During the nineteenth century most criminal cases were heard in the Magistrates' Courts or the Assize Courts.
Petty Sessions which dealt with minor offences such as drunkenness, and the Quarter Sessions which met four times a year came under the Magistrates' Courts. Although the Quarter Sessions dealt with less serious crimes than the Assizes some were still serious enough to receive a sentence of transportation.
The most serious cases were held at the Assize Courts twice a year before a jury and a High Court Judge who travelled on a circuit covering several counties.
Until an act of 1848 a minor case which did not need to be heard in front of a jury was often conducted in the home of the local Justice of the Peace.
The following day, the judge would take his seat upon the bench at the Crown Court and after the roll of the magistracy had been called over, the gentlemen of the Grand Jury would be sworn in.
Once the proclamation against vice and immorality was read his Lordship would address the Grand Jury with any particular observations about the cases.
The Grand Jury would then retire to review the bills laid before them. They had the power to dismiss any case with insufficient evidence and prepare bills of indictment for those to be brought before the court.
Meanwhile the Petty Jury was sworn in. These twelve men would return the final verdict.
The arrival of the judges was an occasion of great pomp and circumstance.
Usually they were met by the High Sheriff, his deputy, the Sheriff's Chaplain and fine equipage of javelin men and retinue of officers and escorted to the Shire Hall.
The commission was then opened.
The judges, accompanied by members of the corporation, would then attend divine service.