Assize Court


Assize Court

The Court of Assize, or Assizes, is a medieval term for legal codes (such as "Assizes of Jerusalem"), that continues to be used in modern times. It is the name of criminal courts in several countries. In France, Belgium and Italy the court is still in use. The Assizes is the highest court. The word assize refers to the sittings or sessions (Old French "assises") of the judges, known as "justices of assize".

Belgium

The Assize Court in Belgium ("Hof van Assisen" in Dutch, "Cour d'Assises" in French) is very similar to the corresponding institution in France, described below. These courts sit in each of the ten provinces and in the judicial "arrondissement" of Brussels.

The presiding judge is to be a judge of a court of appeal and is assisted by two judges of courts of first instance. The jury invariably consists of twelve members, who are elected from among all citizens having the right to vote at elections. Members must be between thirty and sixty years of age and must be able to read and write. The jury alone decides upon the facts of a case, and determines the penalty along with the judge. There is no appeal of verdicts, apart from one before the Court of Cassation. [cite web
title=Overview of the Belgian Law "(implied title)"
url=http://www.crimen.be/doc/inlrecht.doc
publisher=Circle of the Criminological Sciences department, Faculty of Law, Catholic University of Leuven
format=doc
accessdate=2007-08-19
]

Mainly handling murder cases, it is the only court constitutionally authorized to judge delicts regarding the freedom of the press – though few practical cases have been considered to involve an infringement of that freedom, and thus nearly all incidents have been tried by lower courts. [cite web
title=Mediaverslaggeving en de toegekende strafmaat: een verband? "(thesis)"
author=Lenaerts, Nathalie; promotor: Prof. Roe; assessor: De Cock, R
publisher=Faculty of Social Sciences, Catholic University of Leuven
url=http://www.statbel.fgov.be/studies/ac329_nl.pdf
format=pdf
accessdate=2007-08-19
]

France

In France and other countries working along the same system, Assize Courts ("Cour d'Assises") use juries to judge the most serious crimes, such as murder or rape. It is chaired by a senior judge called the "president" of the court.

In France, the assize court has 9 jurors plus 3 professional judges on first instance, and 12 jurors plus 3 professional judges on appeal. List of possible jurors are drawn at random from the electoral rolls, but the prosecution and the defense can refuse some jurors (without having to bring any justification). For certain crimes (large-scale drug trafficking, terrorism, or other severe attempts on the security of the state), the court consists of 5 professional judges.

Italy

In Italy the Corte d'Assise is composed of two professional judges, Giudici Togati, and six popular judges, Giudici Popolari. The court has jurisdiction to judge the most serious crimes, such as terrorism, manslaughter and attempts to recreate a Fascist Party. Penalties imposed by the court can include life sentences.

In the Court of Assizes and Court of Assizes of Appeal (Corte d'Assise e nella Corte d'Assise d'Appello) the judicial panel consists only of the stipendiary and popular judges. There is no jury. The Court has jurisdiction to try crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 24 years in prison or life imprisonment, and other major crimes.

England and Wales

The Courts of Assize, or Assizes, were periodic criminal 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 heard the most serious cases, which were committed to it by the Quarter Sessions (local county courts held four times a 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 of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice 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.

History

Justices of the Court of King's Bench travelled around the country on five commissions: of assize, of "nisi prius", of oyer and terminer, and of gaol delivery. By the Assize of Clarendon of 1166, King Henry II established trial by jury by a grand assize of sixteen men in land disputes, and provided for itinerant justices to set up county courts. Prior to Magna Carta in 1215, writs of assize had to be tried at Westminster or await trial at the septennial circuit of justices of eyre, but the great charter provided that land disputes should be tried by annual assizes.

An Act passed in the reign of King Edward I provided that writs summoning juries to Westminster were to appoint a time and place for hearing the causes with the county of origin. Thus they were known as writs of "nisi prius" (Latin "unless before"): the jury would hear the case at Westminster 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, while the commission of gaol delivery required the justices to try all prisoners held in the gaols (jails).

Few substantial changes occurred until the nineteenth century. From the 1830s onwards, Wales and the palatine county of Chester, previously served by Court of Grand Session, were merged into the circuit system. The commissions for London and Middlesex were replaced with a Central Criminal Court, serving the whole metropolis, and county courts were established around the country to hear many civil cases previously covered by "nisi prius".

The Judicature Act of 1873, which created the Supreme Court of Judicature, transferred the jurisdiction of the commissions of assize (land disputes, etc.) to the High Court of Justice, and established District Registries of the High Court across the country, further diminishing the civil jurisdiction of the 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.

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland the Assizes, modelled on the English system, were replaced in the early years of the Irish Free State by the Circuit Court system in accordance with the Courts of Justice Act, 1924. As in England, they heard only serious cases and were arranged by the counties of Ireland.

See also

*Courts of England and Wales
*Assize of Clarendon - for details of the founding of the Assize Courts
*Assize of Northampton
*Assizes of Jerusalem

References

External links

* [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/DisplayCatalogueDetails.asp?CATID=16&CATLN=1&DTN=5 A history of the Assizes]
* [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/catalogue.asp?gid=50 Records of Assizes] : full-text editions of some records of assizes, mostly for medieval London. Part of British History Online.


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