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Court leet

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The court leet was a historical court baron (a manorial court) of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the "view of frankpledge" and its attendant police jurisdiction, which was normally restricted to the hundred courts.

Contents

History

At a very early time in medieval England the Lord of the Manor exercised or claimed certain jurisdictional rights over his tenants and bondsmen concerning the administration of his manor and exercised those rights through his court baron. However this court had no power to deal with criminal acts.

Criminal jurisdiction could, however, be granted to a trusted lord by the Crown by means of an additional franchise to give him the prerogative rights he owed feudally to the king. The most important of these was the "view of frankpledge", by which tenants were held responsible for the actions of others within a grouping of ten households. In the later Middle Ages the lord, when exercising these powers, gained the name of leet which was a jurisdiction of a part of a county, hence the franchise was of court leet.

The quo warranto proceedings of Edward I established a sharp distinction between the court baron, exercising strictly manorial rights, and the court leet, depending for its jurisdiction upon royal franchise. However in many areas it became customary for the two courts to meet together.

Role

The court leet was a court of record, and its duty was not only to view the pledges, which were the freemen's oaths of peacekeeping and good practice in trade, but also to try by jury, and punish, all crimes committed within the jurisdiction. The most serious crimes were committed to the King's Justices.

It also developed as a means of proactively ensuring that standards in such matters as sales of food and drink, and agriculture, were adhered to. The Alcester Court Leet contained the following wording:

To enquire regularly and periodically into the proper condition of watercourses, roads, paths, and ditches; to guard against all manner of encroachments upon the public rights, whether by unlawful enclosure or otherwise; to preserve landmarks, to keep watch and ward in the town, and overlook the common lands, adjust the rights over them, and restraining in any case their excessive exercise, as in the pasturage of cattle; to guard against the adulteration of food, to inspect weights and measures, to look in general to the morals of the people, and to find a remedy for each social ill and inconvenience. To take cognisance of grosser crimes of assault, arson, burglary, larceny, manslaughter, murder, treason, and every felony at common law.

The court generally sat only a few times each year, sometimes just annually. A matter was introduced into the court by means of a "presentment", from a local man or from the jury itself. Penalties were in the form of fines or imprisonment.

The court leet began to decline in the fourteenth century, being superseded by the more modern county Justices of the Peace and ultimately magistrates' courts, but in many cases courts leet operated until nearly the middle of the nineteenth century as a form of civil administration with a similar role to borough freemen or parish vestrymen.

The jury and officers

Attendance at the court leet was often compulsory for those under its jurisdiction and some courts still levy a nominal fine for non-attendance, 2p for example in the case of Laxton.

Court leets generally had a jury formed from the freehold tenants, as bondsmen could not give an oath. The jury's role was similar to that of the doomsmen of the Anglo-Saxons and included electing the officers (other than the Steward who was appointed by the lord), bringing matters to the attention of the court and deciding on them.

The officers of courts leet could include some or all of the following:

  • Steward, the chief official of the lord of the manor, and a judge.
  • Bailiff, summonsed the Jury and, if necessary, performed arrests, as well as generally supervising court matters.
  • Constable (Tithingman), to ensure law and order during court sessions.
  • Ale taster, to ensure the quality of ale, and to check that true measures are used.
  • Carniters or "flesh tasters", to ensure the freshness of meat and poultry.
  • Bread Weighers, responsible for verifying the freshness and weight of bread sold in the Manor.
  • Affeerers, responsible for assessing amercements (setting the level of fines)
  • Searcher and Sealer of Leather, to ensure the quality of leather goods.
  • The Hayward, responsible for enclosures and fences on common land.
  • Surveyor of the Highways or Overseer of Pavements, and Brook Looker, to ensure the proper condition of roads and waterways
  • Mace Bearer
  • Town Crier
  • Role

    Courts leet survived for formal purposes until their legal criminal jurisdiction was abolished in 1977 by section 23 of the Administration of Justice Act 1977. One exception was allowed, namely the court leet for the manor of Laxton, Nottinghamshire, which was allowed to keep its jurisdiction to administer and settle disputes over the open field system of farming which still operates in that area.

    The Act stated that "Any such court may continue to sit and transact such other business, if any, as was customary for it" and Schedule 4 to the Act specified the business which was to be considered customary, which included the taking of presentments relating to matters of local concern and in some cases the management of common land.

    Courts leet existing today

    The following courts leet marked with # were known to be still functioning in 2010. Those exempted from abolition by the Administration of Justice Act 1977 are marked by an *, however there is no indication of how many of the others are still operative:

  • Alcester (Warwickshire) Court Leet, Court Baron and View of Frankpledge * #
  • Altrincham {Cheshire} - {Trafford} Court Leet, Court Baron and View of Frankpledge
  • Ashburton Courts Leet and Baron * #
  • Bideford Manor Court * #
  • Court Leet and Court Baron of the Ancient Manor of Bowes in County of Durham * #
  • Ancient Court Leet and Court Baron of the Manor of Bromsgrove * #
  • The Bucklebury Court Baron *
  • The Court Leet and Baron of Carrick Blacker at Portadown. #
  • Courts Leet and Baron of Barony of Cemaes in County of Dyfed (Pembrokeshire) * #
  • Clifton Courts Leet and Baron and View of Frankpledge *
  • Manorial Court for Hundred and Borough of Cricklade * #
  • Croyland View of Frankpledge, Court Leet and Great Court Baron *
  • Danby (North Yorkshire) Court Leet and Court Baron * #
  • Manor of Dorney with Boveney Court Leet with Court Baron and View of Frankpledge *
  • Manor Court of Dunstone (otherwise Blackslade) *
  • The Court Baron of East Horndon *
  • Courts Leet and Baron of the Manors of Eton-cum-Stockdales in Colenorton *
  • Manor of Fyling Court Leet in North Yorkshire Website * #
  • Court Leet and Court Baron of the Manor of Hatherleigh #
  • Court Baron for the Manor of Heaton in City of Bradford * #
  • Court Leet and Court Baron of the Manor of Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire * #
  • Holsworthy, Devon #
  • Town and Manor of Hungerford and the Manor and Liberty of Sanden Fee Hocktide Court and Court Leet * #
  • Manor of Laxton Court Leet * #
  • Laugharne #
  • The City of London Court of Husting *
  • Manor of Mickley Court Leet and Court Baron *
  • Court Leet and Baron of the Manor of Mynachlogddu, Dyfed * #
  • Court Leet of Northleach, Glos.#
  • The Norwich Court of Mayoralty * #
  • Court Leet of the Island and Royal Manor of Portland * #
  • Courts Leet and Baron of the Manor of Rushton (Staffordshire)
  • Southampton Court Leet * #
  • Southwark Courts Leet and Views of Frankpledge * # for the three Manors of the City of London, the Guildable, King's and Great Liberty.
  • Manor of Spaunton Court Leet and Court Baron with View of Frankpledge *
  • Spitchwick Courts Leet and Baron *
  • Courts Leet and Baron of Stockbridge, Hampshire * #
  • Court Leet of the Manor and Borough of Wareham * #
  • Warwick Court Leet * #
  • Manor of Whitby Laithes Court Leet *
  • Taunton Court Leet #
  • Normanton on Soar Court Leet
  • References

    Court leet Wikipedia


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