The Court of Star Chamber

The brief history of The Court of Star Chamber.

The Court of Star Chamber
The Court of Star Chamber

“To name a case a ‘Star Chamber proceeding’ now is a dreadful insult—an accusation of severe procedural injustice and misuse of power,” writes legal expert Elizabeth G. Thornburg. However, the true narrative of the Court of Star Chamber is far more convoluted.” Historians date the Court of Star Chamber’s origins to the latter part of the fourteenth century, and attribute its name to the chamber’s ceiling, which is ornamented in the medieval style with gold-painted stars, according to one idea.

The Court of Star Chamber arose as an outgrowth of the King’s Council, through which individuals may seek legal assistance not available in current courts, allowing the poor to pursue claims against the wealthy. In 1487, Henry VII codified the constitution of the court, which had split from the King’s Council, to include seven men: a bishop, the chancellor, two justices, the Privy Seal Keeper, a lord, and the treasurer. However, because the Star Chamber was an extension of the crown, it was forced to develop new rules as it grew. It made libel, perjury, and conspiracy crimes, for example.

Regardless matter how essential or reasonable such regulations were, the procedure stifled political debate and criminalized the expressing of particular viewpoints. Defendants in the Star Chamber were generally denied adequate procedural rights, including a jury trial. The Court of Star Chamber had ceased to function as an honorable institution of justice by the early 1600s. Instead, it had become a political club used by the king to quell dissent and stifle resistance. With the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640, the Long Parliament—the first assembly of that body since Charles I had dissolved the previous one eleven years before—abolished the Court of Star Chamber.

The physical court was housed at the Palace of Westminster (also known as the Houses of Parliament in America) until it was demolished in 1806, when it was demolished. The ceiling that gave the chamber its name currently hangs in Cheshire’s Leasowe Castle, but its reputation as a metaphor for severe and seemingly random judicial or governmental choices made in private lives has spread far and wide.

SEE ALSO:

The Assize of Clarendon (1166);

Bushel’s Case (1670);

The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679;

Legal Aid Societies (1876);

The Right to Counsel in State Court (1963).

Sources:

The Court of Star Chamber

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

 

Leave a Comment