Court leet

The court leet was a historical court baron of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the "view of frankpledge" and its attendant police jurisdiction, which was normally restricted to the hundred courts.

Etymology of leet

The word "leet", as used in reference to special court proceedings, dates from the late 13th century, from Anglo-French lete and Anglo-Latin leta of unknown origin, with a possible connection to the verb "".

Early history

At a very early time in medieval England the Lord of the Manor exercised or claimed certain feudal rights over his serfs and feudal. The exercise of those rights was combined with manorial administrative concerns, in his court baron. However this court had no power to deal with criminal acts.
Criminal jurisdiction was held by the hundred courts; the country was divided into hundreds, and there was a hundred court for each of them. Each hundred comprised 100 hides, with each hide being an area of land of variable size that is enough to support one entire household. A tithing was an area of 10 hides, which therefore originally corresponded to about 10 households. The heads of each household were judicially bound to the others in their tithing by an arrangement called frankpledge, which created collective responsibility for behaviour within their tithing. The hundred court monitored this system, in a process called view of frankpledge, with the tithing reporting any wrongdoing in their area, and handing over the perpetrators among them. If the wrongdoing was minor, it would be dealt with by the hundred court, but serious crimes were passed up to the shire court.
Before feudalism, hundred courts had also dealt with administrative matters within their area, such as bridge repairs, road conditions, and so forth, but the courts baron had largely superseded that in practice, and some manorial lords began claiming authority over criminal matters as well. Eventually, the king formally granted certain trusted lords with the legal authority that had been held by the hundred court over the tithings in the lord's manor, the most important of those being view of frankpledge. The group of tithings that were located within each manor had come to be called a leet, and hence, in the later Middle Ages these judicial powers came to be called court leet.
The quo warranto proceedings of Edward I established a sharp distinction between the court baron, exercising strictly manorial rights, and the court leet, exercising the powers formerly held by the hundred court, emphasising that the ability to hold court leet depended upon a royally granted franchise. However in many areas it became customary for the court baron and court leet to meet together, as a single operation.


The court leet was a court of record, and its duty was not only to view the pledges, which were the freemen's oaths of peacekeeping and good practice in trade, but also to try with a jury, and punish, crimes committed within the jurisdiction; more serious crimes were committed to the King's Justices. Despite the presence of a jury, it was not trial by jury as understood today. The court leet had developed while the jury system was still evolving; the jury indicted wrongdoers, stood witness, and helped decide on punishment.
It also developed as a means of proactively ensuring that standards in such matters as sales of food and drink, and agriculture, were adhered to. The Alcester Court Leet contained the following wording:
The court generally sat only a few times each year, sometimes just annually. A matter was introduced into the court by means of a "presentment", from a local man or from the jury itself. Penalties were in the form of fines or imprisonment.

The jury and officers

Attendance at the court leet was often compulsory for those under its jurisdiction, with fines being meted out for non-attendance. The ability of the court to levy a fine was always subject to limitations, but the limits were never updated to account for inflation over the centuries; for those courts leet that still exist, the fine has effectively become merely nominal – 2p for example in the case of Laxton.
Courts leet generally had a jury formed from the freehold tenants, as bondsmen could not give an oath. The jury's role was similar to that of the doomsmen of the Anglo-Saxons and included electing the officers, bringing matters to the attention of the court and deciding on them.
The officers of courts leet could include some or all of the following:
The introduction of magistrates gradually rebalanced power away from manorial lords. Magistrates were later given authority over view of frankpledge, which effectively negated the remaining significance of the court leet, and they gradually ceased to be held, largely dying out. Following the collapse of the feudal system, and subsequent rise of the Reformation, civil parishes had largely taken over the remaining authority of courts baron, and tithings were seen as a parish sub-division.
Nevertheless, courts leet technically survived into the late 20th century, though almost all of the small number which still operated had become merely ceremonial, simply forming a way of promoting or celebrating their local area. Despite this, their legal jurisdiction over crime was only abolished in 1977, by section 23 of the Administration of Justice Act 1977. However, one exception was allowed: the court leet for the manor of Laxton, Nottinghamshire, which had continued to operate judicially; Laxton retains the open-field system of farming, which had been replaced everywhere else by the 18th century, and required the court in order to administer the field system.
Although the Administration of Justice Act had abolished the legal jurisdiction of the other courts leet, it emphasised that "any such court may continue to sit and transact such other business, if any, as was customary for it". Schedule 4 to the Act specified the "business" which was to be considered customary, which included the taking of presentments relating to matters of local concern and – in some cases – the management of common land.

Courts leet existing today

The following courts leet were exempted from abolition by the Administration of Justice Act 1977, and were known to be still functioning in 2010:
In addition, the following courts leet are in operation, having been re-established, or continued, but without statutory authority :
By contrast, the statutory backing for the following courts leet was preserved by the 1977 Act, but it is not clear whether they are still operative:
The following courts leet are also listed here for unclear reasons, despite not having been exempted from abolition by the 1977 act, and despite it not being clear whether they are still operative: