A local peculiarity in the trial of Archibald Bolam (1839)

Helen Rutherford, Clare Sandford-Couch

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


Regina v Bolam (1839) 2 Moody and Robinson 192; 174 E.R. 259, established a legal precedent regarding when a trial could be postponed: ‘It is good ground for putting off a trial, that the panel of jurors at the present assizes has been taken from a neighbourhood where an excitement has been raised against the prisoner, likely to prevent a fair trial.’ Behind this statement lies an extraordinary set of facts.
Our paper examines the case, and examines the factors which defence counsel argued would show the ‘prejudice and excitement’ which had prevailed against Bolam in both Newcastle and Northumberland, ‘amongst the class of persons from whom juries are drawn’, such that Bolam could not receive a fair trial. We analyse the important argument made by Bolam’s defence counsel, that a local peculiarity about where juries were drawn from for the spring and summer assizes, could lead to unfairness.
We suggest that exploring how legal precedents are shaped by local social, cultural and economic contexts (an interdisciplinary approach) can offer insights into the historical context of specific developments in the legal system. Exploring the origin of legal rules such as the precedent established in R v Bolam can reveal the impact of such factors on the legal system. We argue that as legal precedent is necessarily connected to and rooted in the past, looking to the past can help to enhance our understanding of aspects of law: an historical perspective can reveal not only what the law is, but where it came from.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 16 Nov 2023
EventLegal histories, local histories: The Open University legal histories research cluster - online, Virtual, United Kingdom
Duration: 15 Nov 202316 Nov 2023


ConferenceLegal histories, local histories
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

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