A court is a tribunal, often a governmental 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. In both common law and civil law legal systems, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and it is generally understood that all persons 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 buildings in cities.
The practical authority given to the court is known as its jurisdiction (Latin jus dicere) – 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 is constituted by a minimum of three parties: the actor or plaintiff, who complains of an injury done; the reus or defendant, who is called upon to make satisfaction for it, and the judex or judicial power, which is to examine the truth of the fact, to determine the law arising upon that fact, and, if any injury appears to have been done, to ascertain and by its officers to apply a legal remedy. It is also usual in the superior courts to have attorneys, and advocates or counsel, as assistants, though, often, courts consist of additional attorneys, 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"). In the United States, and other common law jurisdictions, the term "court" (in the case of U.S. federal courts) by law is used to describe the judge himself or herself.
The word court comes from the French cour, an enclosed yard, which derives from the Latin form cortem, the accusative case of cohors, which again means an enclosed yard or the occupants of such a yard. The English word court is a cognate of the Latin word hortus (meaning "garden", hence horticulture and orchard), both referring to an enclosed space.
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.
Jurisdiction, meaning "to speak the law", is the power of a court over a person or a claim. In the United States, a court must have both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. Each state establishes a system of courts for the territory under its control. This system allows cases to be heard before courts or authorized individuals by granting both civil and criminal jurisdiction (in the United States, this is termed subject-matter jurisdiction). The grant of power to each type of court or individual may stem from a provision of a written constitution or from an enabling statute. A case brought before a U.S. court that does not have the authority to hear that case may be dismissed solely for lacking jurisdiction. In English law, jurisdiction may be inherent, deriving from the common law origin of the particular court.
Trial and appellate courts
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.
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 models for courts are the civil law courts and the common law courts. Civil law courts are based upon the judicial system in France, while the common law courts are based on the judicial system in England. 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 Kingdom of The Netherlands.
Court television shows
Television show courts, which are not part of the judicial system, 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. Types of court shows include:
- Judge Judy
- Paternity Court
- The People's Court
- Judge Mathis
- Judge Alex
- Judge Joe Brown
- Eye for an Eye
- Judge Rinder
Types and organization of courts
- Administrative court
- Constitutional court
- Court of Faculties
- Courts of England and Wales
- Ecclesiastical court
- Equity court
- Family court
- High Court of Justiciary
- Revolutionary Tribunal (French Revolution)
- Scots Law
- Scottish Court Service
- Supreme court
- eCourts (or Electronic Courts)
- Walker, David (1980). The Oxford companion to law. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 301. ISBN 0-19-866110-X.
- Blackstone's Commentaries, Book III., Ch. 3., p. 25, Yale Law School, Avalon Project
- 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); : "Each court of appeals shall consist of the circuit judges of the circuit in regular active service." (italics added); (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).
- "Etymology of words referring to enclosures, probably from a Sanskrit stem. In German, for example, Stuttgart. The word is generic for compounds and walled cities, as in Stalingrad, and the Russian word for city, gorod. Gird and girdle are also related". Yourdictionary.com.
- Centre National De Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales
- Online Etymologyl Dictionary
- Judicial Process: Law, Courts, and Politics in the United States - David W. Neubauer, Stephen S. Meinhold. Google Books. Retrieved 2013-06-24.
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- US federal courts
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- HM Courts and Tribunals Service (England and Wales)