A History of the County Court, 1846-1971

A History of the County Court, 1846-1971

A History of the County Court, 1846-1971

A History of the County Court, 1846-1971

Synopsis

The first full-length account of the establishment of the County Court in England and Wales in 1846 and its work, through to its reconstruction in 1971. It traces its development from being largely a debt collection agency to its far wider jurisdiction today as the main forum for civil disputes. Drawing on a wide range of sources, the author describes its organization and officers and discusses the roles of lawyers and lay persons. Given the current controversy over access to justice, this is a timely new history.

Excerpt

To inflict one more book upon a world already awash with information demands some justification beyond the need to propitiate that modern Moloch the Research Assessment Exercise. Nor is it enough to offer the familiar incantation that this is 'an unjustly neglected subject', for readers will have learned from grim experience that all too often such subjects have been very properly neglected by more discriminating scholars as being insignificant, abstruse or plain dull. So what justifies a book on the history of the county courts?

Aside from obtaining a grant of probate or letters of administration, a citizen's most likely involvement with the civil courts is through divorce or separation, or being subjected to (or much more rarely, initiating) claims for debt. These proceedings are nowadays overwhelmingly most likely to be conducted through the county court, so what was, for most of its 150 years, often described as 'the poor man's court' remains the court of law most frequently encountered by the people in civil disputes. Throughout its history many defendants, if not most, never actually attended the court, or at least got no further than the court office, but their perceptions of the legal system in its civil garb will certainly have been influenced, and perhaps shaped or reshaped, by that experience.

Those perceptions in turn help to shape society's conception of the law as it is and as it ought to be. Individual experiences feed into the collective consciousness of communities, helping to mould their views of law's legitimacy and its perceived effectiveness in action. This in turn subtly affects how, and how well, the law operates within a community—how well it lives up to its pretensions in fact. For that reason, if no other, we should know something of these courts, for if the superior courts gave out the . . .

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