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Historically, in Great Britain and the United States, some judges would "ride circuit," traveling around a region holding court on some schedule rather than asking plaintiffs to travel to a fixed courthouse to bring cases. To the best of my knowledge, this practice no longer exists in the UK or the United States.

Are there any contemporary examples - specific countries, specific regions, etc. - in which jurists routinely travel around a region addressing cases? I've done some searching online, and all I can find are references to US Supreme Court Justices historically riding circuit or courts of assize in England and Wales.

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This is still common practice in most, if not all, of the mountain west states in the United States in rural areas, although, obviously, nobody rides horses from court house to court house these days. I don't know if it is done in rural areas in other states.

Typically, general jurisdiction trial court judges in these areas are assigned to a multi-county district, but there are court houses in each county. Judges in the district rotate between county court houses to preside over court cases on a schedule worked out with court administrators.

  • As an aside, when I worked in a law firm in Western Colorado, some of our attorneys would drive 200,000 miles a year going to court house to court house for appearances all over our territory that covered a little more than half of the territory in the state and also spilled over into eastern Utah. They had to buy new cars at least once a year. That firm has a history back to the days when the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney literally road in the same horse drawn carriage from town to town (court was often held in taverns and inns; there were no court houses yet) to preside over cases. – ohwilleke Aug 13 '18 at 18:32
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As they are extremely sparsely populated, Canada's territorial courts still have circuits. Using the Northwest Territories as an example, the main courtroom in Yellowknife hears cases year-round, but the second courtroom is only available when the circuit judge is there.

Interestingly, not only the Territorial Court of the NWT but also the Supreme Court of the NWT in NWT are on circuit: the Court of Appeal does not usually hear cases outside of Yellowknife, although "in cases of emergency or situations of special circumstance, it may sit throughout the Territories or Alberta."

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To throw in a random example - this is still the case in the Netherlands. Not because of the huge distances of course, but for political reasons. While the government officially merged the courts of Almelo and Zwolle (45 minutes apart by car, 37 by public transport), it didn't manage to close either court. Both buildings are still used, but only on limited days, and judges travel between the two.

Really just a case of attempted cost savings that probably ended up being even more expensive now, with the added travel costs.

  • "45 minutes apart by car, 37 by public transport" This is what makes the Netherlands great. There are few pairs of points in the U.S. where the public transport distance in minutes isn't at least 1.5x or 2x the distance by car in minutes. – ohwilleke Aug 14 '18 at 1:32

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