Court of King's Bench (England) - History - Dissolution


The unintended outcome of these compromises was that by the end of Charles II's reign, all three common law courts had a similar jurisdiction over most common pleas, with similar processes. By the 18th century, it was customary to speak of the "twelve justices" of the three courts, not distinguishing them, and assize cases were shared equally between them. In 1828, Henry Brougham complained that

he jurisdiction of the Court of King's Bench, for example, was originally confined to pleas of the Crown, and then extended to actions where violence was used - actions of trespass, by force; but now, all actions are admissible within its walls, through the medium of a legal fiction, which was adopted for the purpose of enlarging its authority, that every person sued is in the custody of the marshal of the court and may, therefore, be proceeded against for any personal cause of actions. Thus, by degrees, this court has drawn over to itself actions which really belong to...the Court of Common Pleas. The Court of Common Pleas, however...never was able to obtain cognizance of - the peculiar subject of King's Bench jurisdiction - Crown Pleas... the Exchequer has adopted a similar course for, though it was originally confined to the trial of revenue cases, it has, by means of another fiction - the supposition that everybody sued is a debtor to the Crown, and further, that he cannot pay his debt, because the other party will not pay him, - opened its doors to every suitor, and so drawn to itself the right of trying cases, that were never intended to be placed within its jurisdiction.

The purpose of Brougham's speech was to illustrate that three courts of identical jurisdiction were unnecessary, and further that it would create a situation where the best judges, lawyers and cases would eventually go to one court, overburdening that body and leaving the others near useless. In 1823, 43,465 actions were brought in the King's Bench, 13,009 in the Common Pleas and 6,778 in the Exchequer of Pleas. Not surprisingly, the King's Bench judges were "immoderately over burdened", the Common Pleas judges were "fully occupied in term, and much engaged in vacation also" and the Barons of the Exchequer were "comparatively little occupied either in term or vacation".

In response to this and the report of a committee investigating the slow pace of the Court of Chancery, the Judicature Commission was formed in 1867, and given a wide remit to investigate reform of the courts, the law, and the legal profession. Five reports were issued, from 25 March 1869 to 10 July 1874, with the first (dealing with the formation of a single Supreme Court of Judicature) considered the most influential. The report disposed of the previous idea of merging the common law and equity, and instead suggested a single Supreme Court capable of utilising both. In 1870 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hatherly, attempted to bring the recommendations into law through an Act of Parliament, but did not go to the trouble of consulting the judiciary or the leader of the Conservatives, who controlled the House of Lords. The bill ran into strong opposition from lawyers and judges, particularly Alexander Cockburn. After Hatherly was replaced by Lord Selborne in September 1872, a second bill was introduced after consultation with the judiciary; although along the same lines, it was far more detailed.

The Act, finally passed as the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, merged the Common Pleas, Exchequer, King's Bench and Court of Chancery into one body, the High Court of Justice, with the divisions between the courts to remain. The King's Bench thus ceased to exist, holding its last session on 6 July 1875, except as the King's Bench Division of the High Court. The existence of the same courts under one unified head was a quirk of constitutional law, which prevented the compulsory demotion or retirement of Chief Justices. By sheer chance, both the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and Chief Baron of the Exchequer died in 1880, allowing for the abolition of the Common Pleas Division and Exchequer Division by Order in Council on 16 December 1880. The High Court was reorganised into the Chancery Division, King's Bench Division and the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division; the King's Bench (now Queen's Bench) division remains to this day.

Read more about this topic:  Court Of King's Bench (England), History

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