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Archaeologia Cantiana -  Vol. 134  2014  page 266

A History of the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Diocese of Canterbury, 1566-86, based on the
   Cause papers bound within the Volume MS.F.4.12. By Karen Rushton

distinctions between the two shows that 33 of the 53 cases brought before the consistory court were matrimonial causes or arose in exempt parishes. Yet this leaves 20 cases where there was no apparent reason for them to be held in the consistory over the archdeacon’s court.
   Brian Woodcock’s explanation for this centres around the relationship between the two diocesan courts and their concurrent jurisdiction, with an individual’s decisions on where the case should be held being based largely on convenience. The two courts would sit at different times and in different places around the diocese allowing someone bringing a suit to select the most appropriately placed and timed court.9 The relatively small size of the diocese meant that both courts were easily accessible to the whole population. As such, anyone could instigate legal proceedings or gain access to either court without any great hindrance, making the records of the Consistory Court just as representative as those of the Archdeacon’s Court. In other, larger, dioceses many people would have found the consistory courts much less accessible and have been more likely to conduct their business through the Court of the Archdeacon.
   
Process of a Lawsuit

Causes could be brought before the two courts in one of two ways, either as an instance cause or as an office cause. In both situations there would be a plaintiff and a defendant, or a ‘pars agens’ and a ‘pars rea.’ Instance causes were civil causes and were a form of private litigation between two individuals where it fell to the judge to ‘restore to amity those who were in dispute, preferably by persuading them to come to agreement, but, failing that, by determining which of them was in the right’.10 Private litigation took up much of the time of the courts and could dominate court days. Due to its nature in comparison to correction, or ex officio, causes (see below), they were also responsible for the bulk of an ecclesiastical lawyer’s workload. Consequently they are also what constitute large amounts of the records of the courts still extant.11
   Office causes were criminal causes and could in themselves come in two forms, those made ‘ex officio mero’ and those made ‘ex officio promoto’. Both of these could generally be termed correction business and were concerned with spiritual discipline, a priority of the church courts.12 The former would be a result of an individual being presented to the court by a churchwarden or during a bishop’s visitation for behaviour considered to be immoral or in contempt of court and as such their actions were in direct contravention of the law and so they were challenged directly by the judge in which case there would just be a defendant standing against the judge as opposed to a plaintiff and a defendant standing against each other in a civil case. ‘Ex officio promoto’ causes were instigated by the accusation of another parishioner. In this sense they were similar

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