King's Bench

King’s Bench is one of three divisional courts in the United Kingdom’s High Court that serves both as a court of original and appellate jurisdiction. King’s Bench (called Queen or King’s bench depending on who is reigning) covers a wide range of cases from contracts and torts and more specific areas of law. The court typically sits in the Strand, but some of the court’s cases can be heard in a District Registry. The court is the largest division of the High Court, consisting of 73 judges and headed by the President of the King’s Bench. Decisions from the court can be appealed to the Court of Appeals or in significant cases, directly to the Supreme Court. In the United States, the decisions of the King’s Bench may be cited in U.S. cases because the King’s bench used to serve as the highest court in the U.K. and promulgated important common law decisions that impacted American common law. 

The jurisdiction of the King’s Bench division can be quite complicated as it consists of various types of civil and some criminal jurisdiction, much of which might be shared with other courts. First, the court hears cases regarding torts, breach of contact, human rights, and debt collection, but cases involving claims of less than £100,000 will be handled by county courts. Many of these general cases can also be heard by the Chancery Division. Second, the King’s Bench has original jurisdiction over some important issues such as the enrollment of deeds, application for bail in criminal proceedings, and obtaining evidence from foreign courts. Lastly, the King’s Bench also is composed of special courts which have their own jurisdiction and procedures: the Administrative Court, the Commercial Court, the Circuit Commercial Courts, the Technology and Construction Court, and the Admiralty Court. 

The King’s Bench has a long and complex history going all the way back to William the Conqueror. As established by the Magna Carta, the Royal Court (coram rege) had jurisdiction over cases heard before the king which, in parts of the 12th and 13th centuries, could be around the country or at Westminster, literally wherever the King was located. The Royal Court or King’s Bench at the time only had a limited set of jurisdiction, especially after becoming permanently situated at Westminster, and given that the King’s bench followed the strict writ system along with its limited jurisdiction, the court oversaw little cases compared with the other common law court, the Court of Common Pleas, during this part of its history. By the 16th century, however, lawyers created a series of loopholes in the rigid procedure of King’s bench, which effectively allowed the court to become just as easily accessible as Common Pleas. The King’s court was preferred by many as it was the highest court for a long-period of time and provided other benefits. Over the next few hundred years, the distinctions between the King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, and Chancery blurred, causing a variety of issues that led to all of the courts being merged into the High Court of Justice in the 1870s. This ended the King’s Bench in its original form and resulted in the modern King’s Bench Division of the High Court. 

See, e.g. Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 45 (2004) (discussing a 1696 King's Bench decision).

[Last updated in April of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]