hue and cry | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing

The Hue and Cry was a calling out to the members of a community in order to collectively pursue a criminal, as was mandated under old English law.

The Hue and Cry was a legal practice that dates back to medieval England. It required all able-bodied men to assist in the pursuit and capture of criminals. The practice was formalized in the Statute of Winchester in 1285, which required all citizens to respond to the call of the constable or the cry of their neighbors to pursue and arrest any person suspected of a felony. Failure to respond to the hue and cry could result in punishment, including fines and imprisonment.

The hue and cry was a significant part of the criminal justice system in medieval England. It was used to quickly mobilize a large number of people to pursue a suspect and was particularly effective in rural areas where there were no professional law enforcement officers. The system relied on the strong sense of community and collective responsibility that existed in those times. Members of the community were expected to cooperate with each other and to work together to apprehend criminals.

The hue and cry was not without its problems, however. False accusations were common, and innocent people were sometimes caught up in the pursuit. In addition, the system was not always effective in capturing the real culprit, particularly in cases where the offender was able to escape into another community.

Over time, the hue-and-cry system evolved and was replaced by more formalized methods of law enforcement. Professional police forces were established, and the role of the community in law enforcement gradually diminished. Nonetheless, the hue and cry remains an important part of the history of law enforcement and serves as a reminder of the importance of community involvement in maintaining law and order.

In modern times, the hue and cry has been replaced by other forms of community policing, such as neighborhood watch programs and citizen patrols. These programs rely on the same principles of community involvement and collective responsibility that underpinned the hue-and-cry system. They serve to strengthen the bonds between citizens and law enforcement, and to promote a sense of shared responsibility for maintaining public safety.

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Last Modified: 07/117/2021

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