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King's Bench, Court of

King's Bench, Court of. One of the three courts of common law. The Court of King's Bench evolved from the curia regis, the itinerant royal court which dealt with the administration of the realm. The court was held ‘before the lord king wheresoever he should be in England’. Its origins have been traced back to 1178 when Abbot Benedict of Peterborough recorded that Henry II ordered five judges of the Curia Regis to sit permanently to hear complaints from his subjects. However, it was another century before a distinct court emerged. In 1268 King's Bench was appointed its first chief justice and the court also kept its own records, the coram rege rolls. Gradually it separated from the king and the royal council. Under Edward III the court became free of the obligation to follow the king and during 1305–18 settled at Westminster Hall. It had unlimited criminal jurisdiction throughout the realm and was similar, though superior in dignity, to the other common law courts from which it heard appeals. During the Interregnum, the court was renamed Upper Bench due to the absence of the monarch. The Judicature Act of 1873 unified the courts system and transferred jurisdiction to a single High Court of Justice. The Queen's Bench Division became the sole representative of the old courts of common law.

Richard A. Smith

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