How to look for records of... Criminal court cases: Crown courts since 1972
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
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1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide for advice on where and how to search for records created by Crown courts in England and Wales.
Since 1972, when Crown courts were established, they have been the courts where all serious offences, including robbery, rape and murder, are tried. The records they have created are usually held in one of three places:
- At the Crown court itself (for trials heard in the last six years or so)
- With HM Courts and Tribunals Service
- At The National Archives (usually for trials at least 20 years old)
For more detailed advice on records of the Central Criminal Court (the Crown Court in the City of London) see our guide to Criminal court cases: Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court). For advice on finding records from other types of criminal courts see our overview guide.
2. What are Crown courts?
Following a Royal Commission, the Courts Act 1971 established a restructuring of the criminal justice system. Assize courts and quarter sessions courts were replaced by Crown courts, which began life at the start of 1972. Liverpool and Manchester Crown courts had already been established in 1956.
Crown courts hear serious criminal cases such as:
- grievous bodily harm
A judge has overall responsibility for the court with a jury of twelve people providing the verdict.
Crown courts also deal with:
- appeals against a magistrates’ court conviction or sentence
- cases passed from a magistrates’ court for trial or sentencing
There are approximately 80 Crown courts around England and Wales and they include the Central Criminal Court in the City of London, popularly known as the Old Bailey.
3. Record types, the information they contain and what gets kept
Whilst the records are still held at the courts themselves (for the six to seven years after the trial) almost everything is retained. Once records are removed from the courts, some are destroyed. Not all records created by the courts are kept for permanent preservation. For most cases indictments are permanently retained but only a small sample of case files are kept.
The indictment contains key information about the progress of the trial, outcome and appeal (if there is an appeal). The indictment is formally annotated during the trial thereby providing a concise account of the events and decisions that occurred.
Information contained on the indictment includes:
- defendant’s name, sex and date of birth
- whether bail or custody was granted
- date committed for trial, conviction and sentence date
- trial dates (from/to) added upon completion of the trial
- the identity of the firm of shorthand writers
- judge’s name
- defence counsel names of barristers and solicitors
- prosecution counsel names of barristers and solicitors
- offences charged to the defendant listed as separate ‘counts’
- defendant’s plea to the charges
- jury’s verdict
- sentence or order
- appeal details – date of appeal and whether grounds for appeal granted or refused
A copy indictment is usually attached to the indictment and includes a list of witnesses called to trial, along with repeating much of the information contained within the initial indictment.
3.2 Case files
Information contained within a case file varies from one file to another but can include:
- committal proceedings (records created at magistrates courts to determine whether a case should be heard by a Crown court)
- court logs (recording brief case histories, such as dates of hearings)
- police statements
- copy indictment (a duplicate of the indictment file itself)
- evidence for the prosecution
- list of witnesses with their statements and depositions
- list of exhibits produced in court
- photographs of the crime scene
- detail of appeal if there was one
- a case file number (which you can help you to find an indictment). This is usually a six-digit number, such as ‘721717’ or ‘91/0108’. The first two numbers indicate the year and the other numbers denote the case number heard by the Crown court that year. In our first example, the case number indicates that the case dates from 1972 and was the 1717th case heard that year.
Crown court files have been selected for permanent preservation partly to represent the wide variety of cases heard by the courts but not all individual case files are kept permanently. Those that are kept tend to be files that record more serious crimes, cases that attracted public interest, or were of significance (either legally or historically), or where the accused was eminent or infamous or if the case generated widespread public concern.
Court stenographers recorded the proceedings in short hand known as computer aided transcription notes. These are filed separately from the case file and not kept permanently. However, if the defendant lodged an appeal within five years of the conviction then long hand notes were recreated from the original computer aided transcription notes for the appeal and may be found on the criminal appeal case file (see our guide to criminal appeal cases).
4. How to search for records
Before you start a search, bear in mind that The National Archives holds only samples of surviving Crown court case files and that many Crown courts have not yet sent any indictment files at all to The National Archives. Many records remain in the custody of HM Courts and Tribunal Service. For information about these records contact the Ministry of Justice. Consult the HM Courts and Tribunals Service website for contact details of individual Crown courts.
Some of the records that we do hold are not accessible to the public as the information within them is sensitive. You can request that a closed file be opened by submitting a Freedom of Information request.
To get an idea of what you might find in Crown court records, see section 3 above.
Stage 1 of a search: case files
Start by looking for case files as they unlock information that will make a search for indictments easier.
Search for case files in one of the two following ways:
Method 1: If you know the Crown court where the case was heard, locate its name in the table in section 5 of this guide and click on the links for case files – this will take you to a catalogue description page for all the case files held for that court at The National Archives. Use the ‘Keyword search’ box to search by name of defendant or the charge.
Method 2: If you do not know the Crown court where the case was heard, try using our advanced search, placing a J in the reference fields and searching with the defendant’s name and/or the charge. The results for this kind of search are likely to be more jumbled than those for Method 1 as they will include results from a variety of other courts.
Sometimes the name of the defendant is not listed in our catalogue, either because the defendant was under age or because it could give away the identity of the victim. To account for this, you should search with the phrase ‘name withheld.’
The naming of a defendant within our catalogue does not imply guilt.
Stage 2 of a search: indictments
To search for an indictment you will need a case number.
If you don’t already have a case number, contact HM Courts and Tribunal Service who can provide you with a case number for some Crown court cases (The National Archives has indexes to cases, and therefore case numbers, only for the Central Criminal Court – the Old Bailey – and only up to 1980).
With a case number you can search for the indictment, as follows:
- Locate the name of the court in the table in section 5
- Click on the series code for that court’s indictments
- Click on ‘browse from here by reference’, as shown here:
- Look for the case number in the ranges of case numbers displayed in the right-hand panel
- Order the record to locate the precise case number you are looking for
5. Key to records of Crown court cases
Different Crown courts transfer documents at different rates so some of the record series below are less complete than others. Many Crown courts have not yet sent any indictment files to The National Archives and their records remain in the custody of HM Courts and Tribunal Service.
Click on the links below to view the record series description – the ‘Access conditions’ will indicate whether or not files have been transferred from the Crown Court to The National Archives.
|Crown Court||Record series in which case files are or will be held||Record series in which indictments are or will be held||Other records for this court|
|Acton||J 238||J 239|
|Aylesbury||J 240||J 241|
|Beverley||J 224||J 225|
|Birmingham||J 190||J 191|
|Bodmin||J 305||J 306|
|Bolton||J 208||J 209|
|Bournemouth||J 307||J 308|
|Bradford||J 226||J 227|
|Bristol||J 309||J 310|
|Burnley||J 236||J 237|
|Cambridge||J 242||J 243|
|Canterbury||J 244||J 245|
|Carlisle||J 289||J 290|
|Central Criminal Court||J 267||J 268, J 336 index||J 164|
|Chelmsford||J 265||J 266|
|Chester||J 301||J 302|
|Chichester||J 246||J 247|
|Coventry||J 192||J 193|
|Croydon||J 248||J 249|
|Derby||J 194||J 195|
|Doncaster||J 228||J 229|
|Dudley||J 254||J 174|
|Durham||J 230||J 231|
|Exeter||J 311||J 312|
|Gloucester||J 313||J 314|
|Grimsby||J 259||J 260|
|Guildford||J 250||J 251|
|Harrow||J 263||J 264|
|Inner London Crown Court||J 269||J 270|
|Ipswich||J 261||J 262|
|Isleworth||J 252||J 253|
|Kingston-upon-Hull||J 220||J 221|
|Kingston-upon-Thames||J 279||J 280|
|Knightsbridge||J 216||J 217|
|Leeds||J 291||J 292|
|Leicester||J 196||J 197|
|Lewes||J 277||J 278|
|Lincoln||J 234||J 235|
|Liverpool||J 222||J 223||J 108|
|Luton||J 218||J 219|
|Maidstone||J 206||J 207|
|Manchester||J 287||J 288||J 109|
|Merthyr Tydfil||J 303||J 304|
|Middlesex Guildhall||J 275||J 276|
|Newcastle upon Tyne||J 212||J 213|
|Newport (Isle of Wight)||J 315||J 316|
|Northampton||J 257||J 258|
|Norwich||J 273||J 274|
|Nottingham||J 188||J 189|
|Oxford||J 186||J 187|
|Peterborough||J 184||J 185|
|Plymouth||J 319||J 320|
|Portsmouth||J 317||J 318|
|Preston||J 285||J 286|
|Reading||J 202||J 203|
|Salisbury||J 329||J 330|
|Sheffield||J 214||J 215|
|Shrewsbury||J 182||J 183|
|Snaresbrook||J 200||J 201|
|Southampton||J 327||J 328|
|Southwark||J 204||J 205|
|St Albans||J 271||J 272|
|Stafford||J 180||J 181|
|Stoke-on-Trent||J 178||J 179|
|Swindon||J 325||J 326|
|Taunton||J 323||J 324|
|Teesside||J 283||J 284|
|Truro||J 321||J 322|
|Wakefield||J 281||J 282|
|Warrington||J 333||J 334|
|Warwick||J 176||J 177|
|Weymouth||J 295||J 296|
|Winchester||J 297||J 298|
|Wolverhampton||J 173||J 175|
|Wood Green||J 198||J 199|
|Woolwich||J 210||J 211|
|Worcester||J 255||J 256|
|York||J 232||J 233|
|Cardiff||J 299||J 300|
|Newport (Gwent)||J 293||J 294|
|Swansea||J 331||J 332|
6. Further reading
The following recommended publications are available in the The National Archives’ Library:
Richard Beeching, Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions 1966-69: Report (London, 1969)
Michael Zander, Cases and materials on the English legal system (London, 10th edition, 2007)