Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Judicial Branch Definition:

A branch of government; judges.

Related Terms: Puisne, Legislative Branch, Political Question Doctrine, Executive Branch, Judicial Immunity, Government

Members of courts of law; a special independent group of people tasked within the constitution of a nation, with the resolution of disputes in regards to the constitution or any other law, or the interrelation thereof, and in regards to any private disputes in regards to the entitlements of persons under the laws as set by the legislative branch as well as the hearing and sentencing of any person of whom the executive branch, on behalf of the government, has alleged the commission of a crime.

The judicial branch of government have the following features:

  • Independence;
  • Sole authority to issue opinions binding on all, on the constitution and laws; and
  • Authority to hear cases not only between persons, but between persons and the government (aka state) and thus, the authority to render binding decisions in regards to government actions.

As John Adams wrote in 1775:

"The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people, and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, that the judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive, and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both, as both should be checks upon that.

"The judges, therefore, should be always men of learning and experience in the laws, of exemplary morals, great patience, calmness, coolness, and attention. Their minds should not be distracted with jarring interests; they should not be dependent upon any man, or body of men.

"To these ends, they should hold estates for life in their offices; or, in other words, their commissions should be during good behavior, and their salaries ascertained and established by law. For misbehavior, the grand inquest of the colony, the house of representatives, should impeach them before the governor and council, where they should have time and opportunity to make their defence; but, if convicted, should be removed from their offices, and subjected to such other punishment as shall be thought proper"

In a Canadian case, Fraser v Canada, the Supreme Court wrote:

"In broad terms, the role of the Judiciary is, of course, to interpret and apply the law; the role of the Legislature is to decide upon and enunciate policy (through law); the role of the Executive is to administer and implement that policy."

As Justice Buller wrote in Bishop of London:

"If the law be thought to be improper or inconvenient, application to correct it must be made elsewhere, and not to those who are bound by repeated and solemn judgments of their predecessors."

Also called the judicature as in the heading of §71 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act which continues:

"The judicial power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Supreme Court, to be called the High Court of Australia…."

As an example of a constitutional provision creating an independent judiciary, Article III of the US Constitution:

"The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish….

"The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more states; between a state and citizens of another state; between citizens of different states; between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects."

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