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Common Pleas

COMMON PLEAS

Trial-level courts of general jurisdiction. One of the royal common-law courts in England existing since the beginning of the thirteenth century and developing from the Curia Regis, or the King's Court.

In the United States only Pennsylvania has courts of common pleas with the authority to hear all civil and criminal cases. In most states courts of common pleas have been abolished and their jurisdiction transferred to district, circuit, or superior courts.

For some time after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, parties seeking justice from the king were greatly inconvenienced by the fact that the king was constantly on the move and frequently abroad. Scholars have speculated that the king was attempting to consolidate his power and that feeding and financing the royal household could be accomplished only by continually moving throughout the land. Parties could submit a dispute to a court held coram rege, before the king himself, only by pursuing the king in his travels. The barons finally forced the issue with King John in 1215 when they insisted on the following provision in the magna charta: "Common Pleas shall not follow our court but shall be held in some certain place." That certain place came to be Westminster, where some legal business was already being handled by the end of the twelfth century. There the Court of Common Pleas, also called Common Bench, heard all real actions and common pleas—actions between subjects that did not involve royal interests. It had no authority to hear criminal matters which were the special prerogative of the King's Bench. The Court of Common Pleas consisted of a chief justice and four (later five) associate justices. Appeals and their decisions were taken to the King's Bench but later to the Exchequer. The court was consolidated with the other high courts of England by the judicature acts in the late nineteenth century.

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