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A trial at the Old Bailey in London as drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin for Microcosm of London (1808-11) Microcosm of London Plate 058 - Old Bailey edited.jpg
A trial at the Old Bailey in London as drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin for Microcosm of London (1808–11)
The International Court of Justice Grand Hall de Justice de Palais de La Paix a La Haye Pays-Bas.jpg
The International Court of Justice

A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law. [1] In both common law and civil law legal systems, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and it is generally understood that all people have an ability to bring their claims before a court. Similarly, the rights of those accused of a crime include the right to present a defense before a court.


The system of courts that interprets and applies the law is collectively known as the judiciary. The place where a court sits is known as a venue. The room where court proceedings occur is known as a courtroom, and the building as a courthouse; court facilities range from simple and very small facilities in rural communities to large complex facilities in urban communities.

The practical authority given to the court is known as its jurisdiction (from Latin iūrisdictiō, from iūris, "of the law", + dīcō, "to declare", + -tiō, noun-forming suffix), the court's power to decide certain kinds of questions or petitions put to it. According to William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, a court (for civil wrongs) is constituted by a minimum of three parties: the āctor or plaintiff, who complains of an injury done; the reus or defendant, who is called upon to make satisfaction for it; and the jūdex or judicial power, who is to examine the truth of the fact, determine the law arising upon that fact, and, if any injury appears to have been done, ascertain and by its officers apply a legal remedy. It is also usual in the superior courts to have barristers, and attorneys or counsel, as assistants, [2] though, often, courts consist of additional barristers, bailiffs, reporters, and perhaps a jury.

The term "the court" is also used to refer to the presiding officer or officials, usually one or more judges. The judge or panel of judges may also be collectively referred to as "the bench" (in contrast to attorneys and barristers, collectively referred to as "the bar"). [3]

In the United States, the legal authority of a court to take action is based on personal jurisdiction over the parties to the litigation and subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims asserted.


The building of the Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu Riigikohus.jpg
The building of the Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu

The word court comes from the French cour, an enclosed yard, which derives from the Latin form cōrtem, the accusative case of cohors, which again means an enclosed yard or the occupants of such a yard. The English word court is thus a descendant of the Latin word hortus from Ancient Greek χόρτος (khórtos) (meaning "garden", hence horticulture and orchard), both referring to an enclosed space. [4]

The meaning of a judicial assembly is first attested in the 12th century, and derives from the earlier usage to designate a sovereign and his entourage, which met to adjudicate disputes in such an enclosed yard. The verb "to court", meaning to win favor, derives from the same source since people traveled to the sovereign's court to win his favor. [4] [5]


Jurisdiction is defined as the official authority to make legal decisions and judgements over a person or material item within a territory. [6]

"Whether a given court has jurisdiction to preside over a given case" is a key question in any legal action. [7] Three basic components of jurisdiction are personal jurisdiction over an individual or thing (rēs), jurisdiction over the particular subject matter (subject-matter jurisdiction) and territorial jurisdiction. [7] Jurisdiction over a person refers to the full authority over a person regardless of where they live, jurisdiction over a particular subject matter refers to the authority over the said subject of legal cases involved in a case, and lastly territorial jurisdiction is the authority over a person within an x amount of space.

Other concepts of jurisdiction include general, exclusive, appellate, and (in the United States federal courts) diversity jurisdiction. [7]

Trial and appellate courts

A courtroom of the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland Supreme Administrative Court of Finland 20180915 125125.jpg
A courtroom of the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland

Trial courts are courts that hold trials. Sometimes termed "courts of first instance", trial courts have varying original jurisdiction. Trial courts may conduct trials with juries as the finders of fact (these are known as jury trials) or trials in which judges act as both finders of fact and finders of law (in some jurisdictions these are known as bench trials). Juries are less common in court systems outside the Anglo-American common law tradition.

Appellate courts are courts that hear appeals of lower courts and trial courts.

Some courts, such as the Crown Court in England and Wales, may have both trial and appellate jurisdictions.

Civil law courts and common law courts

The two major legal traditions of the western world are the civil law courts and the common law courts. These two great legal traditions are similar, in that they are products of western culture, although there are significant differences between the two traditions. Civil law courts are profoundly based upon Roman law, specifically a civil body of law entitled Corpus Juris Civilis . [8] This theory of civil law was rediscovered around the end of the eleventh century and became a foundation for university legal education starting in Bologna, Italy and subsequently being taught throughout continental European universities. [8]

Civil law is firmly ensconced in the French and German legal systems. Common law courts were established by English royal judges of the King's Council after the Norman Invasion of Britain in 1066. [9] The royal judges created a body of law by combining local customs they were made aware of through traveling and visiting local jurisdictions. [9] This common standard of law became known as "Common Law". This legal tradition is practiced in the English and American legal systems. In most civil law jurisdictions, courts function under an inquisitorial system. In the common law system, most courts follow the adversarial system. Procedural law governs the rules by which courts operate: civil procedure for private disputes (for example); and criminal procedure for violation of the criminal law. In recent years, international courts are being created to resolve matters not covered by the jurisdiction of national courts. For example, the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, in the Netherlands, or the Court of Permanent Lok Adalat (Public Utility Services), based in India.

Court television shows

Television show courts, which are not part of the judicial system and are generally private arbitrators, are depicted within the court show genre; however, the courts depicted have been criticized as misrepresenting real-life courts of law and the true nature of the legal system. [10] Notable court shows include:

International courts

A courtroom of the Permanent Court of Arbitration Une des salles de reunion de la Cour permanente d'arbitrage.jpg
A courtroom of the Permanent Court of Arbitration

Types and organization of courts

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jury trial</span> Type of legal trial

A jury trial, or trial by jury, is a legal proceeding in which a jury makes a decision or findings of fact. It is distinguished from a bench trial in which a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions.

In the United States, a state court has jurisdiction over disputes with some connection to a U.S. state. State courts handle the vast majority of civil and criminal cases in the United States; the United States federal courts are far smaller in terms of both personnel and caseload, and handle different types of cases.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Court of Cassation (France)</span> Highest judicial court in France

The Court of Cassation is the supreme court for civil and criminal cases in France. It is one of the country's four apex courts, along with the Council of State, the Constitutional Council and the Jurisdictional Disputes Tribunal.

The courts of England and Wales, supported administratively by His Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, are the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice in England and Wales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trial court</span> Type of court in which trials take place

A trial court or court of first instance is a court having original jurisdiction, in which trials take place. Appeals from the decisions of trial courts are usually made by higher courts with the power of appellate review. Most appellate courts do not have the authority to hear testimony or take evidence, but instead rule solely on matters of law.

In common law systems, a superior court is a court of general jurisdiction over civil and criminal legal cases. A superior court is "superior" in relation to a court with limited jurisdiction, which is restricted to civil cases involving monetary amounts with a specific limit, or criminal cases involving offenses of a less serious nature. A superior court may hear appeals from lower courts. For courts of general jurisdiction in civil law system, see ordinary court.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tribunal</span> Person or institution with the authority to judge, adjudicate or determine claims or disputes

A tribunal, generally, is any person or institution with authority to judge, adjudicate on, or determine claims or disputes—whether or not it is called a tribunal in its title. For example, an advocate who appears before a court with a single judge could describe that judge as "their tribunal." Many governmental bodies that are titled as "tribunals" are described so in order to emphasize that they are not courts of normal jurisdiction. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was a body specially constituted under international law; in Great Britain, employment tribunals are bodies set up to hear specific employment disputes. In many cases, the word tribunal implies a judicial body with a lesser degree of formality than a court, in which the normal rules of evidence and procedure may not apply, and whose presiding officers are frequently neither judges, nor magistrates. Private judicial bodies are also often styled "tribunals." The word tribunal, however, is not conclusive of a body's function—for example, in Great Britain, the Employment Appeal Tribunal is a superior court of record.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Courts of Denmark</span> System of judiciary and courts in Kingdom of Denmark

The Courts of Denmark is the ordinary court system of the Kingdom of Denmark. The Courts of Denmark as an organizational entity was created with the Police and Judiciary Reform Act taking effect 1 January 2007 which also significantly reformed the court system e.g. by removing original jurisdiction from the High Courts and by introducing a new jury system.

The court system of Canada forms the country's judiciary, formally known as "The King on the Bench", which interprets the law and is made up of many courts differing in levels of legal superiority and separated by jurisdiction. Some of the courts are federal in nature, while others are provincial or territorial.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judiciary of Hong Kong</span> Law courts in the special administrative region of China

The Judiciary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is the judicial branch of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Under the Basic Law of Hong Kong, it exercises the judicial power of the Region and is independent of the executive and legislative branches of the Government. The courts in Hong Kong hear and adjudicate all prosecutions and civil disputes, including all public and private law matters.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judiciary of France</span> Overview of Frances court system

France's independent court system enjoys special statutory protection from the executive branch. Procedures for the appointment, promotion, and removal of judges vary depending on whether it is for the ordinary or administrative stream. Judicial appointments in the judicial stream must be approved by a special panel, the High Council of the Judiciary. Once appointed, career judges serve for life and cannot be removed without specific disciplinary proceedings conducted before the council with due process.

The structure of the judiciary of Texas is laid out in Article 5 of the Constitution of Texas and is further defined by statute, in particular the Texas Government Code and Texas Probate Code. The structure is complex, featuring many layers of courts, numerous instances of overlapping jurisdiction, several differences between counties, as well as an unusual bifurcated appellate system at the top level found in only one other state: Oklahoma. Municipal Courts are the most active courts, with County Courts and District Courts handling most other cases and often sharing the same courthouse.

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 that uses a jury trial.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Supreme court</span> Highest court in a jurisdiction

In most legal jurisdictions, a supreme court, also known as a court of last resort, apex court, and highcourt of appeal, is the highest court within the hierarchy of courts. Broadly speaking, the decisions of a supreme court are not subject to further review by any other court. Supreme courts typically function primarily as appellate courts, hearing appeals from decisions of lower trial courts, or from intermediate-level appellate courts.

The term county judge is applied as a descriptor, sometimes as a title, for a person who presides over a county court. In most cases, such as in Northern Ireland and the Victorian County Courts, a county judge is a judicial officer with civil or criminal jurisdiction. In the United States, however, there are some "County Courts" which exercise primarily administrative functions, in which case the County Judge may exercise largely or solely executive authority and be equivalent to the county executive in other local government areas.

The Judiciary of Vermont is the state court system of Vermont, charged with Vermont law.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judiciary of New York (state)</span> All of courts of New York as an organ

The Judiciary of New York is the judicial branch of the Government of New York, comprising all the courts of the State of New York.

In law, an appeal is the process in which cases are reviewed by a higher authority, where parties request a formal change to an official decision. Appeals function both as a process for error correction as well as a process of clarifying and interpreting law. Although appellate courts have existed for thousands of years, common law countries did not incorporate an affirmative right to appeal into their jurisprudence until the 19th century.

The Judiciary of California or the Judicial Branch of California is defined under the California Constitution as holding the judicial power of the state of California which is vested in the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal and the Superior Courts. The judiciary has a hierarchical structure with the California Supreme Court at the top, California Courts of Appeal as the primary appellate courts, and the California Superior Courts as the primary trial courts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judiciary of Belgium</span> Court system overview

The judiciary of Belgium is similar to the French judiciary. Belgium evolved from a unitary to a federal state, but its judicial system has not been adapted to a federal system.


  1. Walker, David (1980). The Oxford Companion to Law . Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.  301. ISBN   0-19-866110-X.
  2. "Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England – Book the Third – Chapter the Third : Of Courts in General". Avalon Project. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  3. See generally 28 U.S.C.   § 1: "The Supreme Court of the United States shall consist of a Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices [ . . . ]" (italics added); 28 U.S.C.   § 43(b) : "Each court of appeals shall consist of the circuit judges of the circuit in regular active service." (italics added); 28 U.S.C.   § 132(b) (in part): "Each district court shall consist of the district judge or judges for the district in regular active service." (italics added); 28 U.S.C.   § 151 (in part): "In each judicial district, the bankruptcy judges in regular active service shall constitute a unit of the district court to be known as the bankruptcy court for that district [ . . . ]" (italics added).
  4. 1 2 Harper, Douglas. "court (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  5. "COUR : Etymologie de COUR". Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  6. "Jurisdiction". Civil Procedure. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  7. 1 2 3 Jurisdiction, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
  8. 1 2 von Mehren, Arthur T.; Murray, Peter L. (8 Jan 2007). Law in the United States. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9781139462198 . Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  9. 1 2 Burnham, William (2006). Introduction to the Law and Legal System of the United States (4th ed.). St. Paul (Minn.): Thomson-West. ISBN   9780314158987.
  10. Neubauer, David W.; Meinhold, Stephen S. (2012-01-13). Judicial Process: Law, Courts, and Politics in the United States – David W. Neubauer, Stephen S. Meinhold. ISBN   978-1111357566 . Retrieved 2013-06-24.