English Medieval Legal Documents ›
2.1.1 - Central Common Law Courts

According to Baker, "the establishment of a stationary royal court, functioning independently of the king's personal presence, marks the origin of the traditional judicial system of England. It is impossible to say precisely when it happened, because in the absence of continuous surviving records before the 1190's, the evidence is fragmentary." (10).

During a large part of the thirteenth century, as MacFarlane describes it, "The common law was enforced and administered by a number of courts whose overlapping jurisdiction is confusing, and constantly changing over time. To simplify very considerably, the most important court for the hearing of pleas of the crown was the King's Bench... The most important court for civil litigation was known after the type of action as the court of Common Pleas." (11). Although the development of these separate courts began to take place during the reign of Henry III, it is not until the reign of Edward I that a formal distinction can be made between the three central royal courts. By the time of his accession to the throne in 1272, these three distinct courts now existed; the King's Bench, the Common Pleas, known at that time as the Common Bench, and the Court of the Exchequer together with the Exchequer of the Jews.

10. Baker, John H. An Introduction to English Legal History, 4th ed. London: Butterworths Lexis/Nexis, 2002 at p.18
11. MacFarlane,Alan, A Guide to English Historical Records, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983 at p.46

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