Treason Trials Act Of 1696 Analysis

947 Words4 Pages
Treason Trials Act of 1696

Historical factors and features of the lawyer-free criminal trial which led to the introduction of the Treason Trials Act of 1696.
As the name suggests, the Treason Trials Act laid down rules and procedures for conducting high treason trials (Wilkes, 2007). Prior to this Act, a criminal defendant in England was not allowed to be represented by counsel during trial. The existing treason law was extremely harsh, providing little opportunity for the accused to prepare an adequate defence, which more often than not enabled trumped-up treason charges to succeed. Something therefore had to be done to make sure that the defendant was accorded a fair hearing during trial (Langbein,
…show more content…
In 1688 the “Glorious Revolution” took place but before that, many innocent people were arrested, tried and executed by the Stuart administration (Wilkes, 2007). While the Crown was represented by a lawyer, the defence counsel was only allowed at the discretion of the trial court. Since both Tories and Whigs suffered greatly due to these treason prosecutions, they sensed the urgency for reform. In the Revolution of 1688, they joined forces to oust King James II installed William of Orange instead (Kross, 1997, p. 259). The direct result of this was the allocation of more powers to Parliament, which went ahead to limit the use of treason trials for political vendetta. Despite the best efforts of the reformers to try and bring change to the treason law in the subsequent years, a serious breakthrough was hard to come by. However, after several trials, the Treason Act of 1696 was finally enacted bringing with it a raft of change; the main one being that defendants now had a right to be…show more content…
This was because the court at the time was meant to act as counsel for the accused (Archer, 2005, p. 92). There was therefore no other need for further representation. Other features of the lawyer-free trial are explained below.
Restrictions on witnesses
The prisoner was meant to speak in his own defence in what came to be referred to as the “Accused Speaks” trial (Helmholz, 1997, p. 85). This was achieved by not only denying the accused the right to counsel but also by hindering defence witnesses. The accused was not allowed to subpoena unwilling witnesses (Kelly, Karlin, & Wegemer, 2011, p. 86.). There were even situations in which the courts declined to listen to defence witnesses who were ready to testify.
Restrictions on notice and preparation
To start with, most criminal defendants were put in prison pending trial, which left them with no time to prepare for trial (Helmholz, 1997, p. 90). This was especially harsh because the accused had no lawyer to prepare and advice him accordingly before the trial began. With no means to summon unwilling witnesses to testify for him, the chances of an unfair conviction were very

More about Treason Trials Act Of 1696 Analysis

Open Document