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judges, writ, county, assizes and westminster

NISI PIZ/US. This phrase in English law is derived from an ancient writ con tinued in practice to the present day, in which the words occur. Previously to the time of Edward I., trials by assizes or juries could only take place in the curia regis wherever the king happened to be resident. or before the justices in eyre on their septennial circuits through the several counties of England. But by the stat. 13 Edward I., C. 30 (forming a part of that series of laws commonly called the statute of Westminster 2), the judges were directed to take certain assizes, and also to try certain inquests, by juries in every county not oftener than three times in every year; but the statute required that the day and place in the county in which an issue was to be tried by the judges should be mentioned in the judicial writ which assembled the jury. Instead therefore of the old form of the Venire facies, or writ for summoning the jury, which commanded the sheriff to bring them to Westminster to try the particular cause in which issue had been joined, the writ contained a clatte of Nisi Prins, thus :—" We command you that you cause to come before our justices at West minster on the morrow of All Souls, twelve lawful men, who," &c., unless be fore (nisi prius) that day, A. B. and C. D., our justices assigned for that purpose, shall come to your county to take the assizes there." It is always so arranged, therefore, that the day for the return of the jury at Westminster shall be more distant than the day for taking the assizes in the county according to the statute; and consequently the reservation or ex ception in the writ invariably takes effect by the justices of assize coming into the county and trying the cause before the sheriff can obey the writ by returnin the jury to Westminster. [ASSIZE.

From this clause in the writ prescri by the statute of Westminster 2, the phrase Nisi Prins came to be adopted as a general term descriptive of a large class of judicial business which is transacted before judges of the superior courts at the several assizes throughout the country. Thus the judges of assize are called judges of Nisi Prius ; when sitting alone to try causes, they are said to be sitting at Nisi Prius; and the law relating to the vari ous matters which arise before them is, somewhat indefinitely, called the law of Nisi Prius. It is commonly, but errone ously stated in our text books, that the judges on their circuits act under a com mission of Nisi Prins. This is a com mon error, derived however from high authority, as it is so stated by Bacon in his ' Essay on the Use of the Law ;' but in truth there is no such commission known to our laws, the authority of the judges of Nisi Prins being incidentally an nexed to the commissions of assize in the manner above stated. In Middlesex the judges are empowered to sit at Nisi Prins by the statute 18 Eliz., c. 12; and the practice Is regulated by several subse quent statutes. In London they sit at Nisi Prius by virtue of immemorial usage, probably continued with occasional varia tions from very early times, when the king or his chief justiciary distributed justice in the immediate neighbourhood of the royal residence.