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In medieval England and Scotland the Chief Justiciar (later known simply as the Justiciar) was roughly equivalent to a modern Prime Minister as the monarch's chief minister. Similar positions existed on the European Continent, particularly in Norman Italy. The term is the English form of the medieval Latin justiciarius or justitiarius ("man of justice", i.e. judge).

A similar office was formed in Scotland, though there were usually two or three, the Justiciar of Scotia and Justiciar of Lothian (and in the 13th century the Justiciar of Galloway), these offices later evolving into a national one called Lord Justice-General. The Justiciar of Ireland was an office established during English rule. (See Lord Chief Justice of Ireland).

Following the conquest of the Principality of Wales in the 13th century, the areas that became personal fiefs of the English monarchs were placed under the control of the Justiciar of North Wales and the Justiciar of South Wales.


  • England 1
    • List of (Chief) Justiciars 1.1
  • Scotland 2
  • Wales 3
  • Other jurisdictions 4
  • In fiction and popular culture 5
  • Notes 6
  • External links 7


In the Kingdom of England the term Justiciar originally referred to any officer of the King's Court (Curia Regis), or, indeed, anyone who possessed a law court of his own or was qualified to act as a judge in the shire-courts. In each English shire, the Sheriff was the king's representative in all matters. The only appeal against decisions of the Sheriff or his courts was to the king. During the reign of William Rufus many sheriffs were severely overworked; Rufus eased the burden by appointing local justiciars in some shires.

The Norman kings were often overseas and appointed a Justiciar, Regent or Lieutenant to represent them in the kingdom, as the Sheriff did in the shire. Later this post became known as the Chief Justiciar (or royal capital justiciar), although the titles were not generally used contemporaneously.[1] Some historians claim the first in the post was Roger of Salisbury; Frank Barlow argues in favour of Bishop Ranulf Flambard, a functionary within the household of William I of England, as the first, and points out that the role began, perhaps, with Odo of Bayeux in his relationship with William I.[2] However, Flambard was not a Chief Justiciar but was probably the first to exercise the powers of a justiciar. It was not till the reign of Henry II that the title was exclusively applied to the king's chief minister.[1]

The Chief Justiciar was invariably a great noble or churchman, and the office became very powerful and important; enough indeed to be a threat to the King. The last great Justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent, was removed from office in 1232, and the Chancellor soon took the position formerly occupied by the Chief Justiciar as second to the King in dignity, as well as in power and influence. Under King Edward I the office of Justiciar was replaced by separate heads for the three branches into which the King's Court was divided: Justices of the Court of Common Pleas, Justices of the Court of King's Bench and Barons of the Court of Exchequer.[1]

List of (Chief) Justiciars

Name Term King(s)
Roger of Salisbury 1102–1116? Henry I
Ralf Basset 1116 Henry I
Richard Basset (Justiciar) Henry I
Roger of Salisbury ?–1139 Stephen
Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester 1154–68 (jointly with Richard de Luci) Henry II
Richard de Luci 1154–79 Henry II
Ranulf de Glanville 1180–89 Henry II
Richard I
William de Mandeville, 3rd Earl of Essex 1189 (jointly with Hugh de Puiset) Richard I
Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham December 1189 – April 1190[3] Richard I
William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely 1189–91 Richard I
Walter de Coutances, Archbishop of Rouen 1191–93 Richard I
Hubert Walter, Bishop of Salisbury 1194–98 Richard I
Geoffrey Fitz Peter, 1st Earl of Essex 11 July 1198 – 14 October 1213[4] Richard I
Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester 1213–1215 John
Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent 1215–1232 John
Henry III
Stephen de Segrave ?–1234[3] Henry III
Hugh Bigod 1258–60 Henry III
Hugh le Despencer 1260 – May 1261, July 1263 – 4 August 1265[3] Henry III
Philip Basset May 1261–?[3] Henry III


In Scotland, Justiciars were the king's lieutenants for judicial and administrative purposes. The office was established in the 12th century, either by Alexander I or by his successor, David I.[1]

The title of 'Justiciar' was reserved for two or three high officials, the chief one—the Justiciar of Scotia—having his jurisdiction to the north of the River Forth. The Justiciar of Lothian dealt with the part of the kingdom south of the Forth-Clyde line.[1]

The role of Justiciar evolved into the current Lord Justice-General, the head of the High Court of Justiciary, head of the judiciary in Scotland and a member of the Royal Household.

The Duke of Argyll still holds the hereditary title of High Justiciar of Argyll, but no responsibilities now attach to it.


Following Edward I of England's conquest of the Principality of Wales (1277–1283), the Statute of Rhuddlan established the governance of the areas of Wales under direct royal control. The new counties of Anglesey, Caernarfonshire and Merioneth were administered on behalf of the king by the Justiciar of North Wales, while Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire were placed under the control of the Justiciar of South Wales.

Other jurisdictions

The title Justiciar was given by Henry II of England to the Seneschal of Normandy.[1]

In the 12th century, a magister justitiarius appeared in the Norman kingdom of Sicily, presiding over the Royal Court (Magna Curia), empowered, with his assistants, to decide, inter alia, all cases reserved to the Crown.[1] There is no clear evidence that this title and office were borrowed from England; it was probably based on a Norman practice instituted in both realms. In the 13th century the office of justiciar was instituted in several principal localities around Sicily.

In medieval Sweden, the lagman ("lawspeaker") was the judge, or person learned in law, for a province, an area with several local district courts. Since the position corresponds to the general meaning of "justiciar", "justiciar" is often used to translate "lagman" in English texts. Lagmän were generally also members of the Senate of the realm, an institution corresponding to the English Privy Council. Finally, the Swedish term "riksdrots" is often translated as "Lord High Justiciar of Sweden".

In fiction and popular culture

Justicars are an order of chivalrous but strict nomadic warriors from the Asari race, roughly equivalent to humans' knights or samurais, in the Mass Effect series of videogames. They adhere to a well-defined code of conduct in their eternal pursuit of justice, that supposedly dictates a course of action for any possible situation the Justicar may encounter, leaving absolutely nothing up to the Justicar's own personal judgment.

Justicars are also present in the MMORPG "Star Wars: The Old Republic" as a band of ex-Republic military members banding together to fight criminal gangs on Coruscant.

From the in-game original description of "The Justicars" "Formally known as the Justicars’ Brigade, this militia was formed in the years after the Sacking of Coruscant, when a crime syndicate began seizing control of Coruscant’s lower regions. The Republic Senate lacked the resources to challenge the syndicate–later called Black Sun–and withdrew its security forces. Outraged at Black Sun’s treatment of the local citizens, a group of ex-military individuals formed the Justicars, intending to retake their neighborhoods. However, eliminating Black Sun and regaining control proved more difficult than the Justicars had expected. They took extreme measures to restore order, beginning with a simple curfew and culminating in the imposition of martial law. The Justicars have now instituted checkpoints and armed guards throughout their territory, acting with lethal force against anyone lacking “proper clearance.” Their unshakeable belief that this is necessary to keep people safe only makes the Justicars more dangerous. Coruscant’s government has declared the Justicars a threat to be dismantled, and the Justicars have cut off all communication with outsiders."

In the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Thalmor faction employs justiciars, who wander the land to root out worship of Talos.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g   Accessed on March 29, 2012.
  2. ^ William Rufus, F. Barlow, Methuen, London 1983.
  3. ^ a b c d Susan Higginbotham. "The Last Justiciar: Hugh le Despenser in the Thirteenth Century". Archived from the original on 29 June 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2008. 
  4. ^ "JOHN (Lackland)". Retrieved 15 February 2008. 
  5. ^ """Titles: Title of "Justiciar. Baronial Order of Magna Charta. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 

External links

  • William Stubbs, Constitutional History of England
  • Du Cange, Glossarium (Niort, f885) s.v. Justitiarius (in Latin).
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