Benefit of Clergy. In the Middle Ages persons who could claim to be clergy (or "clerks") might be tried by a church court, which was considered less severe than a secular court. Laymen, however, could only claim this benefit once. The test was ability to read Latin, and was applied with great laxity. For all great crimes the privilege was abolished at various times soon after the Reformation, and its last remnants were finally got rid of by Act of Parliament in 1727.