A History of Criminal Law in New South Wales: The Colonial Period 1788 - 1900

Monograph 17

A History of Criminal Law in New South Wales

Woods, G.D (2002)

(RRP $69.50 including GST) ISBN 1862874395

n Early October 1828, gaol authorities in Sydney cut a long plank to accommodate the trembling legs of condemned men, guilty of offences such as cattle stealing, forgery and theft. These nine men died unreprieved in one of the many mass executions of the convict era, outside what was the old Sydney Gaol in George Street, and within a short walk to what is now an icon of modern civilisation, the Sydney Opera House.

This absorbing study of colonial history explains the brutality of the convict era, and its roots in English law, politics and society. In itself this might not be unique, but the story is taken through the convict period, through the goldrushes, into the era of responsible government, the bushranging period, "free selection" of land, urbanisation and the period of the Federation debate. We come to know from Dr Woods' study of slave trading cases, special laws against bushranging, and the responses of parliament and the courts to offences such as "baby farming" - infanticide - how politics in colonial Australia adjusted English law and traditions into a different environment. There were successes, most notably in the Australian use of the jury as the democratic judge of guilt or innocence in the criminal courts, and failures, most notably in the inability if Australian politics to deal fairly with aborigines.

The author has mined newspaper archives and other sources to bring to life a battle for law reform argued out at enthralling length in New South Wales Parliament between 1872 and 1884. Political giants such as Parkes, Barton and Reid and political mischief-makers such as A.G. Taylor employed both high flown rhetoric and vulgar abuse as they grappled for advantage over issues of crime and punishment - under the icy gaze of Sir Alfred Stephen, the Bismarck of colonial politics. This work will undoubtedly come to be regarded as a landmark in the study of how Australia's origins as a penal colony relate to its modern history.

G D Woods, QC, PhD, LLM, DipEd, is a Sydney judge, former senior lecturer in law at Sydney University and Director of the Criminal Law Review Division of the Department of Attorney-General and of Justice in New South Wales. He was appointed as Queen's Counsel in 1981 and practised extensively in criminal law before appointment in 1997 to the District Court of New South Wales. He is the co-author with P G Ward of Law And Order In Australia (1972) and various articles on criminology and the criminal law. [480pp]

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