How to look for records of... Criminal courts: appeal cases
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide if you are looking for an appeal against a criminal conviction in England or Wales after 1848.
Prior to the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907 convicted criminals had no right to appeal against their conviction although they could petition for a reduction of their sentence. See our guide to Criminal Transportation for more information.
Criminal convictions could be reviewed on points of law from 1848 by the Court for Crown Cases Reserved but cases could only be referred to the court by trial judges.
This guide mainly focuses on records of the Court of Criminal Appeal, from 1907, and the Appeal Court, from 1966.
2. How do I search for records?
Most appeal case records held at The National Archives give very few details about the original case and only briefly note the decision on appeal.
Only a 2% random sample of records were preserved after 1927.
You can search for some records by name using advanced search in our online catalogue, Discovery, but often you will need to browse records by date. If you need advice on how to browse, read our Discovery help pages.
The National Archives may not be the best place to start your research, especially for more recent cases (1995 onwards). Recent court documents are with the Ministry of Justice but full judgments and court transcripts may be available via online legal databases (subscriptions may be required).
Significant cases are likely to have been published in The Law Reports, giving basic facts. From 1884 Law reports were published in The Times (charges apply) which you can view free of charge at The National Archives, Kew.
3. The Court for Crown Cases Reserved (1848-1907)
In 1848 the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act established the Court for the Consideration of Crown Cases Reserved which was presided over by Judges of the High Court. Cases could only be referred to the court by the trial judges and its function was to make judgments on points of law. It did not allow a retrial nor could it alter a sentence but it could quash a conviction.
This court’s order books only survive for 1853-1859 and are in KB 31.
The pleadings of the court for 1848-1888 are in KB 30 but do not give the results of cases.
You can browse both record series by year, but not by name.
4. The Court of Criminal Appeal, 1907-1966
The Court of Criminal Appeal was established in 1907 and heard appeals in criminal cases, both on the verdict and on the sentence.
Registers of the Court of Criminal Appeal, from 1908 (but with a gap from 1910-1913) are in J 81. Search these by date. For later years there are multiple pieces for each year, you will need to order each piece as your case could be in any of them.
- the name of the applicant
- date and place of conviction
- the offence, sentence, type of appeal
- whether leave to appeal and legal aid was granted
- the outcome
Some earlier files of cases originally heard by the Central Criminal Court that went on to appeal, such as the Crippen case of 1910 and the Casement case of 1916, are in CRIM 1. Search these by name of defendant and charge.
Selected case files are in J 82 (1945-2011) and include formal notices of Appeal and shorthand notes of the original trial. You can search these by name of accused or charge.
Transcripts of proceedings in selected criminal cases, brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions, some of which went on to appeal, are in DPP 4 (1846-1958). Search by name and offence/charge.
A selection of judges’ notebooks from Court of Appeal and Court of Criminal Appeal proceedings are in J 130 (1916, 1947-1984). Apart from one relating to Roger Casement’s trial in 1916, these start in 1947. You can search by judge’s name and sometimes by area of law or type of court.
5. Criminal appeals after 1966
In 1966 the Court of Criminal Appeal was merged with the Appeal Court, sitting in two divisions, one civil and the other criminal.
Selected case files continue in J 82 up to 2011. You can search these by name of accused or charge.
Judge’s notebooks continue in J 130 up to 1984.
The Find Case Law service provides public access to recent judgments from the England and Wales High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and tribunal decisions from the Upper Tribunals. The service will be expanded to include more courts and tribunals and a greater range of judgments will be added. For more information see the website.
6. Appeals to the House of Lords
Records relating to cases heard by the House of Lords on appeal are held by the Parliamentary Archives.
Copies of judgments made by the House of Lords on appeal from the Court of Appeal, together with petitions of appeal, are in KB 34/1 for the period 1885-1906.
The highest court of appeal for criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is now the Supreme Court.
7. Records in other archives
The Guildhall Library holds various collections of published law reports.
8. Further reading
Visit the National Archives’ shop for a range of publications relating to courts and the legal profession.
Pattenden, English criminal appeals, 1844-1944: appeals against conviction and sentence in England and Wales (Clarendon, 1996)
Lord Justice Cohen, ‘Jurisdiction, practice and procedure of the Court of Appeal’, Cambridge Law Journal, volume 11, number 1 (1951)