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A medieval church court

Andrew Stevenson reports on a unique church court in the Channel Islands.

WHEN someone dies his or her financial affairs often have to be put in order by the appointment of executors and the gathering and distribution of the deceased’s estate.

Historically, throughout the British Isles, this process took place under canon law in the courts of the Roman Catholic Church

In Scotland this task was undertaken by bishops, who would delegate their judicial functions to officers known as “commissaries”. At the Reformation this all ceased. Commissary courts were established instead. These were purely secular, and had nothing to do with the Church of Scotland. So the break between ecclesiastical courts and commissary procedure ended here in 1560. As men of learning and reputation, however, ministers were expected to assist the needy in preparing their wills if necessary.

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