Court of Chancery.

 

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.

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Early 19th century illustration of The Court of Chancery (sitting here at the old hall at Lincoln’s Inn).
Engraving published in Microcosm of London (1808).

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.

The Court of Chancery sat at two locations in London. During the legal term times the Court met at Westminster Hall, located at the Palace of Westminster. Outside of the term times it met at the old hall at Lincoln’s Inn.

 

 

 

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Westminster Hall, where the Court of Chancery sat almost continuously from the reign of Edward III until its dissolution in 1875. Illustration from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-11).

Reform.

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.

 

Charles Dickens and the Court of Chancery.

 

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.

Bleak House (Chapter 1).

 

Locations.

The Court of Chancery met at two locations which both survive today and are accessible to the public. Westminster Hall is the old medieaval hall within the Palace of Westminster. The old hall of Lincoln’s Inn is located in the Temple area.

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Middle Temple Hall.

The Court of Chancery sat at the Elizabethan hall outside of legal term times.

Westminster Hall.

The Court sat here during the legal term times.

 

 

Further Reading.

 

 

 

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