The ‘Palmer Act’ allows trial to be in London

The first page of the Act which cameto be known as the 'Palmer Act'. Notice the date of 11th April 1856, a month before Palmer's trial.
The first page of the Act which cameto be known as the ‘Palmer Act’. Notice the date of 11th April 1856, a month before Palmer’s trial.

The Trial was moved away from Stafford. The concerns about getting an unbiased jury led to them rushing through a special Act of Parliament. The Act finalised on 11th April 1856, just one month before Palmer was tried, was initially known as The Trial of Offences Act 1856′ but later became known as ‘The Palmer’s Act’. It remains on the Statute Book to this day.

Two versions of the story

One version is that feelings in Rugeley, and in Staffordshire generally, were running so high against William Palmer that it was thought to be impossible for him to receive a fair trial at Stafford Assizes.

However another version is that he was very popular and would not have been found guilty had he been tried locally.

Lord Justice Campbell who was the senior judge at Palmer’ trial suggested in his autobiography that, had Palmer been tried at Stafford Assizes, he would have been found not guilty. This contradicts the stories in the press that the trial was switched to London because in Staffordshire people were so biased against Palmer that he would have automatically been found guilty.

Another Act of Parliament was brought about as a direct result of Palmer’s Trial. The other Act ensured that insurance could not be taken out on a person by other persons who would stand to gain financially by the death of the insured person. Had this law been in force then Palmer would not have been able to insure the life of his brother Walter or try to insure the life of George Bates said to have been his groom. Before this Act insurance could be “a temptation to murder”.

Only nine years after the Palmer trial, in 1865, another act was brought in to force which, although not directly linked to Palmer’s case, might have shed more light on the case. The act, known as ‘The Denham Act’ gave the right for the defence counsel in a trial to make a second speech to sum up the case for the accused.

In 1898 the passing of the ‘Criminal Evidence Act’ meant that accused could, if they so wished, give evidence and be cross-examined, from the witness box. If they did not wish to give evidence they ran the risk of the jury making the assumption that they had something to hide.