History of law enforcement in the United Kingdom
The history of law enforcement in the United Kingdom charts the development of law enforcement in the United Kingdom.
Watchmen and Constables
Law enforcement and policing during the 1700s, and earlier, were not administrated nationally, instead they were organised by local communities such as town authorities. Within local areas, a constable could be attested by two or more Justices of the Peace, a procedure that some sources say had its roots in an Act of the Parliament of England of 1673. From the 1730s, local improvement Acts made by town authorities often included provision for paid watchmen or constables to patrol towns at night, while rural areas had to rely on more informal arrangements.
In 1737, an Act of Parliament was passed "for better regulating the Night Watch" of the City of London which specified the number of paid constables that should be on duty each night. 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.
In the early 1800s, some town authorities became more involved in improving local policing. An Act of Parliament in 1800 enabled Glasgow to establish the City of Glasgow Police, often described as the first professional police force in Britain. As the population in industrial towns grew, more local Acts were passed to improve policing arrangements in those towns, such as Rochdale in Lancashire in 1825, and Oldham in 1827.
London in the early 1800s had a population of nearly a million and a half people but was policed by only 450 constables and 4,500 night watchmen. The idea 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 new Metropolitan Police were responsible for an area of 7 miles in radius from the centre of the city (excluding the City of London), which was later extended to 15 miles. The government intentionally tried to avoid creating any likeness between the police and a military force; in particular the officers of the new police force were not armed and a blue uniform was chosen, dissimilar to that of the army. During this period, the Metropolitan Police was accountable directly to the Home Secretary (whereas today it accountable to the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Authority).
The City of London, was not included within the remit of the Metropolitan Police because the Mayor and Corporation of the City of London refused to be part of a London-wide force because the City of London had certain liberties dating back to Magna Carta. The London City Police was formed in 1832, later renamed in 1839 to the City of London Police.
Boroughs and Counties
In the early 1800s, Newcastle had a police force that was accountable to the mayor and council. Liverpool, which was at the time a city of around 250,000 people, had only watchmen and parish constables for policing, with a small police force for the dock area. The establishment of more formal policing in cities started to gain more support among the public as cities grew and society became more prosperous and better organised through understanding of legal rights, education and better informed through the press.
In 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act was passed by Parliament which required 178 Royal Boroughs to set up paid police forces. In 1839 the Rural Constabulary Act allowed county areas to establish police forces if they chose to at a local level; Wiltshire was the first county to do this. a further eight county police forces were formed in 1839, twelve in 1840, four in 1841 and another four by 1851.
By 1851 there were around 13,000 policemen in England and Wales, although existing law still did not require local authorities to establish local police forces.
In 1847 two pieces of national legislation were enacted - the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. Parliament continued to discuss the idea of national policing and, by the early 1850s, the Government was thinking about implementing policing across the nation.
After the County and Borough Police Act in 1856, policing became a requirement throughout England and Wales paid for by central government Treasury department funds distributed to local government. In addition, the Act formed a "central inspectorate of constabulary" that would assess the effectiveness of each constabulary and report regularly to the Home Secretary. Parliament passed a similar Act for Scotland in 1857.
By 1900, England, Wales and Scotland had 46,800 policemen and 243 constabularies.
The Police Act of 1946 led to the merger of a number of smaller town forces and surrounding county forces, leaving 117 constabularies. Further mergers took place following the 1964 Police Act which cut the number of police forces in England and Wales to 47, and Scotland to 20.
Since the 1960s, police forces in the United Kingdom have been merged and modernised by several Acts of Parliament.
|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.|
|1798||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.|
|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, 1821||Further committees 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. The new constables were nicknamed 'peelers' or 'bobbies' after the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, the latter nickname continuing to this day.|
- 1831: Special Constables Act 1831 passed.
- 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: County Police Act 1839 passed.
- 1839: First county police force created, in Wiltshire.
- 1840: County Police Act 1840 passed.
- 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.
- 1878: As a result of the 1877 Turf Fraud scandal, the Metropolitan Police's Detective Department was reorganised and renamed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in 1878.
- 1914: Special Constables Act 1914. Allowed for the appointment of Special Constables during wartime, due to the fall in numbers of regular officers.
- 1914-1918, World War I: the police became unionised.
- 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.
- 1922: Following partition, the Royal Irish Constabulary is replaced by the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána in the Irish Free State.
- 1923: Special Constables Act 1923 throughout the UK is passed.
- 1946: Police Act 1946 passed. This abolished nearly all non-county borough police forces in England and Wales. This left 117 police forces.
- 1964: Police Act 1964. This created 49 larger forces in England and Wales, some covering two or more counties or large urban areas.
- 1974: Local Government Act (1972) reduced the number of forces in England & Wales to 43.
- 1975: Amalgamation of Scotland's 17 police forces into 8 new forces, as a result of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.
- 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.
- 2006: Major provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 come into effect including the overhaul of powers of arrest, institution of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and extension of powers available to PCSOs; these (other than SOCA) applying in England and Wales. The majority of the Act applies only to England and Wales with only a few sections applying to Scotland or Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 comes into force.
- 2013: Amalgamation of 8 Scottish territorial police forces into one, Police Scotland.
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