The term is used almost exclusively in common law jurisdictions: the jurisdiction of England and Wales within the United Kingdom; Australia, including its states and territories; Canada, including its provinces and territories; India and its constituent states; Pakistan, its provinces and Azad Jammu & Kashmir; the British possession of Gibraltar; Kenya; Sri Lanka; and Hong Kong. In Australia, the most senior judge after a chief justice in superior State courts is referred to as the "senior puisne judge".
Puisne is a homophone of puny as well as that word's root, meaning weak or inferior in size. The spoken form holds a negative connotation, and the written avoided in all but the most technical of documents, it has been of scarce use outside of the judiciary themselves (who prefer the bowdlerised pronunciation //) since the middle of the 20th century.
Use is rare outside of, usually internal, court (judicial) procedural decisions as to which judge(s) will sit or has sat in hearings or appeals. The term is dated in detailed, academic case law analyses and, to varying degree direct applicability in higher courts.
The term excludes the court's chief judge(s)/justice(s); any seniormost judges, often specialists or a managerial head, sitting ex officio (by virtue of their office) as such in the court for which they have duties below; and any technically junior judges who may have been called to serve in a higher court, whom law reports and transcripts customarily specify as "sitting in" a judicial panel of a higher court or "sitting as" a judge of that court.
The term is not currently used in the United States including its 56 constituent states, territories or federal district — 51 of which are common law jurisdictions, and three of which are quasi-common law jurisdictions. Instead, the term associate justice is used by the United States Supreme Court, and by most state and territorial high courts, where the term associate judge is also used widely and this quite frequently means something different.
- "puisne". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014.
- Hong Kong remains a common law jurisdiction under the principle of "One Country, Two Systems" enacted prior to the repatriation of the former British Crown Colony in 1997.
- "Rules of the Supreme Court of Western Australia 1971". Australian Legal Information Institute. Archived from the original on 2018-01-07. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
- Louisiana and Puerto Rico are civil law jurisdictions; American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands use a mix of local customary law and common law; and under 1 VIC Sec. 4, the basic law of the U.S. Virgin Islands is "The rules of the common law, as expressed in the Restatements of Law approved by American Law Institute, and to the extent not so expressed, as generally understood and applied in the United States ... in the absence of local laws to the contrary."
- 28 U.S. Code § 1.
- In most jurisdictions such as England and Wales; Gibraltar
- There are two types of exceptions in which a puisne judge would sit in a higher court. First, the superior exception is a practice of calling one to a higher court due to special knowledge or status to provide added expertise and weight to a decision. In that case, he is clearly not a puisne judge. It may be reported as sitting as a judge of the [name of appeal court] "extraordinarily" or "presiding" which are sometimes official terms and may result in their giving the leading judgment (usually first-in-order opinion). The inferior exception is, for example, local judges sitting in a High/Crown/Federal/Appeal Court in which case reports describe that person usually by a lower honorific (e.g. Mr, or Sir...) and "sitting in as a xxx Court judge" in the headers of the report.