For many people, criminal law stands as the epitome of the legal form; and in modern western societies, the imbalance of power between prosecution and defence implies a particularly rigorous regime of procedural protections geared to ensuring that standards of legality are met. But how far are the practices and judgments of criminal law actually driven by exclusively legal standards? In this paper I draw on the history of the English criminal trial, and in particular on the extended 19th Century debate about legal representation of felony defendants, to suggest that criminal law as a social practice is in fact structured by a complex mix of legal, political, lay and expert standards, albeit filtered through an increasingly formalised structure. In conclusion, I will draw on recent examples to suggest that the project of fully ‘legalising’ criminal law which marked reforms in 19th Century England remains incompletely realised.
For further information please contact Judith Scheele at judith.scheele@all‐souls.ox.ac.uk