In 1839, Birmingham founded its own court of Quarter Sessions and Petty Sessions, based at the Victoria Law Courts. Before 1839, people would have been tried at the Quarter Sessions or Petty Sessions in the county where they were apprehended. These records will be found in the relevant County Record Office. In 1971 Crown Courts replaced the Quarter sessions and Magistrates Courts replaced the Petty Sessions.
The Quarter Sessions were county courts held by the Justices of the Peace (also known as Magistrates) four times a year at Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas. Each session aimed to complete all its proceedings in one day. The Quarter Sessions dealt with criminal matters from petty larceny to rape cases. It also dealt with civil matters such as licensing. As Quarter Sessions were presided over by Justices of the Peace, who were not professional lawyers, serious crimes would often be referred on to the Assizes, to be handled by professional judges.
Because it came impossible to cope with the workload within the required four days per year, Petty Sessions Courts met daily. They dealt with minor crimes, licensing, juvenile offenders and civil matters such as bastardy, child maintenance and adoption.
Information Usually Found in Court Records
Registers of convictions: record offence and sentence for each person convicted.
Court registers: daily record of cases brought before the court. Includes name of defendant and complainant, offence and sentence.
Court Minutes/Recorders' Notebooks: notes taken by the clerk of the court during hearings. They provide the most detailed record of cases but can be difficult to read.
Licensing records: records of the licensing of alehouses, public houses, theatres, cinemas, meeting halls etc. Records can include registers, licences, minutes of sessions for applications of licences, and plans of licensed premises.
Justices Minutes: minutes of meetings at which the justices discussed administrative matters relating to the court.
Prison Visiting Committee: minutes of meetings at which the prison visitors (comprising of Magistrates and other important people) discussed administrative matters.
Closure of records
Court records are Public Records therefore subject to a standard closure period of 30 years. Due to the sensitive nature of the records, however, most records are closed for 100 years. For advice on access to closed records, contact the Head of Archives - firstname.lastname@example.org
Court records held in Archives and Heritage
The following are the collections of court records with descriptions of the main series of records included in each collection.
Birmingham Quarter Sessions 1839/-1971 [QS/B]
Registers of convictions 1839-1857
Court minutes 1839-1971
Appeals minutes 1839-1971
Recorders notebooks 1931-1971
Calendars of prisoners 1880-1971
Highway Acts 1906-1959
Gaol Sessions minutes 1849-1964
Birmingham Petty sessions and Magistrate Court 1839-1968 [PS/B]
Court registers 1899-1968
Court minutes 1954-1959
Licensing minutes and plans 1872-1935 (NB no registers)
Justices' Meeting minutes 1839-1952
Prison visiting Committee minutes 1878-1963
Court registers and minutes for the branch courts 1911-1953
Sutton Coldfield Petty sessions and Magistrate Court 1866-1990 [PS/SU]
Register of convictions 1860-1880
Court registers 1904-1951, 1961-1983
Court Minutes 1877-1926
Register of Alehouse Licences 1872-1923, 1962-1984
Adoption papers 1927-1990
Birmingham Archives and Heritage Service