Star Chamber

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Star Chamber

An ancient high court of England, controlled by the monarch, which was abolished in 1641 by Parliament for abuses of power.

The English court of Star Chamber was created by King Henry VII in 1487 and was named for a room with stars painted on the ceiling in the royal palace of Westminster where the court sat. The Star Chamber was an instrument of the monarch and consisted of royal councillors and two royal judges. The jurisdiction of the court was based on the royal prerogative of administering justice in cases not remediable in the regular courts of law.

The Star Chamber originally assisted with some administrative matters, but by the 1530s it had become a pure court, relieving the king of the burden of hearing cases personally. It was a court of Equity, granting remedies unavailable in the common-law courts. As such, the court was an informal body that dispensed with "due process" as it was then understood.

During Henry VII's reign (1485–1509), about half the cases involved real property. During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Star Chamber became a useful tool in dealing with cases involving members of the aristocracy who often defied the authority of the regular courts. It was during this period, moreover, that the court acquired criminal jurisdiction, hearing cases on issues concerning the security of the realm, such as Sedition, criminal libel, conspiracy, and forgery. Later, Fraud and the punishment of judges came within its jurisdiction.

The importance of the Star Chamber increased during the reigns of James I (1603–25) and Charles I (1625–49). Under Archbishop William Laud, the court became a tool of royal oppression, seeking out and punishing religious and political dissidents. In the 1630s Laud used the Star Chamber to persecute a group of Puritan leaders, most of whom came from the gentry, subjecting them to the pillory and Corporal Punishment. Though the Star Chamber could not mete out Capital Punishment, it inflicted everything short of death upon those found guilty. During this time the court met in secret, extracting evidence by torturing witnesses and handing out punishments that included mutilation, life imprisonment, and enormous fines. It turned equity's traditionally broad discretion into a complete disregard for the law. The Star Chamber sometimes acted on mere rumors in order to suppress opposition to the king.

The Star Chamber's Arbitrary use of power and the cruel punishments it inflicted produced a wave of reaction against it from Puritans, advocates of common-law courts, and others opposed to the reign of Charles I. In 1641 the Long Parliament abolished the court and made reparations to some of its victims.

The term star chamber has come to mean any lawless and oppressive tribunal, especially one that meets in secret. The constitutional concept of Due Process of Law is in part a reaction to the arbitrary use of judicial power displayed by the Star Chamber.

Further readings

Elton, G. R. 1974. Star Chamber Stories. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Guy, J. A. 1977. The Cardinal's Court: The Impact of Thomas Wolsey in Star Chamber. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield.

Star Chamber

a tribunal abolished in 1641. It was effectively the king in council exercising criminal jurisdiction. It was inquisitorial, and torture is believed to have been used. It is now used more generally to denote an any arbitrary tribunal.

STAR CHAMBER, Eng. law. A court which formerly had great jurisdiction and power, but which was abolished by stat. 16, C. I., c. 10, on account of its usurpations and great unpopularity. It consisted of several of the lords spiritual and temporal, being privy counsellors, together with two judges of the courts of common law, without the intervention of a jury. Their legal jurisdiction extended over riots, perjuries, misbehaviour of public officers, and other great misdemeanors. The judges afterwards assumed powers, and stretched those they possessed to the utmost bounds of legality. 4 Bl. Com. 264.

References in periodicals archive ?
In 1611 local puritan justice Sir Stephen Procter brought the Star Chamber case against Yorke which is the source of our information about the Simpsons' performances at Gowthwaite Hall.
But whereas Flynt won on appeal, the Star Chamber would have
Shadow housing minister John Healey wrote to Mr Pickles today, accusing him of "selling out the important work your department does so you can sit round the Star Chamber table with the big boys".
It is to Mr Henderson's infinite credit that, after a harrowing day in front of a star chamber that left him hanging out to dry, he fulfilled his tireless commitment to charity work for sick kids at Windsor in the evening.
After a brief but useful historical survey there is an examination of surviving sources: manorial records, property and tax records, surveys, Chancery and Exchequer records, other state records, military and common law records, surviving papers from civil litigation (Chancery, Star Chamber, Court of Requests et al.
So let's set aside the judge's Star Chamber rhetoric and try to examine her argument, such as it is.
Faced with a mandate to provide some sort of trial, the administration opted to create a Star Chamber, where secret evidence could be presented without either the defendant or his attorney being present.
A star chamber court in Ireland; the court of castle chamber, 1571-1641.
A Star Chamber Court In Ireland: The Court Of Castle Chamber, 1571-1641.
That cleans the chamber so well that it wears out the star chamber (barrel extension) and causes excessive headspace.
When Shell admitted its oil reserve estimates were overstated, the predictable chorus of doom used this as "Exhibit A" in a media star chamber against the continued use of fossil fuels.
The ameliorative actions actually open to the English monarch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries derived from her (or his) ancient connection to the King's Bench, a common law court, and particularly to Star Chamber and Chancery, both courts of equity.