Following an offence, the victim would go to a Justice of the Peace (JP) to complain and seek redress. It was a difficult and expensive business, as fees had to be paid both to the JP and the court officials.
If the matter were a relatively minor one the magistrate could attempt to mediate and arrive at a satisfactory settlement. The JP otherwise could deal with the case summarily, acquitting or convicting and imposing some penalty on the spot.
Felonies were more serious crimes and the magistrate had less discretion in how he dealt with them. He had to write down the complainant’s and the witnesses’ statements. The magistrate then would decide whether to commit the accused to gaol or grant him bail.
Finally he had to bind all the parties involved to appear at the next Quarter Sessions or Assizes.
Officially, the magistrates relied on the constables and watchmen to arrest offenders. Frequently it was members of the public who actually laid hands on them. The increasing use of rewards for successful prosecutions gave a further incentive for them to intervene.