What is a Circuit Court?

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What is a Circuit Court?
In the US, a circuit court serves as the intermediate original and appellate court for a specific judicial district or circuit. One circuit court is assigned to 11 circuits that represent the whole of the US. Both original and appellate jurisdiction is exercised by a particular circuit court. Original jurisdiction involves the filing of cases “for the first time”. Appellate jurisdiction meanwhile refers to the power of courts, including circuit courts, to review cases that were previously decided upon by lower courts. Appeals that are for review may involve a new hearing, an appeal on the legal rulings, or a hearing to give deference to the findings of a particular lower court.

The concept of circuit courts actually started at the time of King Henry II of England. During his time, judges would travel across the UK to hear appeals made by citizens. Instead of the usual setup in bringing the appeal to the central city of London, judges were instead to “ride circuit” across the country to hear cases on the other areas and districts. This idea was also adopted in the US where judges did the same “circuit traveling” across different areas to hear original and or appellate cases.

Over time, circuit courts in the US evolved into a system of federal judicial districts partly owing to the increasing number of cases on a per district basis. The entire country was then divided into several districts with each district having their own circuit or district court which could handle both original and appellate cases. This system was used until 1912 when the original or first instance cases were transferred from circuit courts to the designated district courts. The appellate jurisdiction on the other hand is now handed over to what is now known as the US court of appeals system.

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