A puny or puisne justice (; from French: puisné or puîné; puis, 'since, later' + né, 'born', i.e. 'junior') is a dated[n 1] term for an ordinary judge or a judge of lesser rank of a particular court.
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.[n 2]
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.