How well did the legal system of early modern England work?
A legal system can be defined as the legislation enacted by the State institutions on the basis of tradition or law. In early modern England, the legal system was complex, relying on with overlapping institutions -local criminal courts, Church courts and royal courts-, on itinerant judges but also on the participation of the population. The participatory aspect, in the interest of the ?common peace?, has led many historians to define the system as discretionary. But it is not the only characteristic that has led to criticisms: the great number of capital statutes and the public enforcement of punishment can lead to talk of a barbaric system.
Indeed, after a crisis in law enforcement in the 1590s, the Stuart toughened the legal system by enacting legislations introducing more punishments and by intensifying prosecutions and after 1688, we often talk of the system as the ?Bloody Code?. As a result, it is legitimate to question the choice of such a system that can be considered as complex, discretionary or barbaric, by wondering how well it worked, that is to say by questioning its efficiency in reducing crime but also by considering its impact on society at large.
For long, most historians have argued that the policy of terror was not working and that the system was very discretionary. However, some contemporaries, such as the jurist Blackstone, were real defendant of the efficiency of such a system and it seemed that the population respected and participated actively to the law enforcement.