The National Archives holds many records relating to criminal courts and trials, but finding specific documents can be difficult as these are seldom searchable in Discovery, our catalogue. This guide is for people interested in the history of crime and punishment as opposed to those looking for an individual.
Only the records of the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary, and a few from the Transport Police, are held by The National Archives. Other police records are held by local archives or the relevant police force.
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.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
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 (£).
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).
Assizes were held twice yearly from the 13th century (sometimes more often from the 19th century onward) in each county, grouped into a number of circuits. They were abolished in 1956 in Liverpool and Manchester and in 1971 elsewhere. They were replaced by the Crown Courts, which hear serious offences such as robbery, rape and murder, as well as referrals for sentencing and appeals from lower courts.
Only a small proportion of records are catalogued by the type of crime committed.
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.
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.
Records 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 2,500 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.