Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Nisi Prius Definition:

Latin: unless, before. More commonly, a civil jury trial.

Related Terms: Jury, Juror, Queen's Bench

Strictly, nisi prius translates to "unless before" but it has obtained a distinct meaning in the common law.

Rapalje and Lawrence:

"In the practise of the English High Court, a trial nisi prius is where an action is tried by a jury before a single judge...."

Shumaker and Longsdorf define nisi prius as:

"... For the purpose of holding a jury trial. Important words in the writ directing the sheriff to summons jurors for the trial depending in the superior courts of law in England, which have come to be adopted, both in England and the United States, to denote those courts or terms of court with the presence and aid of a jury."

The origin is the requirement that a sheriff summons a jury to try a matter unless sooner (nisi prius) the king's court happened to be in the neighborhood. Nius prius ensured justice and trial by one judge and jury, in the even that a full bench of the regular court was, as they often were, delayed in arriving at a location.


  • Holdsworth, W. S., A History of English Law, 7th Ed. Vol. 1, (London: Methuen & Co., 1956) page 278-280
  • Rapalje, Stewart and Lawrence, Robert, A Dictionary of American and English Law, Volume II (Jersey City: Frederick D. Linn & Co. Law Publishers and Booksellers, 1883), page 869.
  • Shumaker, Walter and Longsdorf, George F., The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary (Chicago: Callaghan and Company, 1940), page 626.

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