Изображения страниц

The Chancellors in many cases expressly referred to precedent as the ground of their decisions. now alway.


We find the Chancellor in the time of Car. I, where the case exhibited no novelty in its circumstances so as to call for a precedent to be made, refusing to interfere because there was no precedent; and there are instances of references to the chief justices and other judges to see whether the Lord Chancellor had jurisdiction in the Lord Ellesmere (temp. James I) fully recognizing the force of precedent, endeavored to provide against the irregularities, to which he occasionally gave way, being converted into precedents. I may add that the precedents collected by Tothill and Sir George Cary, have been cited by subsequent judges, amongst others by the great Lord Hardwicke [Chancellor, 1737-1756], so that there is an uninterrupted chain in the influence of precedent from the earliest times, in the application of the principles of equity and conscience, positively, that is where they ought to be applied, and negatively, that is, where the law ought to be left to its own operation.

When, therefore, Lord Nottingham declared (1676), that with such a Conscience as is only naturalis et interna this court has nothing to do, the Conscience by which he was to proceed was merely civilis and politica, he was not making a rule, but declaring what had become of the established doctrine of the Court.

GEE V. PRITCHARD, in Chancery (1818). (2 Swanst. 402.) Lord Eldon, Chancellor, said: It is my duty to submit my judgment to the authority of those who have gone before me; and it will not be easy to remove the weight of the decisions of Lord Hardwicke and Lord Apsley. The doctrines of this Court ought to be as well settled, and made as uniform almost as those of the common law, laying down fixed principles, but taking care that they are to be applied according to the circumstances of each case. I can not agree that the doctrines of this court are to be changed with every succeeding judge. Nothing would inflict on me greater .pain, in quitting this place, than the recollection that I had done. anything to justify the reproach that the equity of this court varies like the Chancellor's foot.


But the systems of jurisprudence in our courts, both of law and equity, are now equally artificial systems, founded on the same. principles of justice and positive law, but varied by different usages

in the forms and mode of their proceedings; the one being originally derived (though much reformed and improved) from the feodal customs as they prevailed in different ages in the Saxon and Norman judicatures; the other (but with equal improvements) from the imperial and pontifical formularies introduced by their clerical chancellors.

Such then being the parity of law and reason which governs both species of courts, wherein (it may be asked) does their essential difference consist? It principally consists in the different modes of administering justice in each; in the mode of proof, the mode of trial, and the mode of relief. Upon these, and upon two other accidental grounds of jurisdiction, which were formerly driven into those courts by narrow decisions of the courts of law, viz., the true construction of securities for money lent, and the form and effect of a trust or second use; upon these main pillars hath been gradually erected that structure of jurisprudence which prevails in our courts of equity, and is inwardly bottomed upon the same substantial foundations as the legal system which hath hitherto been delineated in these commentaries; however, different they may appear in their outward form, from the different taste of their architects. 1. And, first, as to the mode of proof. When facts, or their leading circumstances, rest only in the knowledge of the party, a court of equity applies itself to his conscience, and purges him upon oath with regard to the truth of the transaction, and, that being once discovered, the judgment is the same in equity as it would have been at law. But, for want of this discovery at law, the courts of equity have acquired a concurrent jurisdiction with every court in all matters of account. As incident to accounts, they take a concurrent cognizance of the administration of personal assets, consequently of debts, legacies, the distribution of the residue, and the conduct of executors and administrators. As incident to accounts, they also take the concurrent jurisdiction of tithes, and all questions relating thereto; of all dealings in partnership, and many other mercantile transactions; and so of bailiffs, receivers, factors, and agents. It would be endless to point out all the several avenues in human affairs, and in this commercial age, which lead to or end in accounts.

From the same fruitful source, the compulsive discovery upon oath, the courts of equity have acquired a jurisdiction over almost all matters of fraud; all matters in the private knowledge of the

party, which, though concealed, are binding in conscience; and all judgments at law, obtained through such fraud or concealment. And this, not by impeaching or reversing the judgment itself, but by prohibiting the plaintiff from taking any advantage of a judgment obtained by suppressing the truth; and which, had the same facts appeared on the trial as now are discovered, he would never have attained at all.

2. As to the mode of trial. This is by interrogatories administered to the witnesses, upon which their depositions are taken in writing, wherever they happen to reside. If therefore the cause arises in a foreign country, and the witnesses reside upon the spot; if, in causes arising in England, the witnesses are abroad, or shortly to leave the kingdom; or if witnesses residing at home are aged or infirm; any of these cases lays a ground for a court of equity to grant a commission to examine them, and (in consequence) to exercise the same jurisdiction, which might have been exercised at law, if the witnesses could probably attend.

3. With respect to the mode of relief. The want of a more specific remedy, than can be obtained in the courts of law, gives a concurrent jurisdiction to a court of equity in a great variety of cases. To instance in executory agreements. A court of equity will compel them to be carried into strict execution, unless where it is improper or impossible: instead of giving damages for their non-performance. And hence a fiction is established, that what ought to be done shall be considered as being actually done, and shall relate back to the time when it ought to have been done originally and this fiction is so closely pursued through all its consequences, that it necessarily branches out into many rules of jurisprudence, which form a certain regular system. So of waste, and other similar injuries, a court of equity takes a concurrent cognizance, in order to prevent them by injunction. Over questions that may be tried at law, in a great multiplicity of actions, a court of equity assumes a jurisdiction, to prevent the expense and vexation of endless litigations and suits. In various kinds of frauds it assumes a concurrent jurisdiction, not only for the sake of a discovery, but of a more extensive and specific relief: as by setting aside fraudulent deeds, decreeing reconveyances, or directing an absolute conveyance merely to stand as a security. And thus, lastly, for the sake of a more beneficial and complete relief by decreeing a sale of lands, a court

of equity holds plea of all debts, encumbrances, and charges that may affect it or issue thereout.

4. The true construction of securities for money lent is another fountain of jurisdiction in courts of equity. When they held the penalty of a bond to be the form, and that in substance it was only as a pledge to secure the repayment of the sum bona fide advanced, with a proper compensation for the use, they laid the foundation of a regular series of determinations, which have settled the doctrine of personal pledges or securities, and are equally applicable to mortgages of real property. The mortgagor continues owner of the land, the mortgagee of the money lent upon it; but this ownership is mutually transferred, and the mortgagor is barred from redemption if, when called upon by the mortgagee, he does not redeem within a time limited by the court; or he may when out of possession be barred by length of time, by analogy to the statute of limitations.

5. The form of a trust, or second use, gives the courts of equity an exclusive jurisdiction as to the subject-matter of all settlements and devises in that form, and of all the long terms created in the present complicated mode of conveyancing. This is a very ample source of jurisdiction: but the trust is governed by very nearly the same rules, as would govern the estate in a court of law, if no trustee was interposed: and by a regular positive system established in the courts of equity, the doctrine of trusts is now reduced to as great a certainty as that of legal estates in the courts of the common law.

These are the principal (for I omit the minuter) grounds of the jurisdiction at present exercised in our courts of equity: which differ, we see, very considerably from the notions entertained by strangers, and even by those courts themselves before they arrived to maturity; as appears from the principles laid down, and the jealousies entertained of their abuse, by our early juridical writers cited in a former page; and which have been implicitly received and handed down by subsequent compilers, without attending to those gradual accessions and derelictions, by which in the course of a century this mighty river hath imperceptibly shifted its channel. Lambard in particular, in the reign of queen Elizabeth, lays it down, that "equity should not be appealed unto, but only in rare and extraordinary matters: and that a good chancellor will not arrogate authority in every complaint that shall be brought before him

upon whatsoever suggestion: and thereby both overthrow the authority of the courts of common law, and bring upon men such a confusion and uncertainty, as hardly any man should know how or how long to hold his own assured to him." And certainly, if a court of equity were still at sea, and floated upon the occasional opinion which the judge who happened to preside might entertain of conscience in every particular case, the inconvenience that would arise from this uncertainty would be a worse evil than any hardship that could follow from rules too strict and inflexible. Its powers would have become too arbitrary to have been endured in a country like this, which boasts of being governed in all respects by law and not by will. But since the time when Lambard wrote, a set of great and eminent lawyers, who have successively held the great seal, have by degrees erected the system of relief administered by a court of equity into a regular science, which can not be attained without study and experience, any more than the science of law: but from which, when understood, it may be known what remedy a suitor is entitled to expect, and by what mode of suit, as readily and with as much precision in a court of equity as in a court of law.




Although the custom of the King's Court became the common law of the land, there were three classes of persons who were in a varying degree exempt from it, the priest, the Jew, and the merchant. The relation of the priest to the Canon law of the Church has been treated of authoritatively by Professor Maitland; the place taken by the Jew will be further elucidated, we hope, by the promised volume of the Selden Society on the Jewish Plea Rolls; the position of the merchant is still in need of authentic treatment. We know, however, that side by side with the custom of the King's Court existed the 'custom of merchants,' whatever that was. The reasons for this obscurity are twofold; few merchant cases came up for decision in the King's Courts, and the local records such as those of the Piepoudre Court of Bristol, the great western port of the kingdom, have most unfortunately been lost or destroyed.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »