Courts of Chancery - Remedies

Remedies

The Court of Chancery could grant three possible remedies – specific performance, injunctions and damages. The remedy of specific performance is, in contractual matters, an order by the court which requires the party in breach of contract to perform his obligations. The validity of the contract as a whole was not normally considered, only whether there was adequate consideration and if expecting the party that breached the contract to carry out his obligations was viable. Injunctions, on the other hand, are remedies which prevent a party from doing something (unlike specific performance, which requires them to do something). Until the Common Law Procedure Act 1854, the Court of Chancery was the only body qualified to grant injunctions and specific performance.

Damages is money claimed in compensation for some failure by the other party to a case. It is commonly believed that the Court of Chancery could not grant damages until the Chancery Amendment Act 1858, which gave it that right, but in some special cases it had been able to provide damages for over 600 years. The idea of damages was first conceived in English law during the 13th century, when the Statutes of Merton and Gloucester provided for damages in certain circumstances. Despite what is normally assumed by academics, it was not just the common law courts that could grant damages under these statutes; the Exchequer of Pleas and Court of Chancery both had the right to do so. In Cardinal Beaufort's case in 1453, for example, it is stated that "I shall have a subpoena against my feoffee and recover damages for the value of the land". A statute passed during the reign of Richard II specifically gave the Chancery the right to award damages, stating:

For as much as People be compelled to come before the King's Council, or in the Chancery by Writs grounded upon untrue Suggestions; that the Chancellor for the Time being, presently after that such Suggestions be duly found and proved untrue, shall have Power to ordain and award Damages according to his Discretion, to him which is so troubled unduly, as afore is said.

This did not extend to every case, but merely to those which had been dismissed because one party's "suggestions proved untrue", and was normally awarded to pay for the innocent party's costs in responding to the party that had lied. Lord Hardwicke, however, claimed that the Chancery's jurisdiction to award damages was not derived "from any authority, but from conscience", and rather than being statutory was instead due to the Lord Chancellor's inherent authority. As a result, General Orders were regularly issued awarding the innocent party additional costs, such as the cost of a solicitor on top of the costs of responding to the other party's false statements.

The Court became more cautious about awarding damages during the 16th and 17th centuries; Lord Chancellors and legal writers considered it a common law remedy, and judges would normally only award damages where no other remedy was appropriate. Damages were sometimes given as an ancillary remedy, such as in Browne v Dom Bridges in 1588, where the defendant had disposed of waste inside the plaintiffs woods. As well as an injunction to prevent the defendant dumping waste in the woods, damages were also awarded to pay for the harm to the woods." This convention (that damages could only be awarded as an ancillary remedy, or where no others were available) remained the cause until the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the attitude of the Court towards awarding damages became more liberal; in Lannoy v Werry, for example, it was held that where there was sufficient evidence of harm, the Court could award damages in addition to specific performance and other remedies. This changed with Todd v Gee in 1810, where Lord Eldon held that "except in very special cases, it was not the course of proceeding in Equity to file a Bill for specific performance of an agreement; praying in the alternative, if it cannot be performed, an issue, or an inquiry before the Master, with a view to damages. The plaintiff must take that remedy, if he chooses it, at Law." This was followed by Hatch v Cobb, in which Chancellor Kent held that "though equity, in very special cases, may possibly sustain a bill for damages, on a breach of contract, it is clearly not the ordinary jurisdiction of the court".

The Court's right to give damages was reiterated in Phelps v Prothero in 1855, where the Court of Appeal in Chancery held that if a plaintiff starts an action in a court of equity for specific performance and damages are also appropriate, the court of equity may choose to award damages. This authorisation was limited to certain circumstances, and was again not regularly used. Eventually, the Chancery Amendment Act 1858 gave the Court full jurisdiction to award damages; the situation before that was so limited that lawyers at the time commented as if the Court had not previously been able to do so.

Read more about this topic:  Courts Of Chancery

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