Photograph of a man in the stocks, 1895 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/420/f801)

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 cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, other national bodies and from over 2,500 archives across the UK. 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 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?

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.