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The Crown Court in England handles the graver charges known as indictments. Less severe criminal proceedings are heard in magistrates' court. Why is the Crown Court named Crown Court? Does it have some sort of closer association with the Crown than does a magistrates' court?

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Because prosecutions on indictment are commenced in the name of the Crown (“R”) in respect of crimes which were historically regarded as offences against the monarch. The law relating to these crimes is ancient and was described in works like Hale’s Pleas of the Crown (1736) and Foster’s Crown Law (1762).

In contrast, summary criminal procedure is a more recent development which has its origin in civil proceedings between subjects. These prosecutions were commenced in the name of an individual police officer or other informant, in inferior courts which were subject to review by the “royal courts.”

Thus, when the assizes and quarter sessions were abolished and replaced with a single court which would hear all “Crown cases” (and not summary prosecutions), it was natural to call it the Crown Court.

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  • To connect the dots . . . . a magistrate is a subordinate judge tasked with handling less important or preliminary matters, in the case of the English magistrate's court, subordinate to the judges of the Crown court that handle the more serious matters.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 23:09
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The legislative reason

The Crown Court is a single, unified court, first established by the Courts Act 1971, s. 4:

There shall be a Crown Court in England and Wales which shall be a superior court of record.

This has been superseded by the Senior Courts Act 1981, but the name remains the same.

Historical context

The Crown Court replaced the previous Courts of Quarter Session and Courts of Assize. There were also two experimental crown courts previously set up in Manchester and Liverpool in 1956 that had also fused the assize and quarter sessions jurisdiction.

The Royal Commission's reasons for recommending this name

The Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions (the Beeching Report) explains the choice of "Crown Court" as the name to be used (I would link, but I only found a print edition):

[W]e propose that the new court be called the Crown Court and, from now on, we refer to it as such. Not all of us feel that this name is ideal, and the lay members in particular would prefer one which gave a clear indication of the kind of business dealt with by the court. The logical answer would be to have a Civil High Court and a Criminal High Court, but the majority of us feel that it would be anomalous to have a High Court sitting at a number of centres which will normally be presided over by Circuit judges only. Also, only a small proportion of the work of the new court will in fact be dealt with by High Court judges. An alternative of "the Criminal Court", when contrasted with the High Court dealing with civil work, seems to most of us to suggest a lower level of court for criminal cases than for civil. We are conscious that our own solution carries with it the anomaly that High Court judges who, with the nomenclature we propose, will take their title from a court with civil jurisdiction, will be sitting in a criminal court, but we see no way round this and in the end have decided to adopt the title of "Crown Court", as representing the best solution.

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    Yes, but why that name?
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 21:54
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    It's the UK. We like crowns. Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 23:18
  • Fine but why not the crown court of indictment, or “crown magistrate courts “? With all due respect I really don’t think this answers the question. I think a better answer would offer some background or insights from somewhere in the legislation if there is any explanation of the purpose or rationale for the court which touches on the way it is named, or perhaps explanatory notes or Hansard transcripts. What are the origins of the name, not what are the origins of the court. Commented Jul 1, 2023 at 11:27
  • So yeah I fully agree with Dale. Commented Jul 1, 2023 at 11:27
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    The Crown Court is the only court that has the jurisdiction to try cases on indictment - which in England and Wales would be issued on behalf of the Crown (i.e. the state). I'm not sure if this is the reason it was given this name, but it would make sense whoever drafted the legislation would take it into account. Commented Jul 1, 2023 at 13:13

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