Court “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “court” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:”




An organ of the government, consisting of one person, or of several persons, called upon and authorized to administer justice; a place where justice is judicially administered [20 Am J2d Cts § 1; judge and jury combined; Welch v. Welch (Tex Civ App) 396 SW2d 434].

The three elements essential to the conception of a court are: (1) a time when judicial functions may be exercised, (2) a place for the exercise of judicial functions, and (3) a person or persons exercising judicial functions [Hamblin v. Superior Court, 195 Cal 364, 233 P 337, 43 ALR 1509]. In many cases, the words “court” and “judge” are used interchangeably [30A Am J Rev ed Judges § 4].


  1. A court is an incorporeal political being, which requires for its existence, the presence of the judges, or a competent number of them, and a clerk or prothonotary, at the time during which, and at the place where it is by law authorized to be held; and the performance of some public act, indicative of a design to perform the functions of a court.
  2. In another sense, the judges, clerk, or prothonotary, counsellors, and ministerial officers, are said to constitute the clerk.
  3. According to Lord Coke, a court is a place where justice is judicially administered [Co. Litt. 58, a].
  4. The judges, when duly convened, are also called the court [Vide 6 Vin. Ab. 484; Wheat. Dig. 127; Merl. Rep. h. t.; 3 Com. Dig. 300; 8 Id. 386; Dane’s Ab. Index, h. t.; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t].
  5. It sometimes happens that the judges composing a court are equally divided on questions discussed before them. It has been decided, that when such is the case on an appeal or writ of error, the judgement or decree is affirmed [10 Wheat. 66; 11 Id. 59]. If it occurs on a motion in arrest of judgement, a judgement is to be entered on the verdict [2 Dall. Rep. 388]. If on a motion for a new trial, the motion is rejected [6 Wheat. 542]. If on a motion to enter judgement on a verdict, the judgement is entered [6 Binn. 100]. In England, if the house of lords be equally divided on a writ of error, the judgement of the court below is affirmed [1 Arch. Pr. 235; so in Cam. Scacc. 1 Arch. Pr. 240]. But in error coram nobis, no judgment can be given if the judges are equally divided, except by consent [1 Arch. Pr. 246]. When the judges are equally divided on the admission of testimony, it cannot be received [see 3 Yeates, 171; Also, 2 Bin. 173; 3 Bin. 113 4 Bin. 157; 1 Johns. Rep. 118 4 Wash. C. C. Rep. 332, 3; see Division of Opinion].
  6. Courts are of various kinds. When considered as to their powers, they are of record and not of record [Bac. Ab. Courts, D]; when compared to each other, they are supreme, superior, and inferior; when examined as to their original jurisdiction, they are civil or criminal; when viewed as to their territorial jurisdiction, they are central or local; when divided as to their object, they are courts of law, courts of equity, courts martial, admiralty courts, and ecclesiastical courts. They are also courts of original jurisdiction, courts of error, and courts of appeal [Vide Open Court].
  7. Courts of record cannot be deprived of their jurisdiction except by express negative words [9 Serg. & R. 298; 3 Yeates, 479 2 Burr. 1042 1 Wm. Bl. Rep. 285]. And such is the court of common pleas in Pennsylvania [6 Serg. & R. 246].
  8. Courts of equity are not, in general, courts of record. Their decrees touch the person, not lands or goods [3 Caines, 36]. Yet, as to personalty, their decrees are equal to judgment [2 Madd. Chan. 355; 2 Salk. 507; 1 Ver. 214; 3 Caines, 35] and have preference according to priority [3 P. Wms. 401 n.; Cas. Temp. Talb. 217; 4 Bro. P. C. 287; 4 Johns. Chan. Cas. 638]. They are also conclusive between the parties [6 Wheat. 109]. Assumpsit will lie on a decree of a foreign court of chancery for a sum certain [1 Campb. Rep. 253, per Lord Kenyon] but not for a sum not ascertained [3 Caines, 37 (n)]. In Pennsylvania, an action at law ill lie on a decree of a court of chancery, but the pleas nil debet and nultiel record cannot be pleaded in such an action [9 Serg. & R. 258]



In legislation: a legislative assembly. Parliament is called in the old books a court of the king, nobility, and commons assembled [Finch, Law, b. 4, c. 1, p. 233; Fleta. Lib. 2, c. 2]. The meaning of the word has been retained in the titles of some deliberative bodies, such as the general court of Massachusetts, (the legislature).

In international law: the person and suite of the sovereign; the place where the sovereign sojourns with his regal retinue, whatever that may be. The English government is spoken of in diplomacy as the court of St. James, because the palace of St. James is the official palace.

In practice: an organ of the government, belonging to the judicial department, whose function is the application of the laws to controversies brought before it and the public administration of justice [White County v. Gwin, 136 Ind. 562, 36 N. E. 237, 22 L. R. A. 402]. The presence of a sufficient number of the members of such a body regularly convened in an authorized place at an appointed time, engaged in the full of regular performance of its functions [Brumley v. State, 20 Ark. 77].

  • A court may be more particularly described as an organized body with defined powers, meeting at certain times and places for the hearing and decision of causes and other matters brought before it, and aided in this, its proper business, by its proper officers, viz., attorneys and counsel to present and manage the business, clerks to record and attest its acts, and decisions, and ministerial officers to execute its commands, and secure due order in its proceedings [Ex parte Gardner, 22 Nev. 280, 39 Pac. 570]. 

The place where justice is judicially administered [Co. Litt. 58a; 3 Bl. Comm. 23 Railroad Co. v. Harden, 113 Ga. 456, 38 S. E. 950]. The judge, or the body of judges, presiding over a court.

  • The words “court” and “judge,” or “judges,” are frequently used in our statutes as synonymous. When used with reference to orders made by the court or judges, they are to be so understood [State v. Caywood, 96 Iowa 367, 65 N. W. 385; Michigan Cent. R. Co. v. Northern Ind. R. Co., 3 Ind. 239]. 

Classification: courts may be classified and divided according to several methods, the following being the more usual.

  • Courts of record and courts not of record; the former being those whose acts and judicial proceedings are enrolled, or recorded, for a perpetual memory and testimony, and which have power to fine or imprison for contempt. Error lies to their judgments, and they generally possess a seal. Courts not of record are those of inferior dignity, which have no power to fine or imprison, and in which the proceedings are not enrolled or recorded [3 Bl. Comm. 24; 3 Steph. Comm. 383; The Thomas Fletcher (C. C.) 24 Fed. 481; Ex parte Thistleton, 52 Cal. 225; Thomas v. Robinson, 3 Wend. (N. Y.) 268; Erwin v. U. S. (D. C.) 37 Fed. 488, 2 L. R. A. 229].
  • Superior and inferior courts; the former being courts of general original jurisdiction in the first instance, and which exercise a control or supervision over a system of lower courts, either by appeal, error, or certiorari; the latter being courts of small or restricted jurisdiction, and subject to the review or correction of higher courts. Sometimes the former term is used to denote a particular group or system of courts of high powers, and all others are called “inferior courts.”
    • To constitute a court a superior court as to any class of actions, within the common law meaning of that term, its jurisdiction of such actions must be unconditional, so that the only thing requisite to enable the court to take cognizance of them is the acquisition of jurisdiction of the persons of the parties [Simons v. De Bare, 4 Bosw. (N. Y.) 547].
    • An inferior court is a court whose judgments or decrees can be reviewed, on appeal or writ of error, by a higher tribunal, whether that tribunal be the circuit or supreme court [Nugent v. State, 18 Ala. 521].
  • Civil and criminal courts; the former being such as are established for the adjudication of controversies between subject and subject, or the ascertainment, enforcement, and redress of private rights; the latter, such as are charged with the administration of the criminal laws, and the punishment of wrongs to the public.
  • Equity courts and law courts; the former being such as possess the jurisdiction of a chancellor, apply the rules and principles of chancery law, and follow the procedure in equity; the latter, such as have no equitable powers, but administer justice according to the rules and practice of the common law.
  • As to the division of courts according to their jurisdiction, see JURISDICTION.
  • As to court-hand, court-house, court-lands, court rolls, see those titles in their alphabetical order infra.
      • Court above, court below: in appellate practice, the “court above” is the one to which a cause is removed for review, whether by appeal, writ of error, or certiorari; while the “court below” is the one from which the case is removed [Going v. Schnell, 6 Ohio Dec. 933; Rev. St. Tex. 1895, art. 1386].
      • Court in bank: a meeting of all the judges of a court, usually for the purpose of hearing arguments on demurrers, points reserved, motions for new trial, etc. as distinguished from sessions of the same court presided over by a single judge or justice.
      • De facto court: one established, organized, and exercising its judicial functions under authority of a statute apparently valid, though such statute may be in fact unconstitutional and may be afterwards so adjudged; or a court established and acting under the authority of a de facto government [1 Bl. Judgm. § 173; Burt v. Railroad Co., 31 Minn. 472, 18 N. W. 285].
      • Full court: a session of a court which is attended by all the judges or justices composing it.

    Spiritual courts

      : in English law, the ecclesiastical courts, or courts Christian [see 3 Bl. Comm. 61].



1. A place in front of a house, inclosed by a wall or fence; in popular language, a court-yard.

2. A space inclosed by houses, broader than a street; or a space forming a kind of recess from a public street.

3. A palace; the place of residence of a king or sovereign prince.

4. The hall, chamber or place where justice is administered.
St. Paul was brought into the highest court in Athens.

5. Persons who compose the retinue or council of a king or emperor.

6. The persons or judges assembled for hearing and deciding causes, civil, criminal, military, naval or ecclesiastical; as a court of law; a court of chancery; a court martial; a court of admiralty; an ecclesiastical court; court baron; &c. Hence,

7. Any jurisdiction, civil, military, or ecclesiastical.

8. The art of pleasing; the art of insinuation; civility; flattery; address to gain favor. Hence the phrase, to make court, to attempt to please by flattery and address.

9. In scripture, an inclosed part of the entrance into a palace or house. The tabernacle had one court; the temple, three. The first was the court of the Gentiles; the second, the court of Israel, in which the people worshiped; the third was the court of the priests, where the priests and Levites exercised their ministry. Hence places of public worship are called the courts of the Lord.

10. In the United States, a legislature consisting of two houses; as the General court of Massachusetts. The original constitution of Connecticut established a General Court in 1639.11. A session of the legislature.

This entry was posted in "Legally" Defined Words. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s