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A fascinating new book marks 650 years of Norwich Magistracy.

PUBLISHED: 13:42 09 October 2012

Norwich Guildhall

Norwich Guildhall

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From public hangings to community service. It is a book which lifts the lid on life in court over the last six centuries.

“The Justice of the Peace is doomed. He is cheap, he is pure, he is capable but he is doomed. He is sacrificed to a theory on the alter of the spirit of the age.”

The words of historian F W Maitland. He was writing in 1886.

Despite the prediction the “doomed” JP is still going strong and in Norwich the justices have been playing a leading role in city life for hundreds of years.

From public hangings and whippings to community service orders and suspended sentences, our magistrates have administered justice in various forms over many centuries.

Now a book by magistrate, journalist and author Dick Meadows opens courthouse doors and gives us an intriguing look at law and order in the proud and ancient City of Norwich.

Three milestones have prompted the publication of Nothing But the Truth – a book which is a must for anybody interested in Norwich.

The Magistracy nationwide last year celebrated its 650th anniversary and the Norwich bench ceased to exist at the beginning of this year. Instead Norwich has been amalgamated with Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn magistrates’ courts into a single countywide bench. As recently as 1975 there were 22 magistrates’ courts in Norfolk. Today there are three courtrooms and a single bench.

And thirdly, it is exactly 600 years since the first prisoners arrived at the Norwich Guildhall in 1412 to be dealt with by the city’s Justices of the Peace.

So it was fitting that this highly entertaining book and informative book was launched last week at the magnificent Guildhall – a real jewel in the Norwich crown.

The foreword has been written by Judge Paul Downes, the Magistrates Liaison Judge (2001-2011) who says: “I am pleased to be asked to write the foreword for this fascinating and unique little book which is designed to mark 650 years of the magistracy, together with the history of the Guildhall in Norwich and the story of the magistrates who served there over the centuries and more recently at Bishopgate.”

“The Guildhall as the Norwich court is a remarkable building in its own right. I well recall as a young barrister attending the court on the ground floor, now a restaurant where I can buy a cup of tea and a bun!” he adds.

Yes, today that courtroom is Caley’s tea rooms and is well worth a look.

The book, with contributions from leading figures in the Norwich justice world, takes us on a memorable journey following the work of the magistrates over the centuries and we hear about many of the people who had the misfortune to be brought before them.

If ancient Guildhall walls could talk they would tell some grisly stories and I’ll be sharing some of them with you over the coming weeks.

Nothing But the Truth: A History of Norwich Magistracy by Dick Meadows and Geoff Evans costs £5.99 and is in the shops now.

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