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2 definitions found
 for nisi prius
From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 :

  Nisi \Ni"si\, conj. [L.]
     Unless; if not; -- used mostly in law.
     [1913 Webster]
     Note: In legal proceedings, this word is used to indicate
           that any order, etc., shall take effect at a given
           time, unless before that time the order, etc., in
           modified, or something else is done to prevent its
           taking effect. Continuance nisi is a conditional
           continuance of the case till the next term of the
           court, unless otherwise disposed of in the mean time.
           [1913 Webster]
     Nisi prius (Law), unless before; -- a phrase applied to
        terms of court, held generally by a single judge, with a
        jury, for the trial of civil causes. The term originated
        in a legal fiction. An issue of fact being made up, it is,
        according to the English practice, appointed by the entry
        on the record, or written proceedings, to be tried by a
        jury from the county of which the proceedings are dated,
        at Westminster, unless before the day appointed (nisi
        prius) the judges shall have come to the county in
        question (which they always do) and there try the cause.
        See In banc, under Banc.
        [1913 Webster]

From Bouvier's Law Dictionary, Revised 6th Ed (1856) :

  NISI PRIUS. These words, which signify 'unless before,' are the name of a 
  court. The name originated as follows: Formerly, an action was triable only 
  in the court where it was brought. But, it was provided by Magna Charta, in 
  ease of the subject, that assizes of novel disseisin and mort d'ancestor 
  (then the most usual remedies,) should thenceforward instead of being tried 
  at Westminster, in the superior court, be taken in their proper counties; 
  and for this purpose justices were to be sent into every county once a year, 
  to take these assizes there. 1 Reeves, 246; 2 Inst. 422, 3, 4. These local 
  trials being found convenient, were applied not only to assizes, but to 
  other actions; for, by the statute of 13 Edw. I. c. 30, it is provided as 
  the general course of proceeding, that writs of venire for summoning juries 
  in the superior courts, shall be in the following form. Praecipimus tibi 
  quod veneri facias coram justiciariis nostris apud Westm. in Octabis Seti 
  Michaelis, nisi talis et talis tali, die et loco ad partes illas venerint, 
  duodecim, &c. Thus the trial was to be had at Westminster, only in the event 
  of its not previously taking place in the county, before the justices 
  appointed to take the assizes. It is this provision of the statute of Nisi 
  Prius, enforced by the subsequent statute of 14 Ed. III. c. 16, which 
  authorizes, in England, a trial before the justices of assizes, in lieu of 
  the superior court, and gives it the name of a trial by nisi prius. Steph. 
  Pl. App. xxxiv.; 3 Bl. Com. 58; 1 Reeves, 245, 382; 2 Reeves, 170; 2 Com. 
  Dig. Courts, D b, page 316. 
       2. Where courts bearing this name exist in the United States, they are 
  instituted by statutory provision. 4 W. & S. 404. 

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