A court clerk (English English clerk to the court; American English clerk of the court or clerk of court) is an officer of the court whose responsibilities include maintaining the records of a court. Another duty is to administer oaths to witnesses, jurors, and grand jurors. The clerk also was the custodian of the court's seal, which is used to authenticate copies of the court's orders, judgments and other records.
The clerk may be more precisely titled after the (type of) court, e.g. clerk of the peace attending to a justice of the peace, clerk of the police court, etc. On Guernsey, the medieval French term greffe is used (in the magistrates' court).
In courts without a clerk, or if there is no specific officer otherwise available, the judge may have authority to act as clerk of the court, as sometimes in a short-staffed probate court.
In the federal court system, each district court, court of appeals, and bankruptcy court, as well as the Supreme Court, has its own clerk, appointed by the judges of the court. The clerk is the custodian of the court's records and also has responsibility for collecting fees and other deposits of money made with the court.
In some states, including Florida, Nevada, and Washington, the state trial courts do not have their own clerks, but instead use the services of the county clerk, who is normally an elected official and who may have non-court-related responsibilities. Several U.S. states, like California, that previously had this arrangement eventually determined that it violates the principle of separation of powers (because the county clerk is a member of the executive branch), abolished it, and in its place authorized each state trial court to appoint its own court clerk.
In North Carolina, the elected clerk of the superior court is the ex officio judge of probate, and s/he and his/her numerous assistants and deputies actually possess limited judicial powers (thus making them the de facto equivalent of commissioners or referees used for similar purposes in other states). Elected clerks and assistant clerks in North Carolina can hear probate, incompetency, adoption, and foreclosure hearings. Deputy clerks and assistant clerks can issue warrants, orders for arrest, orders for contempt, and orders for involuntary commitment in an incompetency matter. In addition, assistants and deputies may hear a criminal first appearance, may appoint indigent counsel or public defenders, and may sign release and temporary confinement orders for persons held in custody.
A unique historic study1 of corruption of the court clerks in the United States courts, can therefore be inferred to reflect the variations in integrity of the courts as a whole during the same periods.
In the magistrates' courts of England and Wales, where the bench will usually have no legal qualifications, the Court Clerk will be legally qualified. The magistrates decide on the facts at issue; the clerk advises them on the law relating to the case.3