The Court Leet of the Worshipful Town Mayor and Chief Burgesses of Warwick was established by Royal Charter in 1554.
Warwick’s Court Leet, like some thirty other similar English Courts Leet, owes its origins to the Medieval Manor Court’s way of administering estates. The Steward of the Lord of the Manor, in Warwick’s case the Earl of Warwick, presided over two Courts, the Manor Court which presided over the freeholders and free tenants of the Manor and the Court Leet, assisted by a Jury of Burgesses, to deal with administrative matters and disputes.
Use of the word Jury, unlike present usage, dates back to Norman times, being persons who, from local knowledge, were most likely to be aware of the facts concerning the Town and the surrounding area. Certain Jurors are also appointed as Constables, being persons with specific knowledge of their own Wards. The Jurors and Constables gave evidence under oath, and still do today.
At the granting of the Royal Charter to Warwick in 1554, the Estates of the Earl of Warwick were in the hands of the Crown due to the ‘attainder’ (loss of rights through conviction of high treason) and execution of John Dudley. Thus the role of the Manor Court moved to the Town Corporation and, through its various subsequent titles, to the Town Council today. In order to strengthen the powers of the Corporation the Court Leet was granted to the Corporation by the Royal Charter. This gave dual appointments, The Mayor and the Burgesses as the Lords of the Leet, and the Town Clerk thereof as Steward of the Court Leet.
Besides having the power to determine matters placed before them, including petty crime, the Jurors had a duty to ‘present’ through the Steward to the Lord of the Manor ( Lords of the Leet in Warwick’s case) all matters which they considered to be amiss within the Borough or for its betterment and good governance. They also had, and still have, the duty to convey to the Lord of the Manor ( Lords of the Leet today) any ‘presentments’ (expressions of concern) made by individual Burgesses of the Town.
The Court Leet’s responsibilities until the 1948 Magistrates Act included certain administrative functions related to the Commons and St Mary’s Lands. This function is now in the hands of the District Council. Responsibility for dealing with petty criminal matters has, over time, been transferred to the Justices of the Peace.
The Court Leet’s continuing duty, as it has been since the granting of the Royal Charter, is to perform as an advisory body in calling to the attention of the elected Warwick representatives, anything considered to be amiss or for its betterment and good governance.