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History of Courts of Chancery and Equity

The present paper conducts an extensive research about the history of the courts of chancery and equity. It looks as back into the past as appears feasible for the purpose of comprehension of the topic. The paper first looks at the emergence of the courts of chancery in England then it investigate important episodes of that the court went through in the past.

In the later section the paper looks at the current state of the courts of chancery and equity as it is found in the United States of America and what development it has held up to the present day. The paper ends with a discussion with the background and present state of the court and also makes some recommendation for future requirement and needs regarding the jurisdiction of this court. Early History

According to the definition provided by the Encyclopedia Britannica, Court of Chancery and Equity was the main court under the lord high chancellor which began its operation in the fifteenth century England. The basic purpose of this legislative body was to provide remedies to the masses which they could not obtain in the courts of common law. By the fourteenth century England that the common-law courts came into firm establishment becoming the principal body of royal justice system.

In those early days, these courts of common law had power to exercise wide range of jurisdictions so that the rules and frames of the common law could be brought into effect; however, by this time their effectiveness had faded away mainly because by this time a number of rules had become highly rigid, technical, and artificial which naturally gave way to inflexibility and injustice and “In civil cases the relief available was largely limited to payment of damages and to the recovery of the possession of land and chattels”.

As such, the court turned down extension and diversification of any kind in order to meet the needs and wants of people living in a more complex society. It became the practice that the court overtly insisted on “the letter of the law” and thus failed to fairly address equity between the concerned parties. Thus dissatisfaction arose among people. One major reason for this dissatisfaction was that by the time of fifteenth century and mounting political turmoil, local lords had the power to pull strings: they bribed juries or even intimidated them to make their own ends meet and thus the courts orders became a game.

As a result, the disappointed litigants consulted to the King and the Council with their petition to seek justice. These petitions were submitted to the Lord Chancellor. By the fifteenth century, Lord Chancellor had started building up a series of impartial remedies. He backed up his operation with well defined policies. Not bound, unlike the judges of common-law, by precedent, Lord Chancellor entertained high powers to extend efforts to bring into effect justice the way he perceived fit. There was minimal formality of procedures that he followed while deciding any case.

The chancery was not expensive relatively, was proficient and just. In the span of fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the chancery grew spectacularly at the cost of the courts of the common-law. Consequently, during the seventeenth century, the common-law judges and Parliament rose to oppose the chancery resenting chancery’s intrusion into the areas of the common-law courts; furthermore, the chancellor was required to “the chancellor was forced to agree not to hear any case in which there was adequate remedy, such as damages, at common law”.

For the letter of the law, in 1976, in the case of Perrin vs. Blake, Lord Mansfield passed historical remarks: “If courts of law will adhere to the mere letter of law, the great men who preside in Chancery will ever devise new ways to creep out of the lines of the law and temper with equity”. By the start of the sixteenth century, the continued expansion of equitable remedies saw another restraining influence by the establishment of a system of precedent.

Although in the initial phase of chancery, most of the clerics worked as chancellors, in the later, and more developed phase, the practitioners were normally lawyers who made use of the reports recorded lately and began forming equity into a well developed set or regulations. The mid of seventeenth century witnessed equity become a legislative part of the state law managed by the Court of Chancery. In 1873, the Judicature Act, however, abolished equity courts in England along with its counterpart, the common-law. The reasons were delays in attendance, high expense, and notable injustice.

However, today, courts of chancery or equity are still run as separate bodies of jurisdictions in some commonwealth areas and a few states of the United States of America . According to Taschner (n. d. ), it is rather an accident of history that the concept of “law” is posited in opposition to “equity”. In medieval times courts of law or law courts brought into effect the laws of kind and existed all over England. By the close of the thirteenth century, the courts of law solidified the hearing of the claims along with the procedures of hearing which governed them.

There is one reason for this: the range of claiming legal right was rather very narrow and the procedures were over technical which created great chaos among the masses because this prevented them access to justice and a number of plaintiffs were consequently denied justice and relief. Parallel system of law was that practiced by the king having residual judicial power. Later this petition dealing system was handed over to the Chancellor, who was an influential figure in the King’s Council. This is here that the Court of Chancery became known with this name.

The court carried on proceedings in such cases as disputes over inheritance, debts, marriage settlements, lands, trusts, and so forth; and surprising enough is the fact that cases proceeded by Chancery required pleadings in black and white which were written, opposed to the customs of those days, in English. The records of huge amounts of cases are still available in the national archive database of the UK government. It is a matter of great interest for a law student to glance over a few. Background to Chancery

Looking back to the initial period of the establishment of the Courts of Chancery, Hamowy (2003), while reviewing the great legal research of Hayek, informs us that they became popular among the masses due to the fact that the royal courts gave much more protection. There were two main reasons for this early popularity of the king’s courts. One that the king’s courts had professional judges far earlier than the competitor courts had; the other was that the method of deciding cases in king’s courts was very different. That time the local courts’ judgment, it is amazing to note, preceded evidence.

Freeholders were invited to go over proceedings as judges who called suitors, even before there were present the defendant and plaintiff. They, as such, had the liberty to decide as to which of the plaintiffs ought to present evidence of what they claimed. Evidence or proof was not, that time, something as we understand today. According to Hamowy, It was practically required of them to appeal to the heavenly bodies, via ordeal, fighting, or what was then known as “wager of law” that is to say, one would swear at his/her claim and its being truthful.

This swearing would then be backed up by a sufficient number of “oath-helpers” who would consequently testify that the swearing person’s oath was up to the standards of being truthful and unprejudiced. Although all these tactics like wager of law, ordeal, etc. were given sufficient room in the royal court, these procedures were replaced by jury trial by 1215. This procedure was also expanded from personal cases to inquiries of scandalous guilt cases.

In fact, petitioners were forced to move their cases to the king’s courts to keep away from trial through wager of law or battle inasmuch as that jury trial could be granted by the king only. Eventually, the royal courts, with their increased legal operations, rose to be highly dominant and celebrated a monopoly because by that time it had proved its status as well as became a vital source of earnings coming from fines, forfeitures, etc. Private actions taken for “disseisen” (dispossession) usually brought with them a criminal objection against the defendant.

The defendant if disqualified for his claims whatsoever had not only to pay for damages to the petitioner but also to the king in terms of fine6. Hamowy further informs us that at that time the old courts were not the unable bodies which did not enough competence to hear and deal with cases presented in the courts. Rather, the situation was that the king’s courts provided a parallel substitute to the people who went to the king’s courts because they were not hampered by sluggish procedures delaying cases for long time in a very worn out manner.

This way, king’s courts were a better option for their speedy trial and decisions. There is minor doubt in making the observation that the king’s courts those times reflected the litigants’ genuine inclination because, in opposition to the older courts, the king’s courts required the petitioner to buy a court order for the courts’ services. This purchased court order consequently provided the petitioner entry to the king’s courts. Each order purchased ruled a detached and different procedure and was adapted for a specific kind of complaint.

The petitioner’s grievance was thus required to fit into one of the present forms of deeds that the king’s courts could pursue. The specific court order then was referred to the sheriff who, in turn, was commanded to require the defendant mentioned by the plaintiff to satisfy the remedies. However, it the defendant did not do so, the sheriff would then demand the defendant to attend in a specific royal court to present the reason as to why he did not meet the demanded order of the court .

As the thirteenth century was coming to a close, there were three royal courts that had emerged to be recognized as great in their status. All these courts functioned in almost the same way and had almost the same system of administration marking the unique coherence of management and discipline. These three courts were (i) the Court of King’s Bench; (ii) Court of Common Pleas or Common Bench; (iii) the Court of Exchequer. The Court of King’s Bench originally grew stronger in regal right to protect the peace.

As such, gradually this specific court gained high authority over criminal cases and was lawfully granted the power to try all cases that involved pleas of felony and violation of the required degree of peace. A perambulated king was accompanied by the court in the original practice all over the kingdom. Moreover, the king himself used to come to participate in the proceedings of the court. The Court of Common Pleas or Common Bench was actually the other common law supreme courts.

These courts had a stable legal status in Westminster and also entertained exclusive authority over cases in which no interested was shown by the king. The Court of Exchequer was largely concerned with matter that touched the financial issues of the king. Each of these three courts were at first aimed to specialize in a particular domain or the law; however, by the time of Edward III, these courts were judging cases by common law. The Court of Common Pleas and the Courts of King’s Bench extended their jurisdiction now over civil cases and exercised concurrent authority.

As these courts became courts of common law, they all depended on one kind of court order or the other before they could initiate a case. As such it all became the joint venture and the law started to emerge as a business of common interest of the legislature . The court orders were issued by the royal secretariat, the Chancery. As the disagreements gave way to new problems and complexities before the king’s court, the Chancery came into play and would form fresh court order in which the sheriffs were ordered to call judges so that they could deal with a particular petitioner’s case.

For instance, to make sure that an agreement was enforced, the petitioner would acquire a court order of covenant, to collect a specific amount of money prior given to the defendant. As such, the petitioner would file an action of liability to recuperate individual possessions or chattels unlawfully taken; ahead, the petitioner would file for a court order of “replevin”. During the time of twelfth and thirteenth and centuries the Chancery seems to have been ready to form apt court orders so that new issues in which right of private property were violated.

None the less, this entire process slowed by the close of the thirteenth century, and by the fourteenth century it ceased to operate altogether. The writs that did not carry any precedent were opposed by the judges of the common law as such the system of the writs, by that very time, became very much hardened so much so that forms in new procedure were not devised. Perhaps the most important of all the individual actions established by this very time was that for trespassing, “the fertile mother of actions”.

Although it became a writ only in the time of Henry III, as a civil writ action, trespassing, either it was done against people, against any piece of land, or against any merchandise or goods, this writ was founded on the basic tenet that power had been wrongly employed against the petitioner. Before the time of 1252, it seems to be the common practice by the masses that people were allowed to treat any trespasser in the way they deemed appropriate, that is to say, they dealt with the trespasser on the spot executing the wronged thief.

Yet, this practice was not effective to an extent that a state governed law is supposed to be, and this practice was also deemed as ineffective. As such, when the writ system for trespassing had the involvement of the king’s representatives in the cases of intrusion, the practice was admired by the general public. It expanded the circles of criminal jurisdiction as well as improved the king’s status as someone endeavoring to make peace available to the masses .

The Common Law, Its Limitations vs. Chancery: Its Authority Although it is a right remark to state that by the close of the thirteenth century the common law had been involved in a huge number of cases for offenses, there is no doubt to state that the efficiency of the common law was greatly limited in the sense that it did not address a number of cases. The reason for the sluggish proceeding was not the courts of Chancery, but the common law lawyers themselves.

The point of fear or hesitation to these lawyers was that if they attempted to exercise their power for remedies, there would be a dire need to start from scratch fresh right and the concerned duties for those rights. Consequently, this sluggishness or hesitation placed much authority in the power circle of the Chancery. In fact, the common law lawyers of that time were so highly prejudiced favoring precedent that by the close of the thirteenth century they were ready to quit sustenance for any grand legal resolution even if it was in the great interest of common justice and law and order.

The common thought of these lawyers of the common law was that they preferred to adhere to tolerate a mischief (a failure to address a case in a just manner) than to go through inconvenience (which meant a violation a the legal procedure). Thus gradually, the common law practice of justice and brining in adequate amendments to address new problem became rigidly fixed which resulted in an insipid body that was operational without any innovative ideal coming in. Therefore, by the time of Edward III “all innovation had effectively ceased and the common law courts had become totally inflexible”.

As a result the royal courts appeared to be the source of light for the common people of the state who regarded the king’s court as the “omnicompetent” courts. A very important point to note at this point of history is that it was the very time when there were two other competitors of the royal courts. These were the arbitrary system of justice excursed by the feudal lords of that time as well as those judicial bodies that involved ecclesiastical practice of justice. The royal courts were now highly recognized institutions for their unique and accepted practice of justice for the masses .

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