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CALCULATOR TO DETERMINE THE DATES
OF THE LEGAL TERMS IN ENGLAND AND WALES
In England and Wales there are four sittings (or "legal terms") in every year for the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The method for determining the timing of these sittings is set out in the Civil Procedure Rules at paragraph 1.1 of Practice Direction 39b - Court Sittings, but this calculator will do the hard work for you. Simply use the drop-down box below to select the appropriate legal year of your choice. For more information on the history and development of the legal terms, see the Historical Note on the Legal Terms at the bottom of this page.
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This web page is year 2000 compliant, assuming that the system on which it is used is also year 2000 compliant.
Disclaimer. Every effort has been made to ensure that this web page functions correctly, and members of Chambers themselves use it. However, no liability can be accepted for any errors which might arise in its operation, and use is entirely at the user's risk.
Cautions. (1) The method for determining the dates of the legal terms for any given year is set out in the Civil Procedure Rules and may therefore change if there is any amendment to those Rules. (2) Except for the special rules for 2002 for the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations and the special rules for 2012 for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, this calculator cannot know whether any substituted holiday date has been appointed under the 1971 Act and therefore it will always take the last Monday in May as the basis for calculating the appropriate ending date of the Easter term and starting date of the Trinity term. Substitutions of the spring holiday under the 1971 Act are rare in any event.
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Historical Note on the Legal Terms
The practice of dividing the legal year into various "terms" can be traced back at least to the Middle Ages. See A Handbook of Dates For Students of English History, Edited by C. R. Cheney and Michael Jones, 2nd Edition, April 2000, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521770955, pages 98-99 (reproduced here with the kind permission of the Royal Historical Society):
"The Common bench at Westminster, from the time of its separation from the Exchequer in the mid-1190s, seems to have heard and dealt with business on an almost continuous, day-by-day basis during four distinct periods of the year, the law terms, and separate plea rolls were compiled to record the business heard during each of these terms. The terms were so constituted as to avoid the major ecclesiastical festivals (Christmas and Easter, though not Whitsun) and the periods immediately preceding and succeeding them and so as to ensure that the court did not sit during Lent or harvest-time. The longest of the terms, Michaelmas, began one week after Michaelmas, at the end of the first week of October, a week later than the Exchequer. Prior to 1230, Michaelmas term commonly continued past Advent Sunday to end as late as 7 December (1200 and 1223) or even 9 December (in 1195) but thereafter it normally finished on about 1 December. After a break for Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany, Hilary term began one week after the feast of St Hilary (20 January) and always continued for at least two weeks, usually continued for at least three weeks and occasionally lasted for as many as four or five weeks (as in 1200, 1224, 1229, 1243 and 1278). The term regularly ran on past Septuagesima but ended before the beginning of Lent, perhaps because of the ecclesiastical prohibition on the taking of oaths during Lent: the differing lengths of the term were determined by the different dates for the beginning of Lent. Easter term always began two weeks (and a day) after Easter Sunday, again a week later than the Exchequer, and regularly continued past the feast of the Ascension to end one week after Ascensiontide. Trinity term was also of variable length. It always began a week and a day after Trinity Sunday and normally ended three weeks after the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist (14 July): its length depended on when Trinity Sunday fell in the year concerned. When the court of King's Bench was reconstituted on a permanent basis c.1234 it too adopted a similar pattern of hearing business in termly sessions and its terms were of similar length to those of the Common Bench."
Various statutes over the years sought to regulate the lengths of these legal terms. The first of these was in 1285 (the statute of Westminster II, c.30). Later statutes which dealt with the legal terms included 32 Henry VIII, c.21 (1540-41), 16 Charles I, c.6 (1640-41), 24 George II, c.48 (1750-51), 11 George IV and 1 William IV, c.70 (1830), and 2 and 3 William IV, c.39 (1831-32). These developments are set out in A Handbook of Dates For Students of English History, Edited by C. R. Cheney and Michael Jones, 2nd Edition, April 2000, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521770955, pages 102-104 (reproduced here with the kind permission of the Royal Historical Society):
"The first attempt to fix specific periods of the year for the holding of sessions by the justices of assize was that made in 1285 by the statute of Westminster II, c.30. Since it was part of a wider rearrangement of the assize system which envisaged the justices of the central courts playing a significant role in the assize circuits the dates chosen for the most part fell within the vacations of those courts; between the quindene of St John the Baptist (8 July) and the Gules of August (1 August), immediately after the end of Trinity; between the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) and the octaves of Michaelmas (6 October), immediately preceding Michaelmas term; and between the feast of the Epiphany (6 January) and the feast of the Purification (2 February), overlapping with the start of Hilary term. When the system was recast in 1293 with permanent full-time justices these term limitations were removed but a further reorganization in 1303 brought back the previous assize terms. From the fourteenth century onwards it came to be the norm for assize sessions (whose justices also acted as justices of gaol delivery and nisi prius) to be held in most counties only twice each year. By the sixteenth century these sessions had come to take place during the Lent vacation (after, rather than before, Hilary term) and in the Summer vacation (in July and early August).
To the scanty medieval legislation already mentioned we may add a statute defining the effect of leap year in 1256. Later statutes dealt with the terms as follows:
32 Henry VIII, c.21. Trinity term in 1541 and for the future shall begin the morrow of Trinity for formal matters, and full term on the following Friday. The return days shall be Crastino trinitatis, octave, quindene and three weeks (tres septimanas); the Act abolished the returns of the morrow, octave and quindene of St John the Baptist. (The result was to begin term a week earlier and to fix its duration, hitherto variable, at three weeks.)
16 Charles I, c.6. Michaelmas term (which conflicts with quarter sessions, causing great inconvenience) shall begin in and after 1641 three weeks from Michaelmas (full term four days later). The first two (octave and quindene of Michaelmas) of its eight traditional returns were abolished, the other six retained. (The result was to cut off two weeks at the commencement of term.)
24 George II, c.48. The early part of Michaelmas term being much interrupted by saints' days, term shall begin in 1752 and thenceforward on the morrow of All Souls, thus leaving only the last four of the traditional eight returns. The dates of naming sheriffs and swearing the Lord Mayor of London no longer falling within the shortened term, new dates were ordained (and further amended by 25 Geo. II, c.30).
11 George IV and 1 William IV, c.70. In and after 1831 the dates of terms were fixed as follows: Hilary, 11-31 Jan.; Easter, 15 April-8 May; Trinity, 22 May-12 June; Michaelmas, 2-25 November. If this meant that Easter term would continue into the period between the Thursday before and the Wednesday after Easter Day, then the term would be suspended between those days. The days lost would be made up after Easter and in order to do so the start and end of the Trinity term would be adjusted accordingly. The Act also altered return days: those which were to fall on the fourth day before the commencement of the term, and then on the fifth, fifteenth and nineteenth days of term. If this meant that the return day fell on a Sunday, it was to be moved to the following Monday.
2 and 3 William IV, c.39. By s.11 of this Uniformity of Process Act (1832), return days were abolished together with the procedures of which they formed a part.
36 and 37 Victoria, c.66. By s.26 of this Judicature Act (1873) terms were abolished. The sittings were now governed by the Rules of the Supreme Court, and have no procedural significance."
So, the legal terms were finally abolished by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873 (36 & 37 Vict., c. 66), the long title of which stated that it was "An Act for the constitution of a Supreme Court, and for other purposes relating to the better Administration of Justice in England ..." This Act abolished the division of the year into legal terms and removed their procedural significance. Part III of that Act was entitled "Sittings and Distribution of Business". Section 26 provided as follows:
"The division of the legal year into terms shall be abolished so far as relates to the administration of justice; and there shall no longer be terms applicable to any sitting or business of the High Court of Justice, or of the Court of Appeal, or of any Commissioners to whom any jurisdiction may be assigned under this Act; but in all other cases in which, under the law now existing, the terms into which the legal year is divided are used as a measure for determining the time at or within which any act is required to be done, the same may continue to be referred to for the same or the like purpose, unless and until provision is otherwise made by any lawful authority. Subject to Rules of Court, the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal, and the Judges thereof respectively, or any such Commissioners as aforesaid, shall have power to sit and act, at any time, and at any place, for the transaction of any part of the business of such courts respectively, or of such Judges or Commissioners, or for the discharge of any duty which by any Act of Parliament, or otherwise, is required to be discharged during or after term."
Section 27 went on to provide as follows:
"Her Majesty in Council may from time to time, upon any report or recommendation of the Judges by whose advice Her Majesty is herein-after authorised to make rules before the commencement of this Act, and after commencement of this Act upon any report or recommendation of the Council of Judges of the Supreme Court herein-after mentioned, with the consent of the Lord Chancellor, make, revoke, or modify, orders regulating the vacations to be observed by the High Court of Justice and the High Court of Appeal, and in the offices of the said Courts respectively; ... and Rules of Court may be made for carrying the same into effect in the same manner as if such Order in Council were part of this Act. In the meantime, and subject thereto, the said vacations shall be fixed in the same manner, and by the same authority, as if this Act had not passed. ..."
The first "Rules of Court" to give effect to these provisions were brought into operation by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1875 (38 & 39 Vict., c. 77), the long title of which stated that it was "An Act to amend and extend the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873". Section 16 of that Act brought into operation the "Rules of Court" set out in the First Schedule. Order LXI of those Rules was entitled "Sittings and Vacations" and provided as follows:
"1. The sittings of the Court of Appeal and the sittings in London and Middlesex of the High Court of Justice shall be four in every year, viz., the Michaelmas sittings, the Hilary sittings, the Easter sittings, and the Trinity sittings.
The Michaelmas sittings shall commence on the 2nd of November and terminate on the 21st of December; the Hilary sittings shall commence on the 11th of January and terminate on the Wednesday before Easter; the Easter sittings shall commence on the Tuesday after Easter week and terminate on the Friday before Whitsunday.
The Trinity sittings shall commence on the Tuesday after Whitsun week and terminate on the 8th of August."
So, from this time onwards, the legal "terms" were renamed "sittings" and their dates and duration were governed by Rules of Court. However, the periods of the year which these "sittings" occupied were quite similar to the periods of the year which the "terms" had formerly occupied. Although the exact starting and ending dates of the four sittings have changed from time to time since then, these alterations have been slight and the current provisions bear a striking similarity to the original provisions quoted above. The provisions have remained in materially identical form since the Rules of the Supreme Court (Amendment No. 2) 1972 (S.I. 1972 No. 1194), which came into force on 1st October 1972.
Strictly speaking, since the Supreme Court of Judicature Acts 1873 and 1875, the use of the word "terms" has been incorrect because such "terms" have been abolished and the word "sittings" is used instead. This official usage of terminology has continued to the present day (see now sections 57 and 71 of the Senior Courts Act 1981). However, legal practitioners these days, at least in England, still seem to speak of "terms" and hardly ever seem to speak of "sittings". The Judiciary of England and Wales seem to follow this approach too.
In 1999 the Rules of the Supreme Court were replaced by the Civil Procedure Rules, but the particular provision of the Civil Procedure Rules which governs the dates and duration of the sittings (namely, paragraph 1.1 of Practice Direction 39b - Court Sittings) is materially identical in its wording to the particular provision of the Rules of the Supreme Court which was in force immediately before then (namely, Order 64, rule 1).
For further information, see the description of the legal year set out by the website of the Judiciary of England and Wales.