EXCHEQUER; COURT OF COMMON PLEAS ; COURT OF KING'S BENCH ; COURT OF CHANCERY ; COURT OF STAR CHAMBER; COURT OF HIGH COMMISSIONS ; JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL.
The courts exercising jurisdiction in England are divided by certain features which may here be briefly indicated. We may dis tinguish between (I) superior and inferior courts. The former are the courts of common law and the court of chancery, now high court of justice. The latter are the local or district courts, county courts, etc. (2) Courts of record and courts not of record. ""A court of record is one whereof the acts and judicial proceed ings are enrolled for a perpetual memory and testimony, which rolls are called the records of the court, and are of such high and supereminent authority that their truth is not to be called in question. For it is a settled rule and maxim that nothing shall be averred against a record, nor shall any plea or even proof be ad mitted to the contrary. And if the existence of the record shall be denied it shall be tried by nothing but itself ; that is, upon bare inspection whether there be any such record or no; else there would be no end of disputes. All courts of record are the courts of the sovereign in right of the crown and royal dignity, and there fore any court of record has authority to fine and imprison for contempt of its authority" (Stephen's Blackstone). (3) Courts may also be distinguished as civil or criminal. (4) A further dis tinction is to be made between courts of first instance and courts of appeal. In the former the first hearing in any judicial pro ceeding takes place; in the latter the judgment of the first court is brought under review. Of the superior courts, the high court of justice in its various divisions is a court of first instance. Over it is the court of appeal, and over that again the House of Lords. The high court of justice is (through divisional courts) a court of appeal for inferior courts. (5) There is a special class of local courts, which do not appear to fall within the description of either superior or inferior courts. Some, while administering the ordinary municipal law, have or had jurisdiction exclusive of their superior courts; such were the common pleas of Durham and Lancaster. Others have concurrent jurisdiction with the superior courts; such are the lord mayor's court of London, the passage court of Liverpool, etc.
The distribution of judicial business among the various courts of law in England may be exhibited as follows: Criminal Courts.—( I ) The lowest is that of the justice of the peace (q.v.), which has jurisdiction over certain minor offences. (2) The justices in quarter sessions are commissioned to deter mine felonies and other offences (see QUARTER SESSIONS, COURT OF) . The corresponding court in a borough is presided over by a recorder. (3) The more serious offences are reserved for the judges of the superior courts sitting under a commission of oyer and terminer or gaol delivery for each county (see CIRCUIT). In London, the central criminal court was established by the Central Criminal Court Act (4) The court of criminal appeal, to which all persons convicted on indictment may appeal, was estab lished by the Act of 1907. (See CRIMINAL LAW.) Civil Courts.—In certain special cases, civil claims of small importance may be brought before justices or stipendiaries. Other wise, and excepting the special and peculiar jurisdictions above mentioned, the civil business of England and Wales may be said to be divided between the county courts (taking small cases) and the high court of justice (taking all others) .
The effect of the Judicature Acts on the constitution of the superior courts may be briefly stated. There is now one supreme court of judicature, consisting of two permanent divisions called the high court of justice and the court of appeal. The former in herits the jurisdiction of the court of chancery, the three common law courts, the courts of admiralty, probate, and divorce, the courts of pleas at Lancaster and Durham, and the courts created by commissions of assize, oyer and terminer, and gaol delivery. The latter inherits the jurisdiction of the court of appeal in chancery (including chancery of Lancaster), the court of the lord warden of the stannaries, and of the exchequer chamber, and the appellate jurisdiction in admiralty and heresy matters of the judicial committee; and power is given to the sovereign to transfer the remaining jurisdiction of that court to the court of appeal. By the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876 the House of Lords is enabled to sit for the hearing of appeals from the English court of appeal and the Scottish and Irish courts during the pro rogation and dissolution of parliament. The lords of appeal (q.v.), of whom three must be present, are the lord chancellor, the lords of appeal in ordinary, and peers who have held "high judicial office" in Great Britain or Ireland.
There are also many obsolete or decayed courts, of which the most noticeable are the court Baron, court Leet, etc. (qq.v.).
The Supreme Court is created by the Constitution, and con sisted in 1928 of nine judges, who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They hold office during good be haviour, i.e., are removable only by impeachment, thus having a tenure even more secure than that of English judges. The court sits at Washington from Oct. to July in every year. The sessions of the court are held in the Capitol. A rule requiring the presence of six judges to pronounce a decision prevents the division of the court into two or more benches; and while this secures a thorough consideration of every case, it also retards the despatch of busi ness. Every case is discussed twice by the whole body, once to ascertain the view of the majority, which is then directed to be set forth in a written opinion ; then, again, when the written opinion, prepared by one of the judges, is submitted for criticism and adoption by the court as its judgment.
The other Federal courts have been created by Congress under a power in the Constitution to establish "inferior courts." The circuit courts consist of 34 circuit judges, acting in nine judicial circuits, while to each circuit there is also allotted one of the justices of the Supreme Court. Circuit courts of appeals, estab lished to relieve the Supreme Court, consist of three judges (two forming a quorum), and are made up of the circuit and district judges of each circuit and the Supreme Court justice assigned to the circuit. Some cases may, however, be appealed to the Su preme Court from the circuit court of appeals, and others directly from the lower courts. The district courts number (1928) I 14, in most cases having a single justice. There is also a special tribunal called the court of claims, which deals with the claims of private persons against the Federal government. It is not strictly a part of the general judicial system, but is a creation of Congress de signed to relieve that body of a part of its own labours.
The jurisdiction of the Federal courts extends only to those cases in which the Constitution makes Federal law applicable. All other cases are left to the State courts, from which there is no appeal to the Federal courts, unless where some specific point arises which is affected by the Federal Constitution or a Federal law. The classes of cases dealt with by the Federal courts are as follows : 1. Cases in law and equity arising under the Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made under their authority; 2. Cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; 3. Cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction 4. Controversies to which the United States shall be a party; 5. Controversies between two or more States, between a State and citizens of another State, between citizens of different States, between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States, and between a State or the citizens thereof and foreign States, citizens or subjects (Const., Art. III., s. 2). Part of this jurisdiction has, however, been withdrawn by the I 1 th amendment to the Constitution, which declares that "the judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State, or by citizens or sub jects of any foreign State." The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is original in cases affecting ambassadors, and wherever a State is a party; in other cases it is appellate. In some matters the jurisdiction of the Federal courts is exclusive; in others it is concurrent with that of the State courts.
As it frequently happens that cases come before State courts in which questions of Federal law arise, a provision has been made whereby due respect for the latter is secured by giving the party to a suit who relies upon Federal law, and whose contention is overruled by a State court, the right of having the suit removed to a Federal court. The Judiciary Act of 1789 (as amended by subsequent legislation) provides for the removal to the Supreme Court of the United States of "a final judgment or decree in any suit rendered in the highest court of a State in which a decision could be had, where is drawn in question the validity of a treaty or statute of, or an authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against their validity; or where is drawn in question the validity of a statute of, or an authority exercised under, any State, on the ground of their being repugnant to the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States, and the de cision is in favour of their validity; or where any title, right, privilege or immunity is claimed under the Constitution, or any treaty or statute of, or commission held, or authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against the title, right, privilege or immunity specially set up or claimed by either party under such Constitution, treaty, statute, commission or authority." If the decision of the State court is in favour of the right claimed under Federal law or against the validity or applica bility of the State law set up, there is no ground for removal, because the applicability or authority of Federal law in the particular case could receive no further protection from a Federal court than has in fact been given by the State court.
The power exercised by the Supreme Court in declaring stat utes of Congress or of State legislatures (or acts of the Executive) to be invalid because inconsistent with the Federal Constitution, has been deemed by many Europeans a peculiar and striking feature of the American system. There is, however, nothing novel or mysterious about it. As the Federal Constitution, which emanates directly from the people, is the supreme law of the land everywhere, any statute passed by any lower authority (whether the Federal Congress or a State legislature), which contravenes the Constitution, must necessarily be invalid in point of law, just as in Great Britain a railway by-law which contra vened an act of parliament would be invalid. Now, the functions of judicial tribunals—of all courts alike, whether Federal or State, whether superior or inferior—is to interpret the law, and if any tribunal finds a Congressional statute or State statute in consistent with the Constitution, the tribunal is obliged to hold such statute invalid. A tribunal does this not because it has any right or power of its own in the matter, but because the people have, in enacting the Constitution as a supreme law, declared that all other laws inconsistent with it are ipso jure void. When a tri bunal has ascertained that an inferior law is thus inconsistent, that inferior law is therewith, so far as inconsistent, to be deemed void. The tribunal does not enter any conflict with the legislature or Executive. All it does is to declare that a conflict exists between two laws of different degrees of authority, whence it necessarily follows that the weaker law is extinct. This duty of interpretation belongs to all tribunals, but as constitutional cases are, if origi nating in a lower court, usually carried by appeal to the Supreme Court, men have grown accustomed to talk of the Supreme Court as in a special sense the guardian of the Constitution.
The Federal courts never deliver an opinion on any constitu tional question unless or until that question is brought before them in the form of a lawsuit. A judgment of the Supreme Court is only a judgment on the particular case before it, and does not prevent a similar question being raised again in another lawsuit, though of course this seldom happens, because it may be assumed that the court will adhere to its former opinion. There have, however, been instances in which the court has virtually changed its view on a constitutional question, and it is understood to be entitled so to do.