Reviewed by: Eduardo Reyes
Author: Anthony Bradbury
Publisher: Anthony Bradbury (privately published)
Price: £8.00

For Anthony Bradbury, a district judge in Ilford County Court for a decade, Early London County Courts is a labour of love, based on research, reading and site visits brought together since the 1980s.

Bradbury describes it in his introduction as ‘a pot-pourri of general information’, but actually it is more than that. Bradbury is a good writer, and many passages could pass for excerpts from one of Peter Ackroyd’s city histories. Over 80 pages, he has also chosen material that gives his account a narrative sense.

The county courts were created by the 1846 County Courts Act, and Bradbury starts by giving a good account of the bewildering and inconsistent world of the courts that preceded it – the Courts of Request, Stannary Courts, Local Courts, Court of Marshalsea and so on. One exchange quoted, between a member of the 1833 Commission set up by the Lord Chancellor to consider reform, and a representative of the Tower Hamlets Court of Request conveys this world well:

Question: ‘Suppose you thought the law was one way, and equity another, what would be done then?’Answer: ‘If it was left to our decision, I think we should give it in favour of equity.’

The County Courts Act created the single set of rules and, eventually, even the architecture of justice which has lasted down to this day. In the early days the county courts also featured regularly in legal and other press – a feature of life that some district judges may be glad belongs to a lost era, given criticism could centre on the judge. ‘He seemed, however to attend but little to the business going on…’ complained one attorney of Brompton County Court’s judge Amos, on the letters page of the County Courts Chronicle.

In addition to notes on the courts themselves, Bradbury includes short biographies of the political figures and judges who shaped the county courts, including the pugnacious barrister and MP Henry Brougham, later a Whig lord chancellor. At a time when the shape of the civil justice system, and the future of 54 county courts including Ilford County Court, are under review, it is worth dwelling on Brougham’s original aim in proposing reform. Bradbury references an especially striking quote, addressed by Brougham to his opponents: ‘Let them not lay the flattering unction to their souls that I can be persuaded by a combination of all the attorneys in Christendom from endeavouring to make justice pure and cheap.’

For a copy of ‘Early London County Courts’, contact his honour Anthony Bradbury: