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County Cour in United Kingdom

Definition of County Court

County courts deal with civil cases and do not have jurisdiction to hear criminal cases.

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of County Court : “Any of the civil courts forming a system covering all of England and Wales, originally set up in 1846. The area covered by each court does not invariably correspond to the local government county boundary. Under Part 7 of the *Civil Procedure Rules, which sets out the rules for starting cases, the county court retains an unlimited jurisdiction for claims in contract and tort. It will hear some appeals (See appellate jurisdiction). Each court has a *circuit judge and a *district judge.

The single County Court was launched on 22 April 2014, removing the geographical boundaries of the 172 existing county courts and moving to one national County Court jurisdiction.”

Concept of County court

At the time of the Norman Conquest all England was divided into shires or counties. Thereafter the chief official of the shire was the sheriff, who as royal reeve enforced the King’s fiscal rights, as deputy of the ealdorman fulfilled his police and judicial duties, and was agent and representative of the central government. His court, the county court or shire moot, dealt with administrative, financial, and military business, and had general jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases. In theory it was attended by many persons, but as the duty of suit of court came to be attached to pieces of land the suitors became a defined class; they were the judges, under the presidency of the sheriff. It generally sat once a month or once every six weeks.

As a representative body its importance diminished with the rise of Parliament; as a judicial body it sank as the court of quarter sessions grew in importance. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the county court was very important. However, as royal justice grew in elaboration the courts held by itinerant justices came to be related more to the central courts and less to the county courts. by the end of the thirteenth century most of the civil jurisdiction was passing to the itinerant justices and the common law courts, and the Assizes of Clarendon and Northampton reserved to the royal justices jurisdiction over major crimes, so that by the early thirteenth century its criminal jurisdiction had disappeared. By 1307 the county court was relatively unimportant and, despite later legislative attempts to revive it, it passed completely into disuse.

In the seventeenth century attempts were made to establish local courts for minor actions, and in 1750 courts were established in every hundred in Middlesex held by the county clerk and in the eighteenth century Courts of Conscience or Courts of Request were established in many large towns. In 1846 statute established an entirely new set of courts, having only the name of the old county courts. England and Wales are divided into county court districts each having one or more judges. Courts are held in each district at least once a month.

The county court judges are the persons appointed by the Lord Chancellor as circuit judges (q.v.), who must be barristers of at least 10 years standing or recorders who have held that office for at least three years. Deputy judges may be appointed ad interim. Trial may in certain cases take place with a jury of eight, who must return a unanimous verdict.

The jurisdiction of the county courts, originally limited to claims for debt or damages not exceeding £20 has frequently extended, and now extends to any action founded on contract or tort where the sum claimed is not more than £2,000, certain actions for the recovery of land and certain kinds of equity proceedings with limit of value. They have a limited probate jurisdiction and jurisdiction to determine any undefended matrimonial cause. Certain county courts have admiralty jurisdiction in respect of particular claims to a limited extent. County courts have also been assigned jurisdiction under many statutes such as the Rent Acts. An action commenced in the High Court may be remitted to the county court. Appeal lies to the Court of Appeal (q.v.) on a question of law or the admission or rejection of evidence, but not on a question of fact.

Source: W. A. Morris, The Early English County Court. The Oxford Companion to Law, 1980, p. 300.

County Court in North Ireland

Civil cases are commenced in the County Court if the value of the case is less than £15,000 (or £45,000 in equity matters).

County Courts also have jurisdiction to hear applications for adoptions, undefended divorce and the grant of intoxicating liquor licenses. In addition, the County Court judges hear appeals from the Magistrates’ Courts and can sit in the Crown Court.


“In England, a local court of civil jurisdiction. The county court, it has been said, is at once the most ancient and the most modern of English civil tribunals. The Saxon Curia Comitatus, maintained after the Norman Conquest, was a local court and a small debts court. It was instituted by Alfred the Great, its jurisdiction embracing civil, and, until the reign of William I., ecclesiastical matters. The officers of the court consisted of the earldorman, the bishop and the sheriff. The court was held once in every four weeks, being presided over by the earl, or, in his absence, the sheriff. The suitors of the court, i.e. the freeholders, were the judges, the sheriff being simply a presiding officer, pronouncing and afterwards executing the judgment of the court. The court was not one of record.

The appointment of judges of assize in the reign of Henry II., as well as the expensive and dilatory procedure of the court, brought about its gradual disuse, and other local courts, termed courts of request or of conscience, were established. These, in turn, proved unsatisfactory, owing both to the limited nature of their jurisdiction (restricted to causes of debt not exceeding 40s. in value, and to the fact that they were confined to particular places). Accordingly, with the view of making justice cheaper and more accessible the County Courts Act 1846 was passed. This act had the modest title of “An Act for the Recovery of Small Debts and Demands in England.” The original limit of the jurisdiction of the new courts was £20, extended in 1850 to £50 in actions of debt, and in 1903 (by an act which came into force in 1905) to £100. Thirteen amending acts were passed, by which new jurisdiction was from time to time conferred on the county courts, and in the year 1888 an act was passed repealing the previous acts and consolidating their provisions, with some amendment. This is now the code or charter of the county courts.

The grain of mustard-seed sown in 1846 has grown into a goodly tree, with branches extending over the whole of England and Wales; and they embrace within their ambit a more multifarious jurisdiction than is possessed by any other courts in the kingdom. England and Wales were mapped out into 59 circuits (not including the city of London), with power for the crown, by order in council, to abolish any circuit and rearrange the areas comprised in the circuits (sec. 4). There is one judge to each circuit, but the lord chancellor is empowered to appoint two judges in a circuit, provided that the total number of judges does not exceed 60. The salary of a county court judge was originally fixed at £1200, but he now receives £1500. He must at the time of his appointment be a barrister-at-law of at least seven years’ standing, and not more than sixty years of age; after appointment he cannot sit as a member of parliament or practise at the bar.

Every circuit (except in Birmingham, Clerkenwell, and Westminster) is divided into districts, in each of which there is a court, with a registrar and bailiffs. The judges are directed to attend and hold a court in each district at least once in every month, unless the lord chancellor shall otherwise direct (secs. 10, 11). But in practice the judge sits several times a month in the large centres of population, and less frequently than once a month in the court town of sparsely inhabited districts. By sec. 185 of the act of 1888 the judges and officers of the city of London court have the like jurisdiction, powers, and authority as those of a county court, and the county court rules apply to that court.

The ordinary jurisdiction of the county courts may be thus tabulated (in that period of time):

Subject matter: Pecuniary limit of jurisdiction.

  • Common-law actions, with written consent of both parties: Unlimited.
  • Actions founded on contract (except for breach of promise of marriage, in which the county courts have no jurisdiction): £100.
  • Actions founded on tort (except libel, slander, and seduction, in which the county courts have no jurisdiction): £100.
  • Counter claims (unless plaintiff gives written notice of objection): Unlimited.
  • Ejectment or questions of title to reality: £100 annual value.
  • Equity jurisdiction: £500.
  • Probate jurisdiction: £200 personalty and £300 realty.
  • Admiralty jurisdiction: £300.
  • Bankruptcy jurisdiction: Unlimited.
  • Replevin: Unlimited.
  • Interpleader transferred from High Court: £500.
  • Actions in contract transferred from High Court: £100.
  • Actions in tort transferred from High Court: Unlimited.
  • Companies (winding up), when the paid-up capital does not exceed: £10,000.

There is no discoverable principle upon which these limits of the jurisdiction of the county courts have been determined. But the above table is not by any means an exhaustive statement of the jurisdiction of the county courts. For many years it has been the practice of parliament to throw on the county court judges the duty of acting as judges or arbitrators for the purpose of new legislation relating to social subjects. It is impossible to classify the many statutes which have been passed since 1846 and which confer some jurisdiction, apart from that under the County Courts Act, on county courts or their judges. Some of these acts impose exceptional duties on the judges of the county courts, others confer unlimited jurisdiction concurrently with the High Court or some other court, others, again, confer limited or, sometimes, exclusive jurisdiction.

A list of all the acts will be found in the Annual County Courts Practice. A county court judge may determine all matters of fact as well as law, but a jury may be summoned at the option of either plaintiff or defendant when the amount in dispute exceeds £5, and in actions under £5 the judge may in his discretion, on application of either of the parties, order that the action be tried by jury. The number of 318 jurymen impanelled and sworn at the trial was, by the County Courts Act 1903, increased from five to eight.

There is an appeal from the county courts on matters of law to a divisional court of the High Court, i.e. to the admiralty division in admiralty cases and to the king’s bench division in other cases (sec. 120 of act of 1888). The determination of the divisional court is final, unless leave be given by that court or the court of appeal (Judicature Acts 1894). (See further Appeal.) In proceedings under the Workmen’s Compensation Act the appeal from a county court judge is to the court of appeal, with a subsequent appeal to the House of Lords. In 1908 a Committee was appointed by the lord chancellor “to inquire into certain matters of county court procedure.” The committee presented a report in 1909 (H.C. 71), recommending the extension of existing county court jurisdiction, but a bill introduced to give effect to the recommendations was not proceeded with.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)

The civil jurisdiction

See Also

Family Court
List of County Courts
Central London County Court Pilot Mediation Scheme
HM Courts and Tribunals Service
List of Scotch Courts
List of Courts
Royal Courts
Justice of the peace
Scottish Courts
Feudal Courts
English Court System
History of English Court System
Rival Courts

Further Reading

Annual County Courts Practice, also “Fifty Years of the English County Courts,” by County Court Judge Sir T. W. Snagge, in Nineteenth Century, October 1897.

County Court re issue fee in the Context of Mortgages

This fee will apply when county court papers are re-issued by your mortgage lender to solicitors within three or six months of the issuing of the original information. Costs 25 – 20.

Similar Terms

County Court Judgement

County Court Judgement

Whenever someone fails to pay for something and is subsequently taken to court, the magistrate may issue a County Court Judgement against that individual to pay the outstanding debt. This may well affect your ability to raise finances in the future.

Concept of Sciregemot, Scyregmot

Traditional meaning of sciregemot, scyregmot [1] in the Saxon law history: The county court; see the entry on types of courts, 29.

Note: For more information on Saxon Law history, see here.


Notes and References

  1. Based on A concise law dictionary of words, phrases and maxims, “Sciregemot, Scyregmot”, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1911, United States. This term is absolete. It is also called the Stimson’s Law dictionary, based on a glossary of terms, included Sciregemot, Scyregmot.

See Also

The County Court


The County Court is the standarized name of one of the England and Wales Subordinate and Other Courts (see the entries in this legal Encyclopedia about court rules and procedural law for more information on some aspects of the County Court in the England and Wales court system).

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: County Court
  • Author: K. R. Simmonds
  • Description: County Cour Definition of County Court County courts deal with civil cases and do not have jurisdiction to hear criminal [...]

This entry was last updated: September 20, 2020


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