How to look for records of… Crime and punishment

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Come and view our original documents at Kew



This is a brief guide to help you with your research into records of crime and punishment. The National Archives holds extensive records relating to criminal courts and trials, but searching for specific documents or subjects can be difficult as these are not usually searchable in Discovery, our catalogue. This guide is for people interested in the historical subject of crime and punishment as opposed to those interested in finding a specific person.

What records can I see online?

Parliamentary Papers (1801-2006)

Search House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (institutional subscription required). These are an important source of information about crime and punishment, covering issues such as the efficacy of transportation and the diet of convicts.

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Court records

Search our catalogue by type of crime and date range across some of the court records: the Central Criminal Court (CRIM), the Court of King’s Bench (KB ), itinerant justices (JUST), and the Assizes (ASSI). Only a small proportion of records are catalogued by the type of crime committed.

Date range (yyyy):

Date range (yyyy)

Metropolitan Police records

Search our catalogue by type of crime and date range in MEPO for some policy and case files relating to specific crimes.

Date range (yyyy):

Date range (yyyy)

Records of the Prison Commission and Home Office Prison Department (1770-1978)

Browse PCOM in our catalogue for records concerning the management and staffing of prisons, and the treatment of prisoners.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

The Parliamentary Archives

Contact the Parliamentary Archives for records of the House of Lords, which is the court of appeal for criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The archive holds extensive records relating to the creation and implementation of the law, and the papers of numerous Members of Parliament and political figures.

Records held locally

The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held by over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue using keywords to find records held in local archives, such as papers of law firms and societies, or of individual lawyers, politicians or campaigners. You may need to refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?

Websites

Visit our online exhibition on the history of Crime and Punishment.

Did you know?

The Assizes were held twice each year from the 13th century to 1971 (sometimes more often from the 19th century onwards) in each county, grouped into a number of circuits. In 1971 they were abolished (in 1956 for Liverpool and Manchester) and replaced by the Crown Courts.

Crown Courts hear serious indictable offences such as robbery, rape and murder. They also hear referrals for sentencing and appeals from lower courts.

Only the records of the Metropolitan Police, the Royal Irish Constabulary and a few relating to the Transport Police are held at The National Archives. Surviving records of other police forces are held either by local archives or the relevant force. Not all police staff records have survived.

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