The Reporting of Nisi Prius Cases: Origins and Effects
Between the 13th and 20th centuries, most major civil cases in England were tried by a judge and jury, in a system known as ‘nisi prius’. The case would commence in one of the three common law courts situated at Westminster Hall in London, and would then be sent out to the local court to be tried by a single judge and jury; the verdict of the court would then be sent back to the court of origin, which would either enter judgment accordingly, or else hear any legal arguments arising out of the trial which the parties wished to raise.
Because rulings of trial judges rarely involved any detailed legal analysis, nisi prius cases were generally regarded by the profession as having little or no value as authorities, compared to the decisions of the judges sitting in the Westminster Hall courts. Principally for this reason, nisi prius cases, despite being at the heart of the English common law system for over 600 years, were largely ignored by law reporters, until they began to be regularly reported in the mid-1790s.
My project examines why nisi prius cases had been of so little interest to law reporters for centuries; consider why such cases came to be regularly reported; and investigates the extent to which they came to influence the common law once they began to be regularly reported