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The legal year, in English law as well as in other common law jurisdictions, is the calendar during which the judges sit in court. It is traditionally divided into periods called "terms."



Hong KongEdit

Hong Kong's legal year is marked as Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year with an address by the Chief Justice of Hong Kong and begins in January.


The start of the legal year for courts in Taiwan is referred to as Judicial Day and marked in early January.



In England, the year is divided into four terms:

Between terms, the Courts are in vacation, and no trials or appeals are heard in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. The legal terms apply to the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme courts only,[1] and so have no application to the Crown Court, county courts, or magistrates' courts. The longest vacation period is between July and October. The dates of the terms are determined in law by a Practice Direction in the Civil Procedure Rules. The Hilary term was formerly from January 11 to 31, during which superior courts of England were open.[2]

The legal year commences at the beginning of October, with a ceremony dating back to the Middle Ages in which the judges arrive in a procession from the Temple Bar to Westminster Abbey for a religious service, followed by a reception known as the Lord Chancellor's breakfast, which is held in Westminster Hall. Although in former times the judges walked the distance from Temple to Westminster, they now mostly arrive by car. The service is held by the Dean of Westminster with the reading performed by the Lord Chancellor.[citation needed]

The ceremony has been held continuously since the Middle Ages, with the exception of the years 1940 to 1946 because of World War II. In 1953 it was held in St Margaret's Church because Westminster Abbey was still decorated for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.


In Ireland, the year is, like England, divided into four terms:

With a Christmas, Easter, Whit and Long Vacation between them respectively. The Michaelmas term, and legal year, is opened with a service in St. Michan's Church, Dublin attended by members of the Bar and Law Society who then adjourn to a breakfast given in the King's Inns.

North AmericaEdit


Opening of the Courts is marked in September.[3]

United StatesEdit

The United States Supreme Court follows part of the legal year tradition, albeit without the elaborate ceremony. The Court's year-long term commences on the first Monday in October (and is simply called "October Term"), with a Red Mass the day before. The court then alternates between "sittings" and "recesses" and goes into final recess at the end of June.

Several Midwest and East Coast states and some federal courts still use the legal year and terms of court. Like the Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has a single year-long term with designated sittings within that term, although the Second Circuit begins its term in August instead of October (hence the name "August Term"). The U.S. Tax Court divides the year into four season-based terms starting in January.

Connecticut appellate courts divide the legal year into eight terms starting in September. New York courts divide the year into 13 terms starting in January. The Georgia Court of Appeals uses a three-term year starting in January. The Illinois Supreme Court divides the year into six terms starting in January.

Several states, like Ohio and Mississippi, do not have a uniform statewide rule for terms of court, so the number of terms varies greatly from one court to the next because every single court sets forth its own terms of court in its local rules.

However, the majority of U.S. states and most federal courts have abandoned the legal year and the related concept of terms of court. Instead, they reverse the presumption. They merely mandate that the courts are to be open year-round during business hours on every day that is not Saturday, Sunday, or a legal holiday. A typical example is Rule 77(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which states that "The clerk's office ... must be open during business hours every day except Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays." Furthermore, 28 U.S.C. § 452 states: "All courts of the United States shall be deemed always open for the purpose of filing proper papers, issuing and returning process, and making motions and orders."


Further readingEdit

  • Cheney, C.R.; Jones, Michael, eds. (2000). A Handbook of Dates for Students of British History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 98–105. ISBN 0521770955.

External linksEdit