month's imprisonment. This article will explain how such high conviction rates were achieved, and the part that judicial biases may have played in their production. Cet article étudie le cadre juridique des peines frappant le détournement de biens sur le lieu de travail, ainsi que les peines effectivement appliquées à des milliers d'ouvriers des filatures de laine dans le Yorkshire du 19e siècle. Au cours de cette période, une modification déterminante de la composition sociale des tribunaux compétents dans ce domaine conduit à s'interroger sur leur impartialité. Par exemple, à première vue, l'influence de magistrats propriétaires de filatures sur le taux de condamnation pour ces infrations paraît considérable. Environ 80% des ouvriers jugés par eux étaient condamnés à une forte amende ou à un mois d'emprisonnement. Cet article explique les raisons d'un tel taux de condamnation et le rôle qu'une justice partiale a pu tenir dans ces circonstances.

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