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A master is a judge of limited jurisdiction in the superior courts of England and Wales and in numerous other jurisdictions based on the common law tradition. A master's jurisdiction is generally confined to civil proceedings and is a subset of that of a superior court judge or justice. Masters are typically involved in hearing specialized types of trials, case management, and in some jurisdictions dispute resolution or adjudication of specific issues referred by judges.
Besides the courts of England and Wales, masters may be found in the Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, several Caribbean countries and a number of Canadian provinces. Several state courts in the United States utilize masters or similar officers and also make extensive use of special masters. In some jurisdictions such as the Federal Court in Canada the office of Prothonotary is similar to that of the master.
In some countries, the office of master has been renamed to Associate Judge. To date, this has occurred in several Australian States, in New Zealand and in the Canadian province of Ontario.
In England and Wales a master is a judge in the Chancery and Queen's Bench divisions of the High Court exercising jurisdiction in civil matters. When the master presides over a matter within her or his jurisdiction, the decision of the master has the same effect as a decision of a Justice of the High Court within the division of the court to which the master is appointed.The role of a master in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales is concerned primarily with trial and case management of High Court civil claims in London excluding committals to prison, judicial review and criminal cases. There are masters in the Queen's Bench and Chancery Divisions and the Costs Office (Taxing Masters/Costs Judges) and their roles differ slightly.
Such a person is addressed in court as, for example, "Master Smith". This is so whether the master is male or female, or as either 'Master' or 'Judge'. A similar type of master exists in the Court system of Northern Ireland, in several Canadian and Australian jurisdictions as well as in other countries whose court system is based on that of England.
The office of master is of ancient origins dating from at least the 12th century, though masters in Chancery were abolished in the 19th century and a new office of Chancery Master was recreated later.There are masters in the Chancery and Queen's Bench divisions of the High Court of Justice and the Costs Office of the High Court. The Senior Master of the Queen's Bench Division also bears the title of Queen's Remembrancer which is one of the oldest judicial offices in England.
In the Inns of Court, the members of the governing body are known as "Masters of the Bench" or, more commonly, "benchers". In the context of the functions they perform in that capacity (but not otherwise) they will be known as, for example, "Master Smith" (whether they are male or female). This will be so even if in other contexts they use a higher title: hence, a High Court Judge who is a Master of the Bench will be known in his or her Inn as "Master Smith", in private life as Sir John Smith, and on the bench as Mr Justice Smith; likewise a law lord will be known in the inn as "Master Woolf" even if he is privately and professionally known by the peerage title of "Lord Woolf".
The High Court's Registrar, Senior Deputy Registrars and Deputy Registrars serve as Masters of the High Court in civil cases in the court's Court of First Instance.
Under the Court Officers Act 1926, the Master of the High Court and taxing masters are not judges but rather "quasi-judicial office holders".
In Canada the structure of the court system is primarily a provincial responsibility pursuant to s. 92 (14) of the Constitution Act, 1867 and the superior courts of the provinces have different names. Masters are found in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Court of King's Bench of Alberta, and the Court of King's Bench of Manitoba. There are part-time taxing masters in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. There is a similar office of prothonotary in the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island and in the Federal Court. In September 2021, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice changed the title of "case management master" to "associate judge".
The jurisdiction of a Master is fixed by provincial statute and the rules of court. Masters are appointed by the provincial government. As a result, while Masters sit in a superior court, they do not have the "inherent jurisdiction" of the judges of those courts, who are appointed by the federal government and whose authority is derived from the Constitution of Canada and the Crown. Their jurisdiction is usually limited to procedural and Interlocutory matters heard in chambers. Consequently, though of the superior court, Masters are concurrently subordinate to the judges of that court insofar as application of judicial precedent is concerned.Masters commonly also sit as Registrars in Bankruptcy.
In the Federal Court of Canada, a judicial officer with much the same powers as a Master is called a Prothonotary.
Traditionally a Master is referred to as "Master Smith" or, in court, as "Master". In some jurisdictions, Masters or associate judges are now referred to as "your honour".
Masters and Prothonotaries are independent judicial officers although they do not have the full level of security of tenure afforded to federally appointed judges.
In Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba, masters have the same terms of appointment as provincial judges. This was formerly the case in Ontario as well but after the High Court of Justice and District Courts were merged, in 1986 a new office of Case Management Master was created.
In Ontario, associate judges have all of the authority of traditional masters as well as additional jurisdiction to manage actions and engage in dispute resolution processes. They are appointed by Order in Council and can only be removed for cause by the Chief Justice following a formal disciplinary process.
In Ontario the distinction between "chambers" and "court" has been abolished. When associate judges preside they sit as the court and their function is to perform tasks that would otherwise fall to superior court judges. Besides the jurisdiction to hear most interlocutory motions in civil matters, associate judges in Ontario also preside at status hearings, case conferences and pre-trials. They frequently act as referees to hear trials in construction lien matters, mortgage references or issues referred by judges. Associate judges also provide dispute resolution services and sit as Registrars in Bankruptcy.
In the High Court of New Zealand, Associate Judges perform the same role as Masters in the High Court of Justice in England and Wales. They were previously referred to as Masters, however the title was changed on 20 May 2004, and all existing Masters were renamed Associate Judges.
The Masters are the junior judges on the High Court of Fiji.
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as a part of a panel of judges. A judge hears all the witnesses and any other evidence presented by the barristers or solicitors of the case, assesses the credibility and arguments of the parties, and then issues a ruling in the case based on their interpretation of the law and their own personal judgment. A judge is expected to conduct the trial impartially and, typically, in an open court.
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.
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.
The King's Bench ; or, during the reign of a female monarch, the Queen's Bench, is the superior court in a number of jurisdictions within some of the Commonwealth realms. The original King's Bench, founded in 1215 in England, was one of the ancient courts of the land and is now a division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. In the Commonwealth, the term King-on-the-Bench, or Queen-on-the-Bench is a title sometimes used to refer to the monarch in their ceremonial role within the justice system, as the fount of justice in that justice is carried out in their name.
In the history of the courts of England and Wales, the Judicature Acts were a series of Acts of Parliament, beginning in the 1870s, which aimed to fuse the hitherto split system of courts of England and Wales. The first two Acts were the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873 and the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1875, with a further series of amending acts.
The Exchequer of Pleas, or Court of Exchequer, was a court that dealt with matters of equity, a set of legal principles based on natural law and common law in England and Wales. Originally part of the curia regis, or King's Council, the Exchequer of Pleas split from the curia in the 1190s to sit as an independent central court. The Court of Chancery's reputation for tardiness and expense resulted in much of its business transferring to the Exchequer. The Exchequer and Chancery, with similar jurisdictions, drew closer together over the years until an argument was made during the 19th century that having two seemingly identical courts was unnecessary. As a result, the Exchequer lost its equity jurisdiction. With the Judicature Acts, the Exchequer was formally dissolved as a judicial body by an Order in Council on 16 December 1880.
The Federal Court of Canada, which succeeded the Exchequer Court of Canada in 1971, was a national court of Canada that had limited jurisdiction to hear certain types of disputes arising under the federal government's legislative jurisdiction. Originally composed of two divisions, the Appellate Division and the Trial Division, in 2003 the Court was split into two separate Courts, the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal. The jurisdiction and powers of the two courts remained largely unchanged from the predecessor divisions.
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.
The Superior Court of Justice is a superior court in Ontario. The Court sits in 52 locations across the province, including 17 Family Court locations, and consists of over 300 federally appointed judges.
The Federal Court is a Canadian trial court that hears cases arising under certain areas of federal law. The Federal Court is a superior court with nationwide jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia (BCSC) is the superior trial court for the province of British Columbia, Canada. The BCSC hears civil and criminal law cases as well as appeals from the Provincial Court of British Columbia. There are 90 judicial positions on the BCSC bench in addition to supernumary judges, making for a grand total of 108 judges. There are also 13 Supreme Court masters who hear and dispose of a wide variety of applications in chambers.
The Supreme Court of New South Wales is the highest state court of the Australian State of New South Wales. It has unlimited jurisdiction within the state in civil matters, and hears the most serious criminal matters. Whilst the Supreme Court is the highest New South Wales court in the Australian court hierarchy, an appeal by special leave can be made to the High Court of Australia.
The Delaware Court of Chancery is a court of equity in the American state of Delaware. It is one of Delaware's three constitutional courts, along with the Supreme Court and Superior Court. Since 2018, the court consists of seven judges. The chief judge is called the Chancellor, and the remaining judges are called Vice Chancellors. The chancellor and vice chancellors are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state senate for 12-year terms.
There are various levels of judiciary in England and Wales — different types of courts have different styles of judges. They also form a strict hierarchy of importance, in line with the order of the courts in which they sit, so that judges of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales are generally given more weight than district judges sitting in county courts and magistrates' courts. On 1 April 2020 there were 3,174 judges in post in England and Wales. Some judges with United Kingdom-wide jurisdiction also sit in England and Wales, particularly Justices of the United Kingdom Supreme Court and members of the tribunals judiciary.
The Court of Common Pleas, or Common Bench, was a common law court in the English legal system that covered "common pleas"; actions between subject and subject, which did not concern the king. Created in the late 12th to early 13th century after splitting from the Exchequer of Pleas, the Common Pleas served as one of the central English courts for around 600 years. Authorised by Magna Carta to sit in a fixed location, the Common Pleas sat in Westminster Hall for its entire existence, joined by the Exchequer of Pleas and Court of King's Bench.
The Court of King's Bench of Manitoba —or the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba, depending on the monarch—is the superior court of the Canadian province of Manitoba.
The Administrative Court is a specialist court within the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. It deals mainly with administrative law matters and exercises the High Court's supervisory jurisdiction over inferior courts and tribunals and other public bodies.
The Judges' Council is a body in England and Wales that, representing the judiciary, advises the Lord Chief Justice on judicial matters. It has its historical roots in the original Council of the Judges of the Supreme Court, created by the Judicature Act 1873 to oversee the new Supreme Court of Judicature. This body initially met regularly, reforming the procedure used by the circuit courts, and the new High Court of Justice but met less regularly as time went on, meeting only twice between 1900 and 1907, with a gap of ten years between meetings in 1940 and 1950 respectively. After relative inactivity, it was eventually wound up through the Supreme Court Act 1981, which contained no provisions for its continued existence, something Denis Dobson attributes to newer bodies which performed the duties the Council had originally been created to do.
The High Court of Justice in London, known properly as His Majesty's High Court of Justice in England, together with the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, are the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Its name is abbreviated as EWHC for legal citation purposes.
Accounts of the Indigenous law governing dispute resolution in the area now called Ontario, Canada, date from the early to mid-17th century. French civil law courts were created in Canada, the colony of New France, in the 17th century, and common law courts were first established in 1764. The territory was then known as the province of Quebec.
Contrary to a misconception sometimes held, neither the Master of the High Court nor the Taxing Masters are members of the judiciary. They are what are known as quasi-judicial office holders.