Judicature Acts

The Judicature Acts are a series of Acts of Parliament, beginning in the 1870s, which aimed to fuse the hitherto split system of courts in England and Wales. The first two Acts were the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873 (36 & 37 Vict c. 66) and the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1875 (38 & 39 Vict c. 77), with a further series of amending acts (12 in all by 1899).

Judicature Acts
Territorial extentEngland and Wales

By the Act of 1873 (ss. 3, 4), the Court of Chancery, the Court of Queen's Bench (known as the King's Bench when there is a male Sovereign), the Court of Common Pleas, the Court of Exchequer, the High Court of Admiralty, the Court of Probate, and the Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes were consolidated into the Supreme Court of Judicature, subdivided into two courts: the "High Court of Justice" ("High Court"), with (broadly speaking) original jurisdiction, and the "Court of Appeal". Besides this restructuring, the objects of the act were threefold:

  • to combine the historically separate courts of common law and equity;
  • to establish for all divisions of the new Supreme Court a uniform system of pleading and procedure; and
  • to provide for the enforcement of the same rule of law in those cases where equity and common law recognised different rules.

The enactment was bold and revolutionary. By one section, the Queen's Bench, the Common Pleas (in which only serjeants formerly had the right of audience), and the Exchequer, and all their jurisdiction, whether criminal, legal, or equitable, were vested in the new court. The fusion of the systems of law and equity was not complete, however, as the Chancery (equity) division retained a distinct existence within the new court from the Queen's Bench (common law) division, having a certain range of legal questions under its exclusive control, and possessing to a certain extent a peculiar machinery of its own for carrying its decrees into execution. Nevertheless, all actions could now for the first time be initiated in a single High Court, and (subject to such special assignments of business as mentioned) could be tried in any of its divisions.