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District Courts in United Kingdom

District Courts in England

History of Local or District Courts

Local or District Courts

Justice was originally a local product, administered in rude tribunals which partook more or less of a popular character. Each shire had its assembly for hearing pleas, known as a “shire–moot” in Anglo–Saxon days, and as a “comitatus” after the Norman Conquest; while each of the smaller districts subdividing the shire, and forming units of administration for purposes of taxation, defence, justice, and police, had a moot or council of its own, serving as a court of law, to which the inhabitants of the villages brought their pleas in the first instance. These smaller districts were known as hundreds in the south, and as wapentakes (a name of Danish derivation) in the north.

The theory generally received is that all freemen were originally suitors in the courts of shire and hundred, and that the whole body of those present, the ordinary peasant (“ceorl”) equally with the man of noble blood (“eorl”), took an active part in the proceedings, pronouncing (or, at least, concurring in) the judgments or dooms there declared; but that, as time progressed, the majority of the Anglo–Saxon ceorls sank to the half–servile position of villeins—men tied for life to the soil of the manor, and passing, like property, from father to son.

These villeins, although still subjected to the burden of attendance, and to some of the other duties of their former free estate, were deprived of those rights which had once formed the counterpart of the obligations. Another school of historians, it is true, denies that the mass of the population, even in very early times, ever enjoyed an active share in the dispensation of justice. It is unnecessary here to attempt a solution of the intricate problems of the courts of shire and hundred; or to discuss the still more vexed question how far the small assembly of each township is worthy to be reckoned a formal Court of Law.

Rival Courts System

In the thirteenth century, there existed not one source of justice, but many. Rival courts, eagerly competing to extend their own sphere of usefulness and to increase their own fees, existed in a bewildering multitude. See more about Rival Courts, including Local or District Courts (above), Feudal Courts and Royal Courts (below).

Feudal Courts

Centuries before the Norman Conquest, the system of popular or district justice found itself confronted with a rival scheme of jurisdictions—the innumerable private courts belonging to the feudal lords. These private tribunals, known as feudal, manorial, or seigniorial courts, slowly gained ground on the older public courts of shire, hundred, and wapentake. See about Feudal Courts.

Royal Courts

See about Royal Courts.

Source: Part II. Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John, with an Historical Introduction, by William Sharp McKechnie (Glasgow: Maclehose, 1914).

See Also

Magna Carta
History of Magna Carta in the English Encyclopedia
English Court System in the Legal Encyclopedia

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  • Article Name: District Courts
  • Author: International
  • Description: District Courts in England History of Local or District Courts Local or District Courts Justice was originally a local [...]

This entry was last updated: November 11, 2013


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