Circuit courts are court systems in several common law
jurisdictions. The core concept of circuit courts requires judges
to travel to different locales to ensure wide visibility and
understanding of cases in a region. More generally, some modern
circuit courts may also refer to a court that merely holds trials for
cases of multiple locations in some rotation.
2 England and Wales
3 Republic of Ireland
4 United States
4.1 Federal courts of appeals
4.2 Supreme Court of the United States
4.3 State courts
6 See also
King Henry II instituted the custom of having judges ride the circuit
each year to hear cases, rather than requiring every citizen to bring
their cases to
Assize of Clarendon). Thus, the term
"circuit court" is derived from the practice of having judges ride
around the countryside each year on pre-set paths − circuits − to
hear cases. Especially on the
United States frontier, a judge might
travel on horseback along with a group of lawyers.
Abraham Lincoln was
one such attorney who would ride the circuit in Illinois. In more
settled areas, a stagecoach would be used. Eventually, the legal
caseload in a county would become great enough to warrant the
establishment of a local judiciary. Most of these local judicial
circuits (that is, in terms of the actual routes traveled by judges)
have been thus replaced by judges regularly stationed at local
courthouses, but in many areas, the legacy term remains in usage.
England and Wales
Further information: Circuit judge (UK)
England and Wales is divided into six regions or circuits for the
purposes of the administration of justice.
North Eastern Circuit
Wales and Chester Circuit (also known as Wales and Cheshire)
South Eastern Circuit
The system is overseen by the Lord Chancellor. The membership consists
of High Court Judges, Circuit Judges, District Judges, law
practitioners and academic lawyers. The Circuits also form the basis
for administration of the Bar in England and Wales. The Circuit Bars
are represented on the Bar Council through the Circuit Leaders.
Republic of Ireland
Main article: Circuit Court (Ireland)
Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland the Circuit Court is part of the Courts of
First Instance, senior to the District Court but junior to the High
Court (Ireland). It was first established as the Circuit Court of
Justice under the
Courts of Justice Act 1924 and replaced the County
Court on the civil side, and
Quarter Sessions and Recorder's Courts on
the criminal side, as well as some of the jurisdiction of the assizes.
These are heard by a judge sitting alone. It also has jurisdiction to
hear appeals from the District Court. Appeals from the Court lie to
the High Court on the civil side and the
Court of Criminal Appeal
Court of Criminal Appeal on
the criminal side.
The Circuit Court is so called because of the circuits on which its
judges travel, namely Dublin, Cork, Northern, Western, Eastern, South
Western, South Eastern, and Midland, each of which are composed of a
number of counties. The court consist of a President and thirty-seven
judges. Although there is strictly speaking just one Circuit Court, a
sitting of the Circuit Court in any particular location is referred to
as name of town Circuit Court, e.g. Trim Circuit Court.
The High Court also sits "on circuit" twice yearly, though this is
called the High Court on Circuit rather than a circuit court. In this
case, "on circuit" means sitting in a location other than Dublin.
There are 70 circuit courts in a state
Federal courts of appeals
In the United States, circuit courts were first established in the
British Thirteen Colonies. In 1789, the
United States circuit courts
United States federal courts established in each federal judicial
district. These circuit courts exercised both original (first
instance) and appellate jurisdiction. They existed until 1912. The
original jurisdiction formerly exercised by the
United States circuit
courts is now exercised by the
United States district courts. Their
appellate jurisdiction is now exercised by the
United States courts of
appeals, which were known as the
United States circuit courts of
appeals from their establishment in 1894 until 1947.
The federal courts of appeals sit permanently in 13 appellate circuits
(11 regional circuits as well as a DC Circuit and the Federal
Circuit). Note that there are several other federal courts that bear
the phrase "Court of Appeals" in their names, but they are not Article
III courts and are not considered to sit in appellate circuits.
The federal courts of appeals are intermediate courts, between the
district courts (the federal trial courts) and the Supreme Court.
Smaller circuits, such as the Second Circuit and Third Circuit, are
based at a single federal courthouse, while others, such as the large
Ninth Circuit, are spread across many courthouses. Since three-judge
federal appellate panels are randomly selected from all sitting
circuit judges, Ninth Circuit judges must often "ride the circuit,"
though this duty has become much easier to carry out since the
development of modern air travel.
Supreme Court of the United States
Under the original
Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789 and subsequent acts, the
justices of the Supreme Court of the
United States in Washington, D.C.
had the responsibility of "riding circuit" and personally hearing
intermediate appeals, in addition to their caseload back in the
capital. This onerous duty was abolished by Congress with the
Judiciary Act of 1891. The U.S. Supreme Court justices still retain
vestiges of the days of riding circuit; each justice is designated to
hear certain interlocutory appeals from specific circuits and can
unilaterally decide them or refer them to the entire Court. The
Court's customary summer recess originated as the time during which
the justices would leave Washington and ride circuit (since dirt roads
were more passable in the summer).
Many U.S. states have state courts called "circuit courts." Most are
trial courts of general, original jurisdiction.
Alabama Circuit Courts
Arkansas Circuit Courts
Florida Circuit Courts
Hawaii State Circuit Courts
Illinois Circuit Courts
Indiana Circuit Courts
Kentucky Circuit Courts
Maryland Circuit Courts
Michigan Circuit Courts
Mississippi Circuit Courts
Missouri Circuit Courts
New Hampshire -
New Hampshire Circuit Courts
Oregon Circuit Courts
South Carolina -
South Carolina Circuit Court
South Dakota -
South Dakota Circuit Courts
Tennessee Circuit Courts
Virginia Circuit Court - court of record that has appellate
jurisdiction over a county's general district court and juvenile and
domestic relations court and original jurisdiction over major civil
cases and all the county's felony cases. A circuit court has the power
to issue death sentences and impanel grand juries. The court's
decisions become legal precedents.
Virginia - West
Virginia Circuit Court
Wisconsin Circuit Court
In Louisiana, the intermediate appellate courts are called the
Louisiana Circuit Courts of Appeal. There are five separate judicial
In many states, such as Missouri, a judicial circuit can encompass one
or more counties (see
Missouri Circuit Courts). Each circuit court can
have several divisions, including circuit, associate, small claims,
probate, family, or drug court. Each division hears cases within its
particular area of subject-matter jurisdiction, and jurisdiction is
based on the size or type of a civil claim or the severity or type of
a criminal charge. Drug court, for example, hears only drug-related
Several U.S. states have state supreme courts that traditionally "ride
the circuit" in the sense of hearing oral arguments at multiple
locations throughout their jurisdictions each year. Among the states
with circuit-riding supreme courts are California, Idaho, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington.
^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Circuit". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Assize of Clarendon English history". Encyclopedia Britannica.
^ a b Circuits Archived 2007-06-29 at the Wayback Machine. by the Bar
Council of England and Wales
United Kingdom portal
United States portal
Circuit rider (U.S. Court system)