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Courts of Justice

The several courts of Law and Equity demand our attention after the high court of parliament. It is the great glory of this country that all courts are, of right, open to the public. Lord Coke says "all causes ought to be heard, ordered, and determined in the king's courts, whither all persons may resort, and in no chambers or other private places." De Lolme observes, "for the prevention of abuses it is an invariable usage that the trial be public. The prisoner (or defendant) neither makes his appearance nor pleads, but in places where every body may have free entrance; and the witnesses, when they give their evidence, the judge when he delivers his opinion, the jury when they give their verdict, are all under the public eye; and the judge cannot change either the place, or the kind of punishment, ordered by the law; and a sheriff, who should take away the life of a man in a manner different from that which the law prescribes, would be prosecuted as guilty of murder."

As the remedies of the unwritten and written, that is, common and statute law, could not in all cases secure the amplest justice to the subject, COURTS OF EQUITY have been established in this country. The word equity, however, has misled many: it is very generally, but most erroneously, thought, that the judges who sit in them are only to follow the rules of natural equity, that they are to obey the dictates of their own feelings, and ground their decisions, as they think proper, on the peculiar circumstances of the case. Strange as it may appear, even the great Dr. Johnson supported this error: "the chancellor hath power (according to Dr. Johnson's definition) to moderate and temper the written law, and subjecteth himself to the law of nature and conscience." What! can the power of an equity judge be, to alter, by his own private voice, the written law, that is, acts of parliament, and thus to control the legislature itself? This would indeed support the great principle, that "to live by one man's will might be the cause of all men's misery." But the fact is not so: their office consists in providing remedies for those cases where the public good requires that remedies should be provided, and in regard to which the courts of common law, shackled by their original forms and institutions, cannot procure any: or in other words, the courts of equity have a power to administer justice to the individuals unrestrained (not by the law, but) by the professional law difficulties which lawyers have from time to time contrived in the courts of common law, and to which the judges of those courts have given their sanction.

Related pages:

Lord Chancellor's Court

Vice-Chancellor's Court



King's Bench

Common Pleas

Exchequer Chamber

Courts of Requests

Court of Admiralty

Doctors' Common

Insolvent Debtors' Court

Law Proceedings

Mode of making a Judge

Old Bailey Sessions

Inns of Court

The Temple, Inner, Middle

Lincoln's Inn

Gray's Inn

The Inns of Chancery

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819