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Courts of Request

court, usually, jurisdiction, acts, sum and debts

REQUEST, COURTS OF (sometimes called Courts of Conscience), are local tribunals, founded by Act of Parliament to facilitate the recovery of small debts from any inhabitant or trader in the dis trict defined by the Act.

Although Courts of Requests have been superseded (see COUNTY COURTS), it may be useful to sketch their con stitution, and the facilities they afforded for the recovery of small debts.

A board of commissioners is appointed, often in corporate towns consisting of one or two aldermen, with a certain number of householders as assessors. To this board is given the power of sum moning a debtor, upon the complaint of the creditor, of taking the evidence of the creditor and his witnesses upon oath, of determining on the amount due, and issuing a summons or order to the debtor to pay that amount, either in one sum or by instalments. The board has usually the power of distress on goods, or of im prisonment during a limited time, if the order for payment is not obeyed. In London the jurisdiction is confined to cases where both parties are inhabitants, and the same restriction may be found in some of the older Acts ; but usually it is sufficient that the debtor should be an in habitant, or should be "seeking his live lihood" within the jurisdiction.

The sum to which the jurisdiction of these courts extends is usually 51., often only 21., and the debt may arise either upon simple contract, a balance of ac counts, or as a compromise of a larger debt; but there is usually a proviso in the Acts that a larger debt shall not be split into fragments to bring it within the jurisdiction of the court, although the creditor may reduce a larger demand to such a sum as the court can award, pro vided he is satisfied with the smaller amount in discharge of his whole debt.

The Acts usually provide that if a party within the jurisdiction is sued in one of the superior courts, and the plaintiff re covers from him only the sum which the local court could have awarded, the plaintiff shall pay full costs to the de.

fendant. The Acts also reserve to a land Lord the right to distrain for rent, and also prohibit the courts from interfering HI matters touching the right to land or the occupation of it, or in matters belong ing to ecclesiastical courts, or to tithes: usually, too, gambling debts are excluded, and sometimes tavern debts incurred on Sunday. The courts have jurisdiction over persons under age, and can usually grant summons for wages due to minors. Attorneys are not exempted from the jurisdiction of the court, but they are usually prohibited from practising in it, and they are not liable to payment of costs for suing in superior courts. Most of the Acts contain a clause prohibiting the removal of the proceedings to su perior courts.

The 8 & 9 Viet. c. 127, § 9, enables her majesty, with the advice of her privy council, among other things to extend the jurisdiction of any court of requests to 201., if such court has a judge who is either a barrister at law, or special pleader, or an attorney of one of the superior courts of common law at Westminster, who shall have practised as an attorney for at least ten years. The same section makes provision for the appointment of such a judge.

The first Act for the establishing of a court of requests is the 1 James I. c. 15, which confirms the court which had al ready been established in London by an act of the common council, at least as early as the reign of Henry VIII., if in deed it had not been established by antient usage. (Tidd Pratts Abstract of the Acts of Parliament relating to Courts of Requests,' for a list of the places which have such courts.)