RECORDER, (Recordator), a judicial officer, described by Cowell as 'he whom the mayor or other magistrate of any city or town corporate having jurisdiction, or a court of record, within their precincts by the king's grant, doth associate unto him for his better direction in matters of justice and proceedings according to law.' The Norman term, recordeur, appears to have originally been applied to every person who was present at a judicial proceeding, and to whose remembrance, or record, of what had taken place the law gave credit in respect of his personal or official weight and dignity. Of this we perceive a trace in the ordinary writ of Accedas ad Curiam, by which the sheriff is commanded to go to some inferior court (which, not being the king's court, is not a court of record), taking with him four knights, and there to record the plaint, which is in that court; the remembrance of the four knightly recordeurs of what they saw existing in the inferior court, in obedience to the king's writ, being treated as equivalent to their actual presence at the proceeding to be recorded. So if the proceedings are in the sheriff's court, he is ordered by the writ of Recordari facias loquelam to cause the plaint to be recorded by four knights. And by a record of the eighth year of King John, we find that a judgment of battle in the court of the archbishop of Canterbury being vouched in the king's courts, four knights were sent to inspect the proceedings, who returned ' quod recordati sunt.' (Placitorwn Abbreviatio, 54.) The practice of certifying and recording the customs of London by the mouth oftlie recorder, which is antecedent to the charters granting or recognising the practice, appears to be referrible to the same source. Where criminal or civil jurisdiction was exercised by citizens or burgesses, it would add to the importance of the court if its proceedings took place in the presence of an officer to whose record the superior courts would give credit, either in respect of his personal rank, as a peer or knight, or on account of his connection with those courts, as a seijeant or barrister-at-law. [serjeant.]
Since 1835 the duties of recorders in the cities and boroughs enumerated in the schedules of the Municipal Corporations Act (5 and 6 Will. IV., c. 70) have been regulated by the provisions of that and of subsequent statutes.
The jurisdiction of the recorder in places of minor importance than those mentioned in the schedules, being taken away, will not require to be noticed. Nor do these acts affect the city of London.
I. The recorder of London is a judge having criminal and civil jurisdiction. He is also the adviser and the advocate of the corporation. In respect of the duties performed by the recorder in the assemblies of the corporation, in the courts of mayor and aldermen, of common council, and of common hall, his office may be said to be ministerial. He is by charter a justice of the peace within the city of London, and a justice of oyer and terminer, and a justice of the peace, in the borough of Southwark.
The first charter of Edward IV. to the city of London grants that the customs of the city be certified and recorded by word of mouth, and that the mayor and aldermen of the city and their successors do declare by the recorder whether the thing under dispute be a custom or not.
The business of the mayor's court, in which the recorder ordinarily presides alone, comprehends a court of equity. In the mayor's court the recorder tries civil causes, both according to the ordinary course of common law and the peculiar customs of the city. The amount for which such actions may be brought is unlimited. In London, causes depending in the superior courts at Westminster for sums under 20/., writs of trial are occasionally ordered to be executed by a judge of a court of record in London under statute 3 and 4 Will. IV.,c. 42, s. 17. Such trials sometimes take \>\aee hefot-e- the recorder, and sometimes before the judges of the sheriffs' court.
Cases of felony and misdemeanour, and appeals against poor-rates and convictions, arising in the borough of Southwark, are tried before the recorder at the quarter-session* held for that borough. All the duties of a justice of the peace, including those of chairman, devolve upon the recorder at the quarter and other sessions held at Guildhall for the city of London. At the ei^ht sessions which are held in the year at Justice-hall in the Old Bailey for the metropolitan district, the recorder acts as one of the judges under her majesty's commission of oyer and terminer, and general gaol delivery. At the conclusion of each session he prepares a report of every felon capitally convicted within the metropolitan district, for the information and consideration of the queen in council, and he issues his warrant for the reprieve or the execution of the criminals whose cases have been reported.
The fixed annual salary of the recorder is 1500/. The Common Council have added 1000/. annually to the salary of the present recorder, and to that of his immediate two predecessors. Besides this, the recorder has fees on all cases and briefs which come to him from the corporation. He is also allowed to continue his private practice.
The recorder is elected by the court of aldermen, most commonly at a special court held for the purpose. Any alderman may put any freeman of the city in nomination as a candidate for the office, but an actual contest seldom takes place. The recorder elect is admitted and s-.forn ;n before the court of aldermen. The appointment is during? good behaviour, that is, in contemplation of law, for life. The recorder has always been a serjeant-at-law or a barrister. The office has been held by men of considerable eminence: of eleven persons who filled the situation during the last century, one became lord chancellor; another, master of the rolls; another, chief justice of the Common Pleas; and two, barons of the Exchequer. Latterly however, as the duties of the office have occupied a large portion of the recorder's time, counsel in extensive practice have not been desirous of the situation.
By an order made by the court of aldermen in the reign of Philip and Mary, the recorder, common-serjeant, and under-sheriff were directed to be chosen ' from old and learned officers of the city or out of the number of the six learned counsellors,' that number comprehending, in addition to the ordinary city counsel, the attorney and solicitorgeneral, who were always retained for the city. Three persons by whom the recordership of London has been held during the present century, have previously filled the office of common-serjeant. [serjeant.] But no similar instance occurred during the eighteenth century. The recorder of London deriving his authority from charters, and not being appointed by commission (except temporarily as included with other judges in the commission of oyer and terminer, &c. at the Old Railey), he is not, like the judges of the superior courts, liable to dismissal by the crown upon an address by both Houses of Parliament. But all recorders may be removed for incapacity or misconduct by a proceeding at common law.
Deputy recorders have in somo instances, but not very lately, been appointed by the court of aldermen on the nomination of the recorder. [Report on Municipal Corporations.)
II. In cities and boroughs within the Municipal Corporations Act, the recorder (who must be a barrister of not less than five years' standing) is a judicial officer appointed under the sign manual by the crown during good behaviour, having criminal and civil jurisdiction within the city or borough, with precedence next to the mayor.
Criminal jurisdiction is given to recorders by the Municipal Corporations Act, explained by subsequent statute. The I Ii."»tli section of that Act provides that the recorder shall hold once in every quarter of a year, or at such other and more frequent times as he shall in his discretion think fit, or as the crown shall think fit to direct, a court of quarter-session of the peace, at which the recorder shall sit as the sole judge, and such court shall be a court of record, and shall have cognizance of all crimes, ofiences, and matters whatever cognizable by any court of quartersession of the peace for counties in England, provided nevertheless that no recorder shall have power to make or levy any rate in the nature of a county-rate, or to grant licence to keep an alehouse or victualling-house, to sell exciseable liquors, or to exercise any of the powers by that act specially vested in the town council.
The jurisdiction of the county sessions extends, under 34 Edw. III., c. 1, to the trying and determining of all felonies and misdemeanours. The commission under which county justices are appointed however directs that if any case of difficulty arise, they shall not proceed to judgment but in the presence of one of the justices of the courts of King'* Bench or Common Pleas, or of one of the justices of assize: and courts of quarter-session in counties have latterly t resiled every case in which judgment of death would be pronounced upon conviction, as a case of difficulty, and have left such cases to be tried at the assizes; and though no such direction is contained in the grant of the office of recorder or in the Municipal Corporations Act, it has been the invariable practice of recorders appointed under the Act to refrain frum the exercise of jurisdiction in such cases. [sessions.]
In the session of 1839 a bill was introduced into the House of Commons for confining the jurisdiction of courts of quarter-session, both for counties and for borough*, to certain minor ofiences,—but the bill did not pass.
The civil jurisdiction given to recorders by 5 and 6 Wm. IV., c. 76,} 118, is to try actions of assumpsit, covenant, or debt, whether by specialty or by simple conlrart. and all actions nf trespass or trover for taking good* or chattels, provided the sum or damages Bought to be recovered do not exceed 20/., and all actions of ejectment between landlord and tenant wherein the annual rent of the premises docs not exceed 20/., and upon which no fine has been reserved, with an exception of actions in which title to land, or to any tithe, toll, market, fair, or other franchise is ia question in courts, which before the passing of the Act had not authority to try actions in which such titles were in question. This enactment docs not take away the mure extended civil jurisdiction which previously cxUted m particular cities and boroughs by prescription or i.» charter.
The practice, or mode of proceeding, and also the courtr of pleading, in courts of civil jurisdiction in cities and boroughs is governed by rules made by the recorder and allowed by three judges of the superior courts.
See QUARTER SESSIONS, COURT OF.
Note - this article incorporates content from The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1840)