King's Bench

From Academic Kids

One of the ancient courts of England, the King's Bench (or Queen's Bench when the monarch is female) is now a division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. Sub-divisions include the Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court and the Administrative Court. It is also the name of many superior courts throughout the British Commonwealth.


The Court of the King's Bench grew out of the King's Court or Curia Regis, which, at first, was not specifically a court of law, but was the centre of Royal power and national administration, consisting at first of the King himself together with his advisors, courtiers and administrators.

At some unknown stage, a court independant of the King's personal presence grew out of the Curia Regis, consisting of a number of Royal judges who would hear cases themselves. It is recorded in the chronicle of Abbot Benedict of Peterborough that, in 1178, Henry II ordered that five judges of his household should remain in curia regis, referring only difficult cases to himself.

The situation in Henry II's reign seems to be that a central royal court, called 'the Bench' began to sit regularly at Westminster. At some stage there must have been a separation between the hearing of matters relevant to the King and those that had no royal connection, which come to be known as common pleas.

In 1215, Magna Carta provided that there should be a court -- the Common Bench (later Court of Common Pleas) that met in a fixed place. By 1234 two distinct series of plea rolls exist, de banco - those from the Common Bench and coram rege - those of the coram rege or King's Bench.

The division between the two benches was this: the King's Bench, being a theoretically movable court, was excluded from hearing common pleas, which included all praecipe actions for the recovery of property or debt. Actions of trespass and replevin were shared between the two benches. In practice pleas of the Crown were heard only in the King's Bench.

The King's Bench had two 'sides': the Crown side, which had an unlimited criminal jurisdiction, both at first instance or as a court to which legal questions arising out of indictments in other courts could be referred. The other side was known as the 'plea' side, and dealt with actions for trespass, appeals of felony and writs of error.

Increasingly the King's Bench became a fixed court, even though it could theoretically meet anywhere in England, and from 1421 it appears not to have moved from Westminster Hall.

The Court of Queen's Bench became the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in 1873.




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