1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bench
BENCH (an O. E. and Eng. form of a word common to Teutonic languages, cf. Ger. Bank, Dan. baenk and the Eng. doublet “bank”), a long narrow wooden seat for several persons, with or without a back. While the chair was yet a seat of state or dignity the bench was ordinarily used by the commonalty. It is still extensively employed for other than domestic purposes, as in schools, churches and places of amusement. Bench or Banc, in law, originally was the seat occupied by judges in court; hence the term is used of a tribunal of justice itself, as the King’s Bench, the Common Bench, and is now applied to judges or magistrates collectively as the “judicial bench,” “bench of magistrates.” The word is also applied to any seat where a number of people sit in an official capacity, or as equivalent to the dignity itself, as “the civic bench,” the “bench of aldermen,” the “episcopal bench,” the “front bench,” i.e. that reserved for the leaders of either party in the British House of Commons. King’s Bench (q.v.) was one of the three superior courts of common law at Westminster, the others being the common pleas and the exchequer. Under the Judicature Act 1873, the court of king’s bench became the king’s bench division of the High Court of Justice. The court of common pleas was sometimes called the common bench.
Sittings in bane were formerly the sittings of one of the superior courts of Westminster for the hearing of motions, special cases, &c., as opposed to the nisi prius sittings for trial of facts, where usually only a single judge presided. By the Judicature Act 1873 the business of courts sitting in bane was transferred to divisional courts.