Rivalry and Superior Dispatch: An Analysis of Competing Courts in Medieval and Early Modern England


In most areas, economists look to competition to align incentives, but not so with courts. Many believe that competition enables plaintiff forum shopping, but Adam Smith praised rivalry among courts. This article describes the courts when the common law developed. In many areas of law, courts were monopolized and imposed decisions on unwilling participants. In other areas, however, large degrees of competition and consent were present. In many areas, local, hundred, manorial, county, ecclesiastical, law merchant, chancery, and common law courts competed for customers. When parties had a choice, courts needed to provide a forum that was ex ante value maximizing.