Catalogue description Records of the Court of Common Pleas and other courts

Details of CP
Reference: CP
Title: Records of the Court of Common Pleas and other courts

Includes all the surviving records of the Court of Common Pleas, which was concerned with civil litigation at common law between subjects, principally about real property and debt.

Date: 1195-1879
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Court of Common Pleas, 1194-1875

Supreme Court of Judicature, Crown Pleas Division, 1875-1880

Physical description: 73 series
Custodial history: The court began recording its proceedings in plea rolls and filing its writs from its foundation at the end of the 12th century. As its business increased new series of files were created for new kinds of writs and instruments, especially in mid-late 16th century. Writs initiating cases were issued in Chancery but filed in the court. Most files were kept by the Custos Brevium (established by 1246) but files of writs of covenant were kept by the chirographer because of their association with feet of fines, which were kept separately by the chirographer (established by King John's reign). The court's records were at first held by its justices and their clerks, but from 1257 non-current ones were passed to the treasury at the Exchequer. From 1288 until 1731 non-current records, plea rolls, files of fines and writs were transferred from the court to the Treasury of the Receipt of the Exchequer; and thence, eventually, to the PRO.
Publication note:

A major study of the court in the fifteenth century is M Hastings, The Court of Common Pleas in Fifteenth Century England (New York, 1947)

Administrative / biographical background:

A central royal court, sitting at Westminster for four terms in the year and enrolling its proceedings, was in existence during the closing years of Henry II's reign, though its earliest surviving plea roll dates only from Trinity 1194. Soon known as the Bench, it coalesced for a short time in John's reign with the court coram rege, but had separated again before a clause in Magna Carta provided that Common Pleas should not follow the king, but be heard in a fixed place. Until 1249 it was regularly suspended for eyre visitations, with the proceedings of which its own were co-ordinated, until the end of the eyre system in 1294. From Michaelmas 1239 its sessions continued until 1875, broken only by civil disturbance or plague. They were normally held at Westminster Hall, but also at Shrewsbury in Edward I's Welsh wars, and on many occasions at York during the Scottish wars of Edward I, II and III.

The court's jurisdiction was originally unlimited, except that it could not hear actions from the palatinates and the more highly privileged liberties and boroughs; but more important actions from the king and magnates were normally heard coram rege. From the reign of Edward I, it became increasingly limited to civil litigation at common law between subjects. Eventually this limitation became rigid and the court came to be called the Court of Common Pleas (or Common Place).

Enrolments of the appointment of justices of this court occur intermittently on the patent rolls from Henry III. The different offices of the court developed from the thirteenth century onwards. In 1838, most of these offices were abolished and the duties transferred to five masters, to whom the records of the abolished offices were transferred.

The court was abolished by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act of 1873, and Common Pleas became a division of the High Court of Justice. In 1880, by an Order in Council, the Common Pleas Division was amalgamated with the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice.

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