1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/King's Bench, Court of

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KING’S BENCH, COURT OF, in England, one of the superior courts of common law. This court, the most ancient of English courts—in its correct legal title, “the court of the king before the king himself,” coram ipso rege—is far older than parliament itself, for it can be traced back clearly, both in character and the essence of its jurisdiction, to the reign of King Alfred. The king’s bench, and the two offshoots of the aula regia, the common pleas and the exchequer, for many years possessed co-ordinate jurisdiction, although there were a few cases in which each had exclusive authority, and in point of dignity precedence was given to the court of king’s bench, the lord chief justice of which was also styled lord chief justice of England, being the highest permanent judge of the Crown. The court of exchequer attended to the business of the revenue, the common pleas to private actions between citizens, and the king’s bench retained criminal cases and such other jurisdiction as had not been divided between the other two courts. By an act of 1830 the court of exchequer chamber was constituted as a court of appeal for errors in law in all three courts. Like the court of exchequer, the king’s bench assumed by means of an ingenious fiction the jurisdiction in civil matters which properly belonged to the common pleas.

Under the Judicature Act 1873 the court of king’s bench became the king’s bench division of the High Court of Justice. It consists of the lord chief justice and fourteen puisne judges. It exercises original jurisdiction and also appellate jurisdiction from the county courts and other inferior courts. By the act of 1873 (sec. 45) this appellate jurisdiction is conferred upon the High Court generally, but in practice it is exercised by a divisional court of the king’s bench division only. The determination of such appeals by the High Court is final, unless leave to appeal is given by the court which heard the appeal or by the court of appeal. There was an exception to this rule as regards certain orders of quarter sessions, the history of which involves some complication. But by sec. 1 (5) of the Court of Session Act 1894 the rule applies to all cases where there is a right of appeal to the High Court from any court or person. It may be here mentioned that if leave is given to appeal to the court of appeal there is a further appeal to the House of Lords, except in bankruptcy (Bankruptcy Appeals (County Courts) Act 1884), when the decision of the court of appeal on appeal from a divisional court sitting in appeal is made final and conclusive.

There are masters in the king’s bench division. Unlike the masters in the chancery division, they have original jurisdiction, and are not attached to any particular judge. They hear applications in chambers, act as taxing masters and occasionally as referees to conduct inquiries, take accounts, and assess damages. There is an appeal from the master to the judge in chambers. Formerly there was an appeal from the judge in chambers to a divisional court in every case and thence to the court of appeal, until the multiplication of appeals in small interlocutory matters became a scandal. Under the Supreme Court of Judicature (Procedure) Act 1894 there is no right of appeal to the court of appeal in any interlocutory matters (except those mentioned in subs. (b)) without the leave of the judge or of the court of appeal, and in matters of “practice and procedure” the appeal lies (with leave) directly to the court of appeal from the judge in chambers.