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What Is the Queen's Bench?

The Magna Carta, which King John of England was forced to sign in 1215, established a fixed court.
Several Canadian provinces hear legal cases in front of the Queen's Bench.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2014
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In Commonwealth nations presided over by the English monarch, the Queen's Bench (or King's Bench when the monarch is male) is a term which may be used to refer to a superior court. Not all Commonwealth nations have a Queen's Bench as part of their legal systems. Canada is one example of a country which retains a high court known by this name, with several Canadian provinces hearing legal cases in front of the Queen's Bench.

The history of the Queen's Bench is quite lengthy. Historically, the monarch traveled with a court which could hear cases and hand down judgments, and this was an important part of the monarch's work. While the monarch initially heard cases personally, the volume of cases made this impractical, so a designated Bench was created. Because it derived authority from the monarch, it was known as the Queen's or King's Bench, distinguishing it from and setting it above other courts of law to make the weight of its decisions clear.

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Under the Magna Carta, this court became fixed, rather than traveling, and it resided at Westminster except during times of plague, when it followed the monarch out of London. Over time, the scope of this superior court widened and varied. In 1875, the Queen's Bench was actually abolished as part of a restructuring of the legal system, and moved into the High Court of Justice. The Queen's Bench today is a division within the High Court, rather than being a standalone court.

This division acts as a civil and appellate court, hearing important cases and making rulings on them. Like other superior courts, it has broad jurisdiction which includes the ability to overturn lower court rulings. This rulings may be overturned if the presentation of an appeal demonstrates that the ruling was erroneous, not legally valid, or questionable in some other way.

It should also be noted that several professional organizations of women lawyers refer to themselves as the “Queen's Bench,” such as an organization by that name founded in San Francisco in 1921. These organizations attempt to advance the cause of women practicing law and offer social events, workshops, and other professional events which allow lawyers to network with each other. It is usually necessary to be a member of the bar in good standing in order to join such professional organizations, and people may be required to pay dues and fulfill other obligations such as dedicating set hours every month to pro bono work.

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