What are assizes?

Here's a crash course in historic travelling courts for fans of Poldark...


Keep hearing people mention assizes in Poldark and not quite sure what they’re talking about? Don’t worry, you’re not alone – we had to look it up too.


The court of assize, or assizes, were travelling courts held periodically across England and Wales that judged cases of both civil and criminal law, although in the most part they concentrated on criminal matters. Generally assizes dealt with the most serious matters referred to them by quarter sessions (local county courts that were held four times a year) while more minor matters were left for the justices of the peace at petty sessions in the magistrates court.  

The name comes from old French and refers to the sittings or the sessions of the judges of assize. These judges travelled around the seven circuits (regional areas) of England and Wales between “assize towns” where they would stop, set up court and summon local juries.  


The system began to be replaced regionally throughout the 20th Century, but was completely abolished in 1972 when the 1971 Courts Act came into law and replaced both the assizes and the quarter sessions with a single and permanent Crown Court.