Grandad's Watton

The Magistrates


When the magistrates met at the Wayland Hall it was to preside over the Wayland Petty Sessions, held every Friday. A very high proportion of the cases which came before the Bench related to very minor, some even trivial, offences. Cases of more serious crime hardly ever arose. There is a connection between those two points. The system provided the environment in which everyone knew that the law was to be obeyed and even small crimes or nuisances would not pass unnoticed or undetected. Under those conditions the tendencies and temptations to engage in more serious crime were likely to be reduced.

For normal Court procedures the room which the magistrates used had one major disadvantage in that it had no adjacent room leading off to which the Justices could withdraw to consider their verdicts. Then, as now. the magistrates, worthy citizens all, might not be greatly tutored in the finer points of law and they would be guided by the learned Clerk to the Justices, always a solicitor. These discussions had to take place in private, and, as the Justices could not withdraw, everyone else had to. Towards the end of every case, however uncomplicated, the chairman of the Bench would give the order "Clear the Court", and police, witnesses, defendants, press, solicitors and members of the public would spend the greater part of the day sitting on the cold stone stairs surveying the world, and each other. through a haze of Woodbine smoke.

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