[LMB] OT: Women's status in old British law

Michael R N Dolbear m.dolbear at lineone.net
Mon Apr 17 23:03:17 BST 2006

> From: Eric Oppen <technomad at intergate.com>
> Date: 17 April 2006 17:52
> It is not widely known, but women had some serious advantages in British
> up till (I think) the latter part of the nineteenth century.  A married 
> woman could be caught in the act of committing a crime, and _she_
> be punished; her _husband_ would be.  The law assumed that she was acting
> with his knowledge and under his orders.

This was according to Bracton, who wrote that if a wife stole (about the
only crime he mentions), she was guilty and so was her husband, whether he
was present or not; he was assumed to have full knowledge and approval of
her activities.

	[snip Dickens]
> I don't know how far "married woman's immunity" extended.  I don't think
> went as far as murder, but I've read about a woman who was caught in the
> of counterfeiting currency who calmly told the authorities that she was 
> married and where her husband was, and he was convicted of the 
> counterfeiting and sent to prison despite being able to show that he
> known anything about it.  _She_ was let free.

My understanding is that it only applied when the criminal act took place
in the actual presence of the husband. it was then assumed that it was
under his coercion but I know of no case when the husband was convicted
without actual proof.

According to a BBC TV program "Seven ages of Britain", they found
a case where merchants were selling grain to the Flemish whilst the local
starved. A mob of housewives assaulted the sailors and recovered the
grain...they did this without male aid {I suppose the men had to looking on
so as to be 'present'} because they knew full well that the women could not
legally be found guilty. ==

** This rule of law still exists but since 1925 the wife must provide
of coercion. 

s 47 Criminal Justice Act 1925

Any presumption of law that an offense committed by a wife in the presence
of her husband is commited under the coercion of the husband is hereby
abolished, but on a charge against a wife for any offense other than
treason or murder, it shall be a good defense to proved that the offense
was committed in the presence of, and under the coercion of, the husband.

Little Egret

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