COURTS. The word court has come from the French cour, which is from the Latin curia. The Roman citizens were originally distributed into thirty curiae, which were political divisions ; but the name curia was also given to the buildings in which the curiae met. The place of assembly of the Roman Senate was also called curia, and the name is often used to signify the senate or body of senator's. The name curia was in fact given to a place either for the celebration of religious observances or the transaction of civil business. The French word cour is de fined to be " a part of the house which is not built upon, and is immediately behind the carriage entrance or other entrance, and in the better sort of houses is paved." (Richelet, Dictionnaire.) It also signifies the residence of a prince (Hula); the government of a country, as la cour de la France ; the judges of a supreme court, or the court itself, as la cour de parlement. These various significations occur in the English language: we speak of the court of a house, of the king's court, of the high court of parliament, and of the courts of law and equity.
The courts of common law in this country, like most other branches of our constitution, have grown up gradually with the progress of the nation, and may be traced back, partly to the institutions of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, and partly to the more artificial systems intro duced under the government of the Nor mans.
From the earliest times of which we have any account, we find the tribunals of the Germanic nations consisting of a presiding officer, called graf reeve or earl, comes or count ; together with cer tain assessors, whose denominations (and probably their functions also) were dif ferent among different tribes and at dif ferent periods. Of this nature were the earliest tribunals with which we are acquainted in this country. The most important of these was that whose juris diction extended over a shire or county, in which the presiding officer was at first the earl, alderman, or count ; and subse quently, his deputy the vice-count or sheriff (shire-reeve). This tribunal exer
cised ecclesiastical as well as civil juris diction, and the bishop sat as an associate to the earl or sheriff.
The judicial functions of this court were divided into four distinct branches. The first included all ecclesiastical of fences; and in these the bishop was judge, and the count or sheriff his assistant, and if the delinquent disregarded the censures of the church, he enforced the sentence /7 imprisonment. The second branch (in which the sheriff was judge) included all temporal offences, such as felony, assaults, nuisances, and the like. The third head included all actions of a purely civil nature : here the sheriff was the pre siding officer, and executed the judgment ; but the judges were the freeholders who did suit to the court. And, fourthly, the sheriff's court held an inquest yearly of frank pledge. One branch of the juris diction of this tribunal was abolished by William the Conqueror, who separated the ecclesiastical from the civil power, and the bishop was no longer associated with the civil magistrate. The view of frank pledge now exists only as a form, but the other two branches of jurisdiction still subsist, though with diminished power and importance.
In order to exercise his criminal juris diction, the sheriff was required twice in every year to make a tour or circuit of his county. The power of determining felonies was taken away by Magna Charts, but the remains of this tribunal are still known as the sheriff's tourn, in which cognizance is taken of false weights, nuisance, and other misdemeanors. The civil jurisdiction of the sheriff still con tinues in the county court, the powers of which were limited to cases under forty shillings, at least as early as the reign of King Edward I.: and that sum now(ex c in case of replevin) limits the ordin ary jurisdiction of the county court.