Winner of the 2022 Janette Harley Prize announced

The British Records Association is delighted to announce that the joint winners of the 2022 Janette Harley Prize are Dr Janet Weston (Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), and Charlie Barnes (Dead Earnest Theatre) for Power and Protection – the history of the Court of Protection, two short films and a website created as part of ‘Measuring Mental Capacity’, a research study funded by the Wellcome Trust. The films and website can be found at

“The archives of the Court of Protection of England and Wales at The National Archives include a sample of case files from c.1900 to 1983. These concern people (in the terminology of the time) ‘found incapable of managing their own property and affairs’. Some were showing symptoms of dementia; some were detained with diagnoses of mental illness; others lived in the community and had what might now be understood as learning disabilities. For some, like Beatrice Alexander and Jean Carr, the women featured in the two films, the exact nature of their ‘incapacity’ was less clear. At any time in England and Wales in the middle decades of the twentieth century, some 20-30,000 adults were ‘incapable’.

Each film focuses on one case file, introducing the Court of Protection and exploring why Beatrice Alexander and Jean Carr were believed to be incapable of managing their own affairs. The films bring complex legal archives to a wider public audience, along with the insights they can offer about the histories of disability, gender, care and the law. They emphasise both the power of the court to control people’s lives, especially those of unmarried women whose conduct caused concern, and its aim to protect those vulnerable to abuse or exploitation.

The judges were impressed by both the films and the website. The scripts of the films quote directly from the case files, and the films are beautifully made by professional actors. The setting, costumes and props are convincing; the technical side (filming, lighting and sound) is excellent; and the scripts are concise and enthralling, bringing the case files fully to life, free of anachronism. The website is clear and informative, with excellent digitised images of key documents from each case file and links to further reading.

Live screenings were held in November 2021 to an audience of people involved in mental capacity law and social care, as well as social and legal historians. The audience was encouraged to analyse and reflect on these two cases, and to discuss what happened, why people behaved as they did, and what remains unknown, given the limitations of the archival sources.

This project has promoted the understanding, accessibility and study of the case files, hitherto little used, in a new and engaging way to academic and non-academic audiences. It has also raised the importance of archival preservation in the minds of those working in this field today.”

(The judges of the Janette Harley Prize)

Three further entries for the prize were highly commended:

  • Dr Jennifer Aston (Northumbria University), ‘Petitions to the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes: A New Methodological Approach to the History of Divorce, 1857-1923’, Journal of Legal History (2022),
  • Dr Hazel Hall, Dr Bruce Ryan and Dr Iain McGregor (Edinburgh Napier University), Lorna Lloyd’s Diary of the War podcast series, September 1939–January 1941, accessible from .
  • Dr Angela Muir (University of Leicester), for her online talk during lockdown for the National Library of Wales, ‘Gaol Files from the Court of Great Sessions in Wales held by the National Library of Wales’,

The prize was established in memory of Janette Harley, a member of the British Records Association, who died in 2015. It is intended to raise awareness of research and achievements in the world of archives, and is awarded for the best, or most original piece of published work which reflects the aims of the Association: to promote the preservation, understanding, accessibility and study of our recorded heritage for the public benefit.

A call for entries to next year’s Janette Harley Prize will be made in April 2023.