Anyone familiar with Dickens’ Bleak House, will remember the famous Chancery case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The case had dragged on for generations and concerned a disputed will. When it was finally resolved, the assets of the will had been entirely absorbed by the costs of the Court of Chancery.
I was at the National Archives at Kew again today, this time looking at some Chancery documents from 1835. Once more, the document roll was absolutely filthy, and as before, composed of documents at least two feet six inches wide by around two feet high. Difficult to read, and written in such arcane legalese that the meaning was almost impossible to understand.
This particular Chancery case concerned the Red Barn affair. William Corder’s widow was trying to get Corder’s mother to honour his father’s will in respect of moneys left to William that he made over to his mother-in-law before his trial. He did that because all of his assets would have been confiscated by the state if he was convicted – as he was.
What is striking is not so much the costs of the actual court case, which were high, as the financial burden of the preparation of documentation for any hearing – in this case, 14 pages of close copperplate on pages more than four feet square. A solicitor would have been needed for the legalese, together with several days’ work for a clerk. Talk about a licence to print money…
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs