Debtors' Relief Acts

From 1670 onwards, Parliament passed Acts every few years for the relief of imprisoned debtors.  In the late 18th century, for instance, Acts were passed in 1778,1781,1794,1795 and 1797.

The terms of the Acts required Justices of the Peace (JPs) in each county to form a special commission on a named date and to invite applications from imprisoned debtors, both pre-trial and post-trial, to submit schedules of their assets upon another named date.  Debtors also published notices in the London Gazette and local newspapers in order to alert their creditors.  If the JPs were satisfied they discharged the debtor, and the creditor was authorised to proceed against the debtor’s property.  

The Acts for the relief of debtors had another purpose, being an easy way to reduce prison populations and relieve overcrowding.

It was not until the Debtors Act of 1869 that imprisonment for debt was abolished, although even then it was permitted in some exceptional cases.

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