Adam St. Clair
Court Systems Paper
The original American colonies had their own court system for resolving civil and criminal disputes. The Massachusetts Bay Colony created a General Court in 1629. The courts were composed of a governor, the deputy, 18 assistants, and 118 elected officials. The General Court was a combined legislature and court that made laws, held trials, and imposed sentences. By 1639, county courts were created, and the General Court took on hearing of appeals as its primary job, retaining original jurisdiction only in cases involving try alls of life, limb, banishment or divorce. (Schmalleger, 2009)
Pennsylvania believed that every man could serve as his own lawyer. The Pennsylvania system used common peacemakers who served as referees in disputes. Parties to a dispute, including criminal suspects, could plead their case before a common peacemaker they had agreed on. The decision of the peacemaker was binding on the parties. Although the Pennsylvania referee system ended in 1766, lower-level judges are still referred to as justices of the peace in Pennsylvania and a few other states, many other jurisdictions call them magistrates. (Schmalleger, 2009)
By 1776, all of the American colonies had established full functioning court systems. The practice of law was substantially affected by a lack of trained lawyers. A large amount of the early colonies displayed a strong reluctance to recognize the practice of law as a profession. A Virginia statute enacted in 1645 provided removal of the mercenary attorneys from office and prohibited the fees for practicing law. Most other colonies retained strict control over the number of authorized lawyers by requiring formal training in English law schools and appointment by the governor. New York provided the appointment of “counselors at law,” permitting a total...