The courts of assize, or assizes ( /əˈsaɪzɪz/ ), were periodic 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 exercised both civil and criminal jurisdiction, though most of their work was on the criminal side.  The assizes heard the most serious cases, most notably those subject to capital punishment or later life imprisonment. Other serious cases were dealt with by the quarter sessions (local county courts held four times per 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 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.
Middle English assise < Old French assise ("session, legal action" – past participle of asseoir, "to seat") < Vulgar Latin *assedēre < Latin assidēre ("to sit beside, aside, elsewhere") < ad + sedēre ("to sit").  The “courts of assize” were the English equivalent of the still existing French « Cours d'assise ».
By the Assize of Clarendon of 1166 King Henry II established trial by jury by a grand assize of twelve knights in land disputes, and itinerant justices to set up county courts.  Before Magna Carta was passed (enacted) in 1215, writs of assize had to be tried at Westminster or await trial at the septennial circuit of justices in eyre. The great charter provided for land disputes to be tried by annual assizes at more convenient places. This work soon expanded, becoming five commissions. In 1293, a statute was enacted which formally defined four assize circuits. 
As such, for centuries, many justices of the Court of King's Bench, those of the Court of Common Pleas, and barons of the Exchequer of Pleas in some seasons of the year travelled around the country contributing to five commissions: their civil commissions were those of assize and of nisi prius ; their criminal law commissions were those of the peace, of oyer and terminer and of (or for) gaol delivery.
The second commission heard cases which plaintiffs sought to receive priority. From an Act passed in the reign of King Edward I plaintiffs (claimants) could file pleadings at Westminster for the court to issue a writ to summon a jury to Westminster to appoint a time and place for hearing the causes there, stating the county of origin. Such writs used the words and form of nisi prius (Latin: "unless before"). The writ called the parties to Westminster (on a longstop date) 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. The commission of gaol delivery required the justices to try all prisoners not yet tried by judges held in the gaols.
Historically, all justices who visited Cornwall were also permanent members of the Prince's Council, which oversees the Duchy and advises the Duke.  Before the creation of the Duchy, the Earls of Cornwall had control over the assizes. In the 13th century Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, feted as 'King of the Romans', moved the Assizes to the new administrative palace complex in Lostwithiel but they later returned to Launceston. 
Few substantial changes occurred until the nineteenth century. From 1832 onwards, Wales and the palatine county of Chester, served by the Court of Great Sessions, were merged into the circuit system. The commissions for (the City of) London and Middlesex were replaced with a Central Criminal Court, serving London's broadened metropolis, and county courts were established widely to hear many civil cases which had taken the writ-action form of nisi prius.
The Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, which merged judges of equity and common law competing systems into the Supreme Court of Judicature, transferred the jurisdiction of the commissions of assize (e.g. the possessory assizes that heard actions relating to the dispossession of land) to the High Court of Justice, and established district registries of the High Court across the country, leaving a minimal civil jurisdiction to the (travelling) 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.
From 1293, sets of judges toured across four circuits; from 1328, six circuits which changed in content until an extra was added in 1876.  As at 1831 they were:
Yorkshire was for a time removed from the Northern Circuit and placed on the Midland Circuit.
The North-eastern Circuit was formed in 1876 and contained Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland.  By 1960 these seven circuits saw no longer a Home nor a Norfolk Circuit, instead a South-eastern Circuit and a Wales and Chester Circuit.  In 1972, the Midland Circuit and the Oxford Circuit were combined and became the Midland and Oxford Circuit.  
Each had its own bar and mess (also called a circuit mess or bar mess). The mess was a society of those jurists practising on the circuit. The bar was its barristers' subset.     
The National Archives holds most of the surviving historical records of the assizes. 
The Soke of Peterborough is a historic area of England associated with the City and Diocese of Peterborough, but considered part of Northamptonshire. The Soke was also described as the Liberty of Peterborough, or Nassaburgh hundred, and comprised, besides Peterborough, about thirty parishes.
The Crown Court is the court of first instance of England and Wales responsible for hearing all indictable offences, some either way offences and appeals lied to it by the magistrates' courts. It is one of three Senior Courts of England and Wales.
Circuit courts are court systems in several common law jurisdictions. The core concept of circuit courts requires judges to travel to different locales to ensure wide visibility and understanding of cases in a region. More generally, the term may also refer to a court that merely holds trials and other proceedings at a series of multiple locations in some kind of rotation.
The Courts Act 1971 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the purpose of which was to reform and modernise the courts system of England and Wales.
Pleading the belly was a process available at English common law, which permitted a woman in the later stages of pregnancy to receive a reprieve of her death sentence until after she bore her child. The plea was available at least as early as 1387 and was eventually rendered obsolete by the Sentence of Death Act 1931, which stated that an expecting mother would automatically have her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour.
In English law, oyer and terminer was one of the commissions by which a judge of assize sat. Apart from its Law French name, the commission was also known by the Law Latin name audiendo et terminando, and the Old English-derived term sac and soc.
Nisi prius is a historical term in English law. In the 19th century, it came to be used to denote generally all legal actions tried before judges of the King's Bench Division and in the early twentieth century for actions tried at assize by a judge given a commission. Used in that way, the term has had no currency since the abolition of assizes in 1971.
In France, a cour d'assises, or Court of Assizes or Assize Court, is a criminal trial court with original and appellate limited jurisdiction to hear cases involving defendants accused of felonies, meaning crimes as defined in French law. It is the only French court consisting in a jury trial.
A Shire court, or moot was an Anglo-Saxon legal institution, used to maintain law and order at a local level, and perform various administrative functions, including the collection of taxes for the central government.
Sir William de Shareshull KB (1289/1290–1370) was an English lawyer and Chief Justice of the King's Bench from 26 October 1350 to 5 July 1361. He achieved prominence under the administration of Edward III of England.
Writs of praecipe are a widespread feature of the common law tradition, generally involving the instigation of some form of swift and peremptory action.
In English law, the assize of mort d'ancestor was an action brought where a plaintiff claimed the defendant had entered upon a freehold belonging to the plaintiff following the death of one of his relatives. The questions submitted to the jury were, "was A seised in his demesne as of fee on the day whereon he died?" and "Is the plaintiff his next heir?" This assize enabled the heir to obtain possession, even though some other person might have a better right to the land than the deceased.
The courts of assizes or assizes were the higher criminal court in Ireland outside Dublin prior to 1924. They have now been abolished in both jurisdictions.
A clerk of assize was a clerk of the assize courts of England and Wales, a position which existed from at least 1285 to 1971, when the Courts Act 1971 eliminated the assize courts. Originally the judges' private clerks tasked with enrolling pleas, the clerks grew into the heads of administrative departments tasked with keeping each assize running smoothly, and at one point sat as judges in their own right.
John de Batesford was an English judge.
Sir Valentine Knightley was an English landowner and Member of Parliament.
The chief justice of Munster was the senior of the two judges who assisted the lord president of Munster in judicial matters. Despite his title of Chief Justice, full judicial authority was vested in the lord president, who had "power to hear and determine at his discretion all manner of complaints in any part of the province of Munster", and also had powers to hold commissions of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery.
In France, a cour d’appel of the ordre judiciaire (judiciary) is a juridiction de droit commun du second degré, a. It examines judgements, for example from the correctional tribunal or a tribunal de grande instance. When one of the parties is not satisfied with the verdict, it can appeal. While communications from jurisdictions of first instance are termed "judgements", or judgments, a court of appeal renders an arrêt (verdict), which may either uphold or annul the initial judgment. A verdict of the court of appeal may be further appealed en cassation. If the appeal is admissible at the cour de cassation, that court does not re-judge the facts of the matter a third time, but may investigate and verify whether the rules of law were properly applied by the lower courts.
The Court of Common Pleas of the County Palatine of Lancaster, sometimes called the Common Pleas of or at Lancaster was a court of common pleas that exercised jurisdiction within the County Palatine of Lancaster until its jurisdiction was transferred to the High Court by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873. It was a Superior Court of Record, exercising, within the limits of the County Palatine, a jurisdiction similar to that of the superior courts of common law at Westminster.
Certain former courts of England and Wales have been abolished or merged into or with other courts, and certain other courts of England and Wales have fallen into disuse.