History of law enforcement in the United Kingdom

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Law enforcement
in the United Kingdom
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Statutory Instruments


The history of law enforcement in the United Kingdom charts the development of law enforcement in the United Kingdom from the creation of the United Kingdom up to the present day.

Victorian Police Officer with itinerant circa 1900 - recreation
David Kirkwood being detained by police during the 1919 Battle of George Square
Eurocopter EC 135 T2 providing law enforcement and medical assistance in the Avon and Somerset Police, and Gloucestershire Police areas, based at Bristol Filton Airport.

History[edit]

Watchmen and Constables[edit]

In the 18th century law enforcement and policing was left entirely to local initiative; there was no nationally organised police force.[1] Attesting constables, a procedure conducted by two or more Justices of the Peace, had its roots in an Act of the Parliament of England of 1673.[2] From the 1730s local improvement Acts often included provision for paid watchmen or constables to patrol towns at night, while rural areas had less formal arrangements.[1]

In 1737 An Act was passed 'for better regulating the Night Watch' of the City of London which directed the number of paid constables to be on duty each night.[3] Henry Fielding established the Bow Street Runners in 1749; between 1754 and 1780, Sir John Fielding reorganised Bow Street like a police station, with a team of efficient, paid constables.[4]

In the early 19th century some town authorities took the initiative of stepping up their policing arrangements. An Act of Parliament in 1800 enabled Glasgow to establish its own city police force - the first professional police force in Britain. More local Acts established forces in growing industrial areas, such as Rochdale in Lancashire in 1825, and nearby Oldham in 1827.[1]

London[edit]

Early 19th century London, with a population of nearly a million and a half people, was policed by 450 constables and 4,500 night watchmen. The concept of professional policing was taken up by Sir Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822. Peel's Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established a full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the greater London area known as the Metropolitan Police. The Act set up a force for London, leaving out the City of London, but covering an area 7 miles radius from the centre, later extended to 15 miles. The government was conscious to avoid any suggestion that the police was a military force, so they were not armed. Nor was their uniform anything like military uniform. In the 19th century the "Met" was responsible directly to the Home Secretary, whereas today it answers to the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Authority.[5][6]

The Mayor and Corporation of the City of London refused to be part of a London-wide force.[5] The London City Police was formed in 1832 and in 1839 renamed the City of London Police.[7]

Boroughs and Counties[edit]

In the early 19th century Newcastle had an efficient force, under the control of the mayor and council, while the quarter of a million people in Liverpool were policed by a mix of watchmen and parish constables, with another police force for the dock area. Many people argued the case for a proper police force in the cities.[8]

In 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act required 178 Royal Boroughs to set up paid police forces.[3] In 1839 the Rural Constabulary Act allowed county areas to establish police forces if they so wished; Wiltshire was the first county to do this.[6] Eight were formed in 1839, twelve in 1840, four in 1841 and a further four by 1851.[3]

By 1851 there were around 13,000 police in England and Wales, although existing legislation did not compel local authorities to establish local forces.[6]

National Policing[edit]

In 1847 two pieces of national legislation were enacted - the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847.[2] By the early 1850s the Government was considering extending policing on a national scale.[9]

The County and Borough Police Act was passed in 1856 which made policing compulsory throughout England and Wales and made provision for Treasury assistance to local authorities. The Act also established a central inspectorate of constabulary to report regularly to the Home Secretary on the efficiency of each police force. A parallel Act for Scotland was passed in 1857.[6]

By 1900, the number of police in England, Wales and Scotland totalled 46,800 working in 243 separate forces.[6]

The Police Act of 1946 began the process of merging smaller town forces with county constabularies, leaving 117 forces. In the interests of greater efficiency this process was taken further by the 1964 Police Act which reduced the number of forces to 47 in England and Wales, and 20 in Scotland. [6]

Modern Policing[edit]

Timeline[edit]

England and Wales Scotland Ireland/Northern Ireland
1707 at the time of the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, only Edinburgh had any sort of police force - the Edinburgh Town Guard that had been formed in 1682 to police the city and enforce an initiated curfew.
1726 Edinburgh Town Guard gained notoriety when its Captain Porteous became the trigger for the Porteous Riots
1749 London's Bow Street Runners established - considered the foundation to all modern police forces
1779 Glasgow Magistrates appoint James Buchanan as the first Inspector of the Glasgow Police, with an establishment of eight police officers, though it was disbanded in 1781 due to a lack of money
1788 The Glasgow Police re-established, but failure to succeed in getting a Bill before Parliament meant that the force again failed, in 1790
The Marine Police was established, based in Wapping - a localised force with a limited remit
1800 The Glasgow Police Act, the first such Act in Britain, was finally passed through the persistence of Glasgow city authorities. This allowed the formation of the City of Glasgow Police, funded by taxation of local citizens, to prevent crime. This was quickly followed by the setting up of similar police forces in other towns.[10]
1812 A committee examined the policing of London, and made several suggestions on their findings to help evolve the existing state of affairs
1814 The Peace Preservation Act creates the first organised police force in Ireland, becoming the Irish Constabulary in 1822, and was awarded the Royal prefix after putting down the Fenian Rising of 1867 |
1817 Edinburgh Town Guard disbanded
1818 Another committee examined the policing of London
1829 Based on the committees' findings, Home Secretary Robert Peel introduced the Metropolitan Police Act 1829, prompting a rigorous and less discretionary approach to law enforcement. The Metropolitan Police was founded on 29 September 1829[11] The new constables were nicknamed 'peelers' or 'bobbies' after the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, the latter nickname continuing to this day.
  • 1835: Municipal Corporations Act 1835 passed. Among other matters this required each borough in England and Wales to establish a Watch Committee, who had the duty of appointing constables "for the preserving of the peace". The jurisdiction of the borough constables extended to any place within seven miles of the borough.
  • 1839: First county police force created, in Wiltshire.
  • 1842: Within the Metropolitan Police a detective department was founded.
  • 1856: County and Borough Police Act 1856 made county and borough police forces compulsory in England and Wales and subject to central inspection. By then around thirty counties had voluntarily created police forces.
  • 1857: The General Police Act (Scotland) 1857 required each Scottish county and burgh to establish a police force, either its own or by uniting with a neighbouring county, the latter was usually the case if the area in question was small and had little means of aquairing such manpower.
  • 1860: By this year there were over 200 separate forces in England and Wales.
  • 1918 and 1919: The police went on strike over pay and working conditions, because of this the polices' right to strike and form a union was revoked.
  • 1919: Police Act of 1919 passed in response to the police striking. It criminalised the police union, replacing it with the Police Federation of England and Wales. The act also guaranteed a pension for police; previously it had been discretionary. The fragmented nature of the police was resistant to change, and there were still over 200 separate police forces before World War II. During the War, resignations were not permitted except on grounds of ill-health.
  • 1964: Police Act 1964. This created 49 larger forces in England and Wales, some covering two or more counties or large urban areas.
  • 1984: Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). Regulated the actions of the police in England and Wales, particularly in relations to arrest and searches/powers of entry. Also instituted the PACE Codes of Practice. PACE did not extend these matters to Scotland but dealt with other subjects there.
  • 1999: Most police powers and functions in Scotland are devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the Scotland Act 1998.
  • 2002: Police Reform Act 2002. Introduced Community Support Officers, commonly referred to as Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) notwithstanding that this term does not appear in any legislation, as well as investigating officers and detention escort officers - all in England and Wales only. None of these are Police Constables although they have certain specific powers of a constable, e.g. in relation to lawful detention.
  • 2013: Amalgamation of 8 Scottish territorial police forces into one, Police Scotland.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Watchmen and constables". UK Parliament. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Independent Port Constabularies - History". Independent Port Constabularies. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "British Police Service". City of London Police. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "Sir John Fielding". The National Archives. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Sir Robert Peel and the new Metropolitan Police". The National Archives. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Metropolitan Police". UK Parliament. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "History of City of London Police Key dates". City of London Police. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Provincial Police Forces". The National Archive. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  9. ^ "Creating the nation's police force". UK Parliament. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  10. ^ Glasgow Police
  11. ^ Metropolitan Police Service - History of the Metropolitan Police Service