In medieval England and Ireland the Chief Justiciar (later known simply as the Justiciar) was roughly equivalent to a modern Prime Minister as the monarch's chief minister. Similar positions existed on the Continent, particularly in Norman Italy. The term is the English form of the medieval Latin justiciarius or justitiarius ("man of justice", i.e. judge).

A similar office was formed by imitation in Scotland, though there were usually two or three, the Justiciar of Scotia and Justiciar of Lothian (and in the 13th century the Justiciar of Galloway), these offices later evolving into a national one called Lord Justice-General.



In the Kingdom of England the term Justiciar originally referred to any officer of the King's Court (Curia Regis), or, indeed, anyone who possessed a law court of his own or was qualified to act as a judge in the shire-courts. In each English shire, the Sheriff was the king's representative in all matters. The only appeal against decisions of the Sheriff or his courts was to the king. During the reign of William Rufus many sheriffs were severely overworked; Rufus eased the burden by appointing local justiciars in some shires.

The Norman kings were often overseas and appointed a Justiciar, Regent or Lieutenant to represent them in the kingdom, as the Sheriff did in the shire. Later this post became known as the Chief Justiciar (or royal capital justiciar), although the titles were not generally used contemporaneously. Some historians claim the first in the post was Roger of Salisbury; Frank Barlow argues in favour of Bishop Ranulf Flambard, a functionary within the household of William I of England, as the first, and points out that the role began, perhaps, with Odo of Bayeux in his relationship with William I.[1]

The Chief Justiciar was invariably a great noble or churchman, and the office became very powerful and important; enough indeed to be a threat to the King. The last great Justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent, was removed from office in 1231, and the Chancellor soon took the position formerly occupied by the Chief Justiciar as second to the King in dignity, as well as in power and influence. Under King Edward I the office of Justiciar was replaced by separate heads for the three branches into which the King's Court was divided: Justices of the Court of Common Pleas, Justices of the Court of King's Bench and Barons of the Court of Exchequer.

List of (Chief) Justiciars

Name Term King(s)
Ralf Basset 1116 Henry I
Richard Basset (Justiciar) Henry I
Roger of Salisbury 1102–39 Henry I
Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester 1154–68 (jointly with Richard de Lici) Henry II
Richard de Luci 1154–79 Henry II
Ranulf de Glanville 1180–89 Henry II
Richard I
William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex 1189 (jointly with Hugh de Puiset) Richard I
Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham December 1189–April 1190[2] Richard I
William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely 1189–91 Richard I
Walter de Coutances, Archbishop of Rouen 1191–93 Richard I
Hubert Walter, Bishop of Salisbury 1194–98 Richard I
Geoffrey Fitz Peter, 1st Earl of Essex 11 July 1198 – 14 October 1213[3] Richard I
Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester 1213–1215 John
Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent 1215–1232 John
Henry III
Stephen de Segrave ?–1234[2] Henry III
Hugh Bigod 1258–60 Henry III
Hugh le Despencer 1260–May 1261[2] Henry III
Philip Basset May 1261–?[2] Henry III


In Scotland, Justiciars were the king's lieutenants for judicial and administrative purposes. The office was established in the 12th century, either by Alexander I or by his successor, David I.

The title of 'Justiciar' was reserved for two or three high officials, the chief one—the Justiciar of Scotia—having his jurisdiction to the north of the River Forth. The Justiciar of Lothian dealt with the part of the kingdom south of the Forth-Clyde line.

The role of Justiciar evolved into the current Lord Justice-General, the head of the High Court of Justiciary, head of the judiciary in Scotland and a member of the Royal Household.

The Duke of Argyll still holds the hereditary title of High Justiciar of Argyll, but no responsibilities now attach to it.

Other jurisdictions

The title Justiciar was given by Henry II of England to the Seneschal of Normandy.

In the 12th century, a magister justitiarius appeared in the Norman kingdom of Sicily, presiding over the Royal Court (Magna Curia), empowered, with his assistants, to decide, inter alia, all cases reserved to the Crown. There is no clear evidence that this title and office were borrowed from England; it was probably based on a Norman practice instituted in both realms. In the 13th century the office of justiciar was instituted in several principal localities around Sicily.

In medieval Sweden, the lagman ("lawspeaker") was the judge, or person learned in law, for a province, an area with several local district courts. Since the position corresponds to the general meaning of "justiciar", "justiciar" is often used to translate "lagman" in English texts. Lagmän were generally also members of the Senate of the realm, an institution corresponding to the English Privy Council. Finally, the Swedish term "riksdrots" is often translated as "Lord High Justiciar of Sweden".


  1. ^ William Rufus, F. Barlow, Methuen, London 1983.
  2. ^ a b c d Susan Higginbotham. "The Last Justiciar: Hugh le Despenser in the Thirteenth Century". Archived from the original on 2008-06-29. http://web.archive.org/web/20080629024448/http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/hugh_the_justiciar.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  3. ^ "JOHN (Lackland)". Archontology.org. http://www.archontology.org/nations/england/king_england/john.php. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  4. ^ "TITLE OF "JUSTICIAR" (PRIME MINISTER)". Baronial Order of Magna Charta. http://www.magnacharta.com/articles/article10.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 


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