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The Courts of Assize, or Assizes, were periodic criminal courts held around England and Wales until 1972, when together with the Quarter Sessions they were abolished by the Courts Act 1971 and replaced by a single permanent Crown Court. The Assizes heard the most serious cases, which were committed to it by the Quarter Sessions (local county courts held four times a year), while the more minor offences were dealt with summarily by Justices of the Peace in petty sessions (also known as Magistrates' Courts).

The word assize refers to the sittings or sessions (Old French assises) of the judges, known as "justices of assize", who were judges of the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice who travelled across the seven circuits of England and Wales on commissions of "oyer and terminer", setting up court and summoning juries at the various Assize Towns.

Etymology

Assize > Middle English assise > Old French assize ("session, legal action" – past participle of asseoir, to seat) > Vulgar Latin *assedēre > Latin assidre, to sit beside, assist in the office of a judge > ad- + sedēre to sit.[1]

History

Justices of the Court of King's Bench travelled around the country on five commissions, upon which their jurisdiction depended. Their civil commissions were the commission of assize and the commission of nisi prius. Their criminal commissions were the commission of the peace, the commission of oyer and terminer and the commission of gaol delivery.

By the Assize of Clarendon 1166, King Henry II established trial by jury by a grand assize of twelve knights in land disputes, and provided for itinerant justices to set up county courts.[2] Prior to the enactment of Magna Carta 1215, writs of assize had to be tried at Westminster or await trial at the septennial circuit of justices of eyre, but the great charter provided that land disputes should be tried by annual assizes.

An Act passed in the reign of King Edward I provided that writs summoning juries to Westminster were to appoint a time and place for hearing the causes with the county of origin. Thus they were known as writs of nisi prius (Latin "unless before"): the jury would hear the case at Westminster unless the king's justices had assembled a court in the county to deal with the case beforehand. The commission of oyer and terminer, was a general commission to hear and decide cases, while the commission of gaol delivery required the justices to try all prisoners held in the gaols (jails).

Few substantial changes occurred until the nineteenth century. From the 1830s onwards, Wales and the palatine county of Chester, previously served by Court of Grand Session, were merged into the circuit system. The commissions for London and Middlesex were replaced with a Central Criminal Court, serving the whole metropolis, and county courts were established around the country to hear many civil cases previously covered by nisi prius.

The Judicature Act 1873, which created the Supreme Court of Judicature, transferred the jurisdiction of the commissions of assize (to take the possessory assizes, that is to say, to hear actions relating to the dispossession of land) to the High Court of Justice, and established District Registries of the High Court across the country, further diminishing the civil jurisdiction of the assizes.

In 1956 Crown Courts were set up in Liverpool and Manchester, replacing the Assizes and Quarter Sessions. This was extended nationwide in 1972 following the recommendations of a royal commission.

References

  1. ^ dictionary.com
  2. ^ W.L. Warren, "Henry II," (Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973)
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The Court of Assize, or Assizes, refers to an obsolete circuit criminal court in most common-law contexts, but is still in use elsewhere, e.g., Assizes of Jerusalem. Where still in use, it refers to the criminal court with original jurisdiction over the most serious crimes triable in a certain country. In France, Belgium and Italy, the court is still in use and cannot necessarily be appealed. The word assize comes from Old French assises and refers to the court's periodic sessions, which historically, being of an itinerant nature, were never held at a fixed location, as opposed to a court. Judges on an assize court were known as justices of assize.

Contents

Belgium

The Assize Court in Belgium (Hof van Assisen in Dutch, Cour d'Assises in French) is very similar to its counterpart in France described below. There is one Assize Court in each of Belgium's ten provinces and in the Brussels judicial district, or arrondissement.

The presiding judge is an appellate judge ex officio and is assisted by two active lower court justices. The jury always consists of 12 people picked from among all eligible voters. Jurors must be between 30 and 60 years of age and must be able to read and write. The jury delivers a verdict after considering the facts of the case and, with the judge, assigns the sentence. Their verdicts can only be appealed by the Belgian Supreme Court.[1]

While the Court of Assize primarily hears murder cases, it is the sole Court constitutionally empowered to see and hear cases of suppression of freedom of the press. In reality, there have been few actual cases of this occurring, relegating most relevant cases to the lower courts.[2]

England and Wales

The Courts of Assize, or Assizes, were periodic criminal courts held around England and Wales until 1972, when together with the Quarter Sessions they were abolished by the Courts Act 1971 and replaced by a single permanent Crown Court. The Assizes heard the most serious cases, which were committed to it by the Quarter Sessions (local county courts held four times a year), while the more minor offences were dealt with summarily by Justices of the Peace in petty sessions (also known as Magistrates' Courts).

The word assize refers to the sittings or sessions (Old French assises) of the judges, known as "justices of assize", who were judges of the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice who travelled across the seven circuits of England and Wales on commissions of "oyer and terminer", setting up court and summoning juries at the various Assize Towns.

History

Justices of the Court of King's Bench travelled around the country on five commissions, upon which their jurisdiction depended. Their civil commissions were the commission of assize and the commission of nisi prius. Their criminal commissions were the commission of the peace, the commission of oyer and terminer and the commission of gaol delivery.

By the Assize of Clarendon of 1166, King Henry II established trial by jury by a grand assize of sixteen men in land disputes, and provided for itinerant justices to set up county courts.[3] Prior to the enactment of Magna Carta in 1215, writs of assize had to be tried at Westminster or await trial at the septennial circuit of justices of eyre, but the great charter provided that land disputes should be tried by annual assizes.

An Act passed in the reign of King Edward I provided that writs summoning juries to Westminster were to appoint a time and place for hearing the causes with the county of origin. Thus they were known as writs of nisi prius (Latin "unless before"): the jury would hear the case at Westminster unless the king's justices had assembled a court in the county to deal with the case beforehand. The commission of oyer and terminer, was a general commission to hear and decide cases, while the commission of gaol delivery required the justices to try all prisoners held in the gaols (jails).

Few substantial changes occurred until the nineteenth century. From the 1830s onwards, Wales and the palatine county of Chester, previously served by Court of Grand Session, were merged into the circuit system. The commissions for London and Middlesex were replaced with a Central Criminal Court, serving the whole metropolis, and county courts were established around the country to hear many civil cases previously covered by nisi prius.

The Judicature Act of 1873, which created the Supreme Court of Judicature, transferred the jurisdiction of the commissions of assize (to take the possessory assizes, that is to say, to hear actions relating to the dispossession of land) to the High Court of Justice, and established District Registries of the High Court across the country, further diminishing the civil jurisdiction of the assizes.

In 1956 Crown Courts were set up in Liverpool and Manchester, replacing the Assizes and Quarter Sessions. This was extended nationwide in 1972 following the recommendations of a royal commission.

France

In France and countries with a similar court system, Assize Courts (Cour d'Assises) use juries to try serious indictable crimes, generally major felonies, such as murder or rape. The Court is presided over by a chief justice referred to as the président of the Court.

In France, the Assize Court is a trial court with a Bench of 3 career judges and a jury of 9 jurors on first hearing and 12 on appeal. A list of eligible jurors is put together using names selected at random from the electoral rolls; however, both the prosecution and defense have the right to peremptory challenge and may therefore refuse to confirm a juror without stating a reason. When trying cases for certain types of crimes, e.g., large-scale drug trafficking, terrorism, or other major breaches of national security, the Bench may increase to five.

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland the Assizes, modelled on the English system, were replaced in the early years of the Irish Free State by the Circuit Court system in accordance with the Courts of Justice Act, 1924. As in England, they heard only serious cases and were arranged by the counties of Ireland.

Italy

In Italy the Corte d'Assise is composed of two professional judges, Giudici Togati, and six popular judges, Giudici Popolari. The court has jurisdiction to judge the most serious crimes, such as terrorism, manslaughter and attempts to recreate a Fascist Party. Penalties imposed by the court can include life sentences.

In the Court of Assizes and Court of Assizes of Appeal (Corte d'Assise e nella Corte d'Assise d'Appello) the judicial panel consists only of the stipendiary and popular judges. There is no jury. The Court has jurisdiction to try crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 24 years in prison or life imprisonment, and other major crimes.

See also

References

  1. "Overview of the Belgian Law (implied title)" (doc). Circle of the Criminological Sciences department, Faculty of Law, Catholic University of Leuven. http://www.crimen.be/doc/inlrecht.doc. Retrieved on 2007-08-19. 
  2. Lenaerts, Nathalie; promotor: Prof. Roe; assessor: De Cock, R. "Mediaverslaggeving en de toegekende strafmaat: een verband? (thesis)" (pdf). Faculty of Social Sciences, Catholic University of Leuven. http://www.statbel.fgov.be/studies/ac329_nl.pdf. Retrieved on 2007-08-19. 
  3. W.L. Warren, "Henry II," (Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973)

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