Summary

From Wikipedia (referring to the modern day):

The legal year, in English law as well as in other common law jurisdictions, is the calendar during which the judges sit in court. It is traditionally divided into periods called “terms.”

In England, the year is divided into four terms:

Michaelmas term - from October to December
Hilary term - from January to April
Easter term - from April to May, and
Trinity term - from June to July.

Between terms, the Courts are in vacation, and no trials or appeals are heard in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. The legal terms apply to the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme courts only, and so have no application to the Crown Court, county courts, or magistrates’ courts. The longest vacation period is between July and October. The dates of the terms are determined in law by a Practice Direction in the Civil Procedure Rules. The Hilary term was formerly from January 11 to 31, during which superior courts of England were open.

2 Annotations

Bill  •  Link

TERM, [in law] is the Bounds and Limitation of time; or a fixed and limited time, when the Courts of Judicature are open for all Law Suits, and there are four of those in a Year.
HILARY TERM, begins January the 13th, (except it be Sunday) and ends February 12.
EASTER TERM, begins the Wednesday fortnight after Easter Day, and ends the Monday after Ascension Day.
TRINITY TERM, begins the Friday after Trinity Sunday, and ends the Wednesday fortnight after.
MICHAELMAS TERM, begins October 23, (except it be Sunday) and ends November 28.
---An universal etymological English dictionary. N. Bailey, 1724.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The British year is divided into calendar “terms” by tradition. Little is left beside the names. We even recite the terms in a different order.

From the Middle Ages to Early Modern times, the first and foremost term of the legal year was Michaelmas Term. Most local governments held elections at the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels on 29 September. New Aldermen paraded through the streets to begin St. Michael’s festivities by sharing a toast at the outgoing mayor's home.

In London the county sheriffs presented their accounting books and amounts due to the king from county revenues at the Exchequer. If they could not pay, they were held until it was paid in cash on the barrel head. In parallel, new sheriffs were selected by the king and Exchequer for the year-long duty starting in the Hilary Term.

The feast was a celebration before the nightmare of the Office of the Exchequer. The Michaelmas Term began by law within the first 8 days after the feast. The business of the Exchequer took so much prep. that it opened its term within the first 15 days after the feast.

As revenues came in, the Exchequer paid out the King's annuities. Annual annuities were usually paid at Michaelmas. Annuities awarded half every 6 months were paid at Michaelmas and Easter Terms.

Rent owed for lands in fief or copyhold paid annually, semi-annually or quarterly at the start of the terms. At Michaelmas, everyone tallied their credits and debits and entered them in the official records.

This occurred because the terms were law terms. All the courts, from the smallest to Parliament, opened their doors, receiving and issuing legal process, and hearing cases.

The second Term chronologically was Hilary, calculated from the feast day of St. Hilary of Poitiers, on 14 January.

The second in importance and third chronologically was Easter Term. This began within the 8 days after the 15th day after Easter.

Last in importance and chronology was Trinity Term. The Feast of the Trinity fell on the first Sunday after Pentecost — Trinity Sunday. The term began as early as the Monday after.

Edward the Confessor's statutes established the Term schedule, but did not mention a Trinity Term. All terms, except for Trinity, end with the start of a major religious season. People moved logically from the king’s purposes to the church’s.

Michaelmas ended with Advent.
Hilary ended with Lent.
Easter ended with Pentecost.
Trinity ended when the harvest made any other business impractical. After harvest came harvest festivals, after which came the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels and the start of the new legal year.

This court terms system has worked for 1,000 years with a few variations. Trinity varied widely. Hilary varied substantially. Changes to Michaelmas and Easter Terms were rare and minor.

For more on this see https://gilbertwesleypurdy.blogspot.com/2019/06/a…

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References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

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