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Middle English, from Anglo-French curt, court, from Latin cohort-, cohors enclosure, group, retinue, cohort, from co- + -hort-, -hors (akin to hortus garden) — The word comes from the French cour, an enclosed yard, which derives from the Latin form cortem, the accusative case of cohors, which again means an enclosed yard or the occupants of such a yard (from hortus = garden). The meaning of a judicial assembly is first attested in the 12th century, and derives from the earlier usage to designate a sovereign and his entourage, which met to adjudicate disputes in such an enclosed yard. The verb "to court", meaning to win favor, derives from the same source since people traveled to the sovereign's court to win his favor.


b : a sovereign's formal assembly of councillors and officers
c : the sovereign and officers and advisers who are the governing power
d : the family and retinue of a sovereign
e : a reception held by a sovereign
  • 2 a (1) : a manor house or large building surrounded by usually enclosed grounds (2) : motel
b : an open space enclosed wholly or partly by buildings or circumscribed by a single building
c : a quadrangular space walled or marked off for playing one of various games with a ball (as lawn tennis, handball, or basketball); also : a division of such a court
d : a wide alley with only one opening onto a street
  • 3 a : an official assembly for the transaction of judicial business
b : a session of such a court <court is now adjourned>
c : a place (as a chamber) for the administration of justice
d : a judge or judges in session; also : a faculty or agency of judgment or evaluation <rest our case in the court of world opinion — L. H. Marks>
b : parliament, legislature
  • 5 : conduct or attention intended to win favor or dispel hostility : homage <pay court to the king>


A court is a body, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes and dispense civil, criminal, or administrative justice in accordance with rules of law. In common law and civil law jurisdiction, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and it is generally understood that all persons have an ability to bring their claims before a court. Similarly, those accused of a crime have the right to present their defense before a court. Court facilities range from a simple farmhouse for a village court in a rural community to huge buildings housing dozens of courtrooms in large cities.

A court is a kind of deliberative assembly with special powers, called its jurisdiction, or jus dicere, to decide certain kinds of questions or petitions put to it. According to William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, a court is constituted by a minimum of three parties, namely, the actor, reus, and judex, though, often, courts consist of additional attorneys, bailiffs, reporters, and perhaps a jury.

The term "court" is often used to refer to the president of the court, also known as the "judge" or the "bench", or the panel of such officials. For example, in the United States, and other common law jurisdictions, the term "court" (in the case of U.S. federal courts) by law is used to describe the judge himself or herself.[1] In the United States, the legal authority of a court to take action is based on three pillars of power over the parties to the litigation: (1) Personal jurisdiction; (2) Subject matter jurisdiction; and (3) Venue.