Roman civil law. A municipal officer of Rome, so called because, (praeiret populo,) he went before or took precedence of the people. The consuls were at first called praetors. He was a sort of minister of justice, invested with certain legislative powers, especially in regard to the forms or formalities of legal proceedings. Ordinarily, be aid not decide causes as a judge, but prepared the grounds of decision for the judge and sent to, him the questions to be decided between the parties. The judge was always chosen by the parties, either directly, or by rejecting, under certain rules and limitations, the persons proposes to them by the praetor. Hence the saying of Cicero, that no one could be judged except by a judge of his own choice. There were several kinds of officers called proctors.
Before entering on his functions he published an edict announcing the system adopted by him for the application and interpretation of the laws during his magistracy. His authority extended over all jurisdictions, and was summarily expressed by the word do, dico, addico, i, e. do I give the action, dico I declare the law, I promulgate the edict, addico I invest the judge with the right of judging. There were certain cases which he was bound to decide himself, assisted by a council chosen by himself perhaps the Decemvirs. But the greater part of causes brought before him, be sent either to a judge, an arbitrator, or to recuperators, (recuperatores,) or to the centumvirs, as before stated. Under the empire the powers of the praetor passed by degrees to the praefect of the praetorium, or the praefect of the city; so that this magistrate, who at first ranked with the consuls, at last dwindled into a director or manager of the public spectacles or games.
Till lately, there were officers in certain cities of Germany denominated praetors.