This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard.

Background.

Bleak House

itemThis is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard” is a quotation from Bleak House (Chapter 1).

item Bleak House was the ninth novel by Charles Dickens, intended to illustrate the evils caused by long, drawn-out legal cases in the Court of Chancery.

 

Context.

court_of_chancery

Early 19th century illustration of The Court of Chancery.
Engraving published in Microcosm of London (1808).

item The Court of Chancery was a court of equity in England and Wales under the Lord High Chancellor that began to develop in the 15th century to provide remedies not obtainable in the courts of common law. The Chancery had jurisdiction over all matters of equity, including trusts, land law, the administration of the estates of lunatics and the guardianship of infants. The procedure was very different to the strict rules of the common law courts and involved the gathering of written pleadings and evidence.

item As far back as the English Civil War, the Court of Chancery was being criticised extensively for its procedure and practice.  Corrupted practices began to set in such as the charging of long drawn out fees. Many of the clerks and other officials were sinecures who, in lieu of wages, charged increasingly exorbitant fees to process cases, one of the main reasons why the cost of bringing a case to the Chancery was so high. In 1743 a list of permissible fees was published which contained over 1,000 items that could be charged for.

 

 

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