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The Theatre of Dionysus, which hosted the Athenian Ecclesia, around 4th century BCE
French Assembly in 1877; it entrenched the left-right political spectrum of its chamber in modern politics
The European Parliament in 2006, began operating in a hemicycle from its foundation in 1958, based on European traditions
Graphical representation of the left-right spread of members in the European Parliament

In legislatures, a hemicycle is a semicircular, or horseshoe-shaped, debating chamber (plenary chamber), where deputies (members) sit to discuss and pass legislation. Although originally of Ancient Greek roots, the term and modern design derive from French politics and practice.


The circular shape is designed to encourage consensus among political parties rather than confrontation, such as in the Palace of Westminster, where the government and opposition parties face each other on opposing sets of benches.[citation needed] The design is used in most European countries (and hence was adopted by the European Parliament) and the United States.

The United Kingdom, as the originator of the Westminster system, does not. However, two of the three devolved legislatures, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, use hemicycles. The Northern Ireland Assembly does not use a hemicycle format.


In the case of Australia (see below), the two largest parties are still facing each other, whereas in the Scottish Parliament's hemicycle, the largest party sits in the middle. However, some hemicycles follow a strict left-right arrangement with, for example, a left wing governing party sitting on the left and the right wing opposition on the right. In these cases election results are often portrayed in the hemicycle to show the results of left wing or right wing coalitions (reaching 50% in the centre, where centrist third parties are located) for forming a majority.


Some Westminster system countries outside the UK, such as India, New Zealand and Australia, have confrontational benches, but the end segment is curved to create a partial hemicycle, while other countries, such as the People's Republic of China, have one set of benches facing towards a stage area (though this reflects the one-party system in operation there).


See also[edit]