N.J. Constitutional Convention: Vol. 4, Page 103

Tuesday, July 1, 1947 (Morning session)

tration of estates at that time was within the jurisdiction of the church, until there was a system of ecclesiastical courts.

Then again, the King had residual powers to do justice in cases of great hardship, and when he found that he had so much of his time taken up with his wars in France, he turned all these cases over by ordinance to the Chancellor, and there grew up what we now call the Court of Chancery.

So you have in Coke's time a great number of local courts which have only a petty jurisdiction air, the three superior courts of common law, the Court of Chancery and the ecclesiastical courts, and that has stuck with us, largely.

The ordinary organization of courts in this country, coming down from Colonial America, has pretty well kept up that distinction between the courts of general common-law jurisdiction, the courts of equity jurisdiction, and the court of probate jurisdiction. Matrimonial jurisdiction passed over to equity because our forebears in this country wouldn't stand for the ecclesiastical courts, and that passed over into the domain of equity.

In addition to that, the King's Bench had the criminal jurisdiction, but it was like trying to dispose of mosquitoes with powerful ordnance to have all sorts of criminal matters brought to the King's Bench. And so criminal jurisdiction got, very largely but not entirely, separated.

Then too, it was a pretty serious matter if a man had to come from Northumberland or Westmorland to London whenever he had an action at law. So the court for the general jurisdiction of law was centralized. Nevertheless, the justices went about all over the Kingdom to try cases, with a jury from the locality. And after the Court of Chancery was centralized, evidence was taken in the locality - the system which you know of, the examination of witnesses by commissioners, in the locality.

That gave us the general picture of separate courts with petty jurisdiction, separate courts with general jurisdiction of law, a separate court of equity jurisdiction, a separate system of courts with a probate and to some extent matrimonial jurisdiction.

Now, the difficulty about that whole system is that it involves, it always involves, a waste of judicial power and excessive multiplicity of appeals.

In this country conditions were such after the Revolution as to aggravate that situation. Conditions of travel were bad. When Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the Continental Congress during the Revolution, he went on horseback from Philadelphia to Cambridge. It took the Commander of the Continental Armies eight days. Today you can go by train in eight hours, and you can go in much less than that time by air.

Previous Page in Book ********* Table of Contents *********** Next Page in Book