1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lord Chief Justice

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LORD CHIEF JUSTICE, in England, the presiding judge of the king’s bench division of the High Court of Justice, and in the absence of the lord chancellor, president of the High Court. He traces his descent from the justiciar of the Norman kings. This officer appears first as the lieutenant or deputy of the king, exercising all the functions of the regal office in the absence of the sovereign. “In this capacity William Fitz-Osbern, the steward of Normandy, and Odo of Bayeux, acted during the Conqueror’s visit to the continent in 1067; they were left, according to William of Poitiers, the former to govern the north of England, the latter to hold rule in Kent, vice sua; Florence of Worcester describes them as “custodes Angliae,” and Ordericus Vitalis gives to their office the name of “praefectura.” It would seem most probable that William Fitz-Osbern at least was left in his character of steward, and that the Norman seneschalship was thus the origin of the English justiciarship” (Stubbs’s Constitutional History, i. 346). The same authority observes that William of Warenne and Richard Clare (Bienfaite), who were left in charge of England in 1074, are named by a writer in the next generation “praecipui Angliae justitiarii”; but he considers the name to have not yet been definitely attached to any particular office, and that there is no evidence to show that officers appointed to this trust exercised any functions at all when the king was at home, or in his absence exercised supreme judicial authority to the exclusion of other high officers of the court. The office became permanent in the reign of William Rufus, and in the hands of Ranulf Flambard it became coextensive with the supreme powers of government. But it was not till the reign of Henry II. that the chief officer of the crown acquired the exclusive right to the title of capitalis or totius Angliae justitiarius. Stubbs considers that the English form of the office is to be accounted for by the king’s desire to prevent the administration falling into the hands of an hereditary noble. The early justiciars were clerics, in whom the possession of power could not become hereditary. The justiciar continued to be the chief officer of state, next to the king, until the fall of Hubert de Burgh (in the reign of King John), described by Stubbs as the last of the great justiciars. Henceforward, according to Stubbs, the office may be said to have survived only in the judicial functions, which were merely part of the official character of the chief justiciar. He was at the head of the curia regis, which was separating itself into the three historical courts of common law about the time when the justiciarship was falling from the supreme place. The chancellor took the place of the justiciar in council, the treasurer in the exchequer, while the two offshoots from the curia regis, the common pleas and the exchequer, received chiefs of their own. The king’s bench represented the original stock of the curia regis, and its chief justice the great justiciar. The justiciar may, therefore, be said to have become from a political a purely judicial officer. A similar development awaited his successful rival the chancellor. Before the Judicature Act the king’s bench and the common pleas were each presided over by a lord chief justice, and the lord chief justice of the king’s bench was nominal head of all the three courts, and held the title of lord chief justice of England. The titles of lord chief justice of the common pleas and lord chief baron were abolished by the Judicature Act 1873, and all the common law divisions of the High Court united into the king’s bench division, the president of which is the lord chief justice of England.

The lord chief justice is, next to the lord chancellor, the highest judicial dignitary in the kingdom. He is an ex-officio judge of the court of appeal. He holds office during good behaviour, and can only be removed by the crown (by whom he is appointed) after a joint address of both houses of parliament. He is now the only judicial functionary privileged to wear the collar of SS. There has been much discussion as to the origin and history of this collar;[1] it was a badge or insignia attached to certain offices entitling the holders to wear it only so long as they held those offices. The collar of SS. was worn by the chiefs of the three courts previous to their amalgamation in 1873, and that now worn by the lord chief justice of England was provided by Sir A. Cockburn in 1859 and entailed by him on all holders of the office. The salary is £8000 a year.

In the United States the supreme court consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices, any six of whom make a quorum. The salary of the chief justice is $13,000 and that of the associates $12,500. The chief justice takes rank next after the president, and he administers the oath on the inauguration of a new president and vice-president. The principal or presiding judge in most of the state judicatures also takes the title of chief justice.

  1. Notes and Queries, series 1, vol. ii.; series 4, vols. ii. ix. x.; series 6, vols. ii. iii.; Planché, Dictionary of Costume, p. 126; Foss, Lives of the Judges, vol. vii.; Dugdale, Orig. Jud. fol. 102.