Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Common Pleas Definition:

A court to resolve civil disputes between private citizens and not otherwise involving the Crown.

Related Terms: Exchequer, King's Bench, Queen's Bench, Court of Exchequer

"Disputes between subject and subject" was how Harry Poland described the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas.1

In his 1816 law dictionary, T. W. Williams, described the Court of Common Pleas and also distinguished it from the Court of Exchequer and the Court of King's Bench (aka Court of Queen's Bench):

"[B]y their original Constitution the jurisdiction of the courts of Common Pleas, King's Bench and Exchequer, was entirely separate and distinct; the Common Pleas being intended to decide all controversies between subject and subject; the King's Bench to correct all crimes and misdemeanors that amount to a breach of the peace, the King being there (as) plaintiff, as such offenses are in open derogation of the jura regalia of his Crown; and the (Court of) Exchequer to adjust and recover his revenue, wherein the king also was plaintiff, as the withholding and nonpayment thereof is an injury to his jura fiscalia."

Courts signBut as if to confirm the evolution of courts and their respective jurisdictions, John Bouvier wrote this of Common Pleas in his American law dictionary of 1896:

"The name of a court having jurisdiction generally of civil actions. Such pleas or actions are brought by private persons against private persons, or by the government when the cause of action is of a civil nature. In England, whence we derived this phrase, common pleas are so called to distinguish them from please of the Crown."


  • NOTE 1: Bowen-Rowlands, E., Seventy-Two Years at the Bar (London: MacMillan and Co., 1924), page 37.
  • Williams, T. W., A Compendious and Comprehensive Law Dictionary Elucidating The Terms and General Principles of Law and Equity (London: Gale and Fenner, 1816).

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