nisi prius

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nisi prius. The statute of Westminster II, chapter 30, established this system which was an important factor in the growth of the common law. The Court of Common Pleas was established at Westminster palace after Magna Carta (1215), but the disadvantage of bringing cases before the justices there was that the jury, which had to come from the litigant's own locality, had to travel to Westminster to give its verdict. In order to avoid the inconvenience of this system, Edward I's legislation provided that the jury verdict should be given at Westminster ‘unless before’ the date arranged, the travelling justices visited the area and took the jury's verdict in their own local court. It was then ensured that justices should invariably visit the locality before the specified date, thus speeding and making more convenient the process of litigation in the common law court.

Maureen Mulholland

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NISI PRIUS

[Latin, Unless before.]

A court of nisi prius is a court that tries questions of fact before one judge and, in some cases, a jury. In the United States, the term ordinarily applies to the trial level court where the case is heard by a jury, as opposed to a higher court that entertains appeals where no jury is present.