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Court of Common Pleas

actions, kings, iv, bench, aula and regis

COMMON PLEAS, COURT OF, a superior court of record, which has juris diction over England and Wales in all common pleas or civil actions commenced by man against man. It is at present composed of five judges, one of whom is chief justice and the other four are puisne justices. All are created by the king's letters patent.

This court has been stationary at West minster Hall for several centuries. During the existence of the Aula or Curia Regis, established by the Conqueror in the hall of his usual residence, the palace at West minster, that single tribunal had supreme jurisdiction in all temporal causes, which were adjudicated by the principal officers of the royal household, often assisted by persons learned in the law, called the king's justiciars. In this state of things, the poorer class of suitors in the common pleas, or actions between man and man in which neither the king's revenue nor his character of prosecutor of offences on behalf of the public were concerned, laboured under the inconvenience of either attending the frequent and distant pro gresses of the court, or of losing their remedies altogether. This evil, as well as the jealousy entertained by the crown of the ascendancy of the chief justiciar, who presided over the whole Aula Regis, occasioned the article in Magna Charts, that common pleas should not follow the king's court, but be held in some certain place. This court thereupon became gradually detached from the Aula Regis, and assumed its present separate form. It has ever since continued its sittings daily during the four terms of each year, with out removal from the palace of Westmin ster or its immediate vicinity, except on a few occasions, in time of plague or con tagious disease.

Before the passing of the statute of 3 & 4 Will. IV. c. 27, this court had an ex clusive jurisdiction in all those actions which, as they concerned freeholds or realty, were called real. including as well those on which the common assurances of fines and recoveries passed, as the others which were commenced by the king's original writ out of chancery. On this

account it was styled by Coke the " lock and key of the common law." Since the abolition of real actions by the above mentioned act (with three exceptions), dower and quare impedit are the only forms of action in which this court has exclusive jurisdiction ; for in mixed and personal actions the King's Bench and Exchequer of Pleas have long exercised concurrent power. The Court of Com mon Pleas is a court of appeal from the decision of the revising barristers in the matter of disputed claims to vote for members of parliament. (6 Viet. c. 18, § 42.) In the original constitution of this court, and down to the beginning of the reign of William IV., its proceedings in actions between persons not its officers were founded on original writs issued out of the Court of Chancery, though in pro cess of time they did not actually issue except in cases where it became necessary to perfect the record. But now by a statute (2 Will. IV. c. 39) introduced by the late Lord Tenterden, to secure the uniformity of process in personal actions in the three superior courts of law, certain forms of process, called writs of summons and capias, are provided as the only meons for commencing personal actions in any of those courts, and they may be issued from any of them.

Before 1830 the appeal from the judg ments of this court was by writ of error to the justices of the King's Bench, a vestige of superiority in the Bench as the remnant of that Aula Regis from which this court as well as those of Chancery and Exchequer have been gradually de tached. But now by 11 Geo. IV. & 1 Will. IV. c. 70, the judgments of this court can only be reviewed by the judges of the King's Bench and the barons of the-Exchequer, who form a court of error in the Exchequer Chamber; the further appeal is by writ of error returnable in the Lords' House of Parliament.

[For an account of the privileges of sergeants-at-law in the Court of Common Pleas. see SERGEANT.]