A puisne judge or puisne justice (//; French: puisné or puîné; puis, "since, later" + né, "born", i.e. "junior") is a dated[n 1] term for an ordinary judge or a judge of lesser rank of a particular court.
The term is used almost exclusively in common law jurisdictions: the jurisdiction of England and Wales within the United Kingdom; Australia, including its states and territories; Canada, including its provinces and territories; India and its constituent states; the British possession of Gibraltar; Kenya; Sri Lanka; and Hong Kong. In Australia, the most senior judge after a chief justice in superior State courts is referred to as the "senior puisne judge".
Puisne is a homophone of puny as well as that word's root, meaning weak or inferior in size. The spoken form holds a negative connotation, and it has been of scarce use outside of the judiciary themselves since the middle of the 20th century.
Use is rare outside of, usually internal, court (judicial) procedural decisions as to which judge(s) will sit or has sat in hearings or appeals. The term is dated in detailed, academic case law analyses and, to varying degree direct applicability in higher courts.
The term excludes the court's chief judge or judges, or the chief justice or justices. It also excludes any more senior judges, often specialists or a managerial head, sitting ex officio (by virtue of their office) as a senior or special judge in the court for which they have duties below. Finally excluded are any technically junior judges who may have been called to serve in a higher court, judges who law reports and transcripts customarily specify as "sitting in" a judicial panel of a higher court or "sitting as" a judge of that court.[n 2]
The term is not currently used in the United States including its 56 constituent states, territories or federal district — 51 of which are common law jurisdictions, and three of which are quasi-common law jurisdictions. Instead, the term associate justice is used by the United States Supreme Court, the DC Court of Appeal, and by most state and territorial high courts. The term associate judge is also used throughout the United States, but this frequently means something different from puisne or associate justice.
- "puisne". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014.
- Hong Kong remains a common law jurisdiction under the principle of "One Country, Two Systems" enacted prior to the repatriation of the former British Crown Colony in 1997.
- "Rules of the Supreme Court of Western Australia 1971". Australian Legal Information Institute. Archived from the original on 2018-01-07. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
- Louisiana and Puerto Rico are civil law jurisdictions; American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands use a mix of local customary law and common law; and under 1 VIC Sec. 4, the basic law of the U.S. Virgin Islands is "The rules of the common law, as expressed in the Restatements of Law approved by American Law Institute, and to the extent not so expressed, as generally understood and applied in the United States ... in the absence of local laws to the contrary."
- 28 U.S. Code § 1.
- In most jurisdictions such as England and Wales; Gibraltar
- There are two types of "exceptions in which a puisne judge would sit in a higher court. First, the superior exception is a practice of calling a puisne judge to a higher court due to special knowledge or status, in order to provide added expertise and weight to a decision. In that case, he is clearly not a puisne judge. It may be reported as the Appeal Court judge sitting "extraordinarily" or "presiding" which are sometimes official terms and may result in customarily the leading judgment (first-in-order opinion) being given by that judge. The inferior exception is, for example, local judges sitting in a High/Crown/Federal/Appeal Court in which case reports describe that person usually by a lower honorific (e.g. Mr, or Sir...) and "sitting in as a xxx Court judge" in the headers of the report.