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The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial$
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John H. Langbein

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199287239

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199287239.001.0001

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The Treason Trials Act of 1696: The Advent of Defense Counsel

The Treason Trials Act of 1696: The Advent of Defense Counsel

(p.67) 2. The Treason Trials Act of 1696: The Advent of Defense Counsel
The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial

John H. Langbein

Oxford University Press

In criminal prosecutions for high treason, the crown was always represented by counsel, but the rule against defense counsel prevented the defendants from having a lawyer. In the decade preceding the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, a series of sensational treason trials occurred, most notably the Popish Plot trials of 1678-80, in which weak or perjured evidence led to the conviction and execution of many persons, including leading political figures. It became known within a few years of the Popish Plot trials that the accusing evidence had been perjured, and that the executed defendants had been innocent. Many of these defendants had complained at their trials of the unfairness of denying them defense counsel when the crown was represented. In the Treason Trials Act of 1696, Parliament evened the playing field by abrogating the rule against defense counsel, but only in cases of high treason, which were quite rare. The ban on counsel remained for cases of felony.

Keywords:   criminal procedure, criminal trial, defense counsel, high treason, perjury, Popish Plot, prosecution, Treason Trials Act, trial

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