Catalogue description Records of the Chancery Division

Details of Division within J
Reference: Division within J
Title: Records of the Chancery Division

Records of the Chancery Division and of the Companies Court relating to common law and equity law jurisdiction.

Comprises Chancery Division:

Companies Court:

Date: c1777-1995
Related material:

For records of the High Court of Justice in Bankruptcy see records of the Office of the Commissioners of Bankrupts, the successor bankruptcy courts, and the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors: B

Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Court of Chancery, 1875

Supreme Court of Judicature, Chancery Division, 1875-

Supreme Court of Judicature, Companies Court, 1890-

Physical description: 55 series
Administrative / biographical background:

The Chancery Division of the High Court was established under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, taking over the Offices attached to the Chancery, together with its jurisdiction, both as a common law court and a court of equity. The causes and matters to be dealt with by the division included the administration of the estates of deceased persons, the execution of trusts, the wardship of infants, the dissolution of partnerships and the redemption or foreclosure of mortgages.

Appeals from decisions of County Courts, previously heard in Chancery, were assigned to Divisional Courts. Responsibility for the records of Chancery remained with the master of the rolls who, until 1881 when he was constituted a lord justice of appeal only, was also one of the judges of the division.

With the establishment of a Companies Court under the Companies (Winding up) Act 1890, work in connection with the winding up of companies etc was centralised in a Companies (Winding up) Department, attached to the new court. In 1921 causes in the High Court of Justice in Bankruptcy were assigned to judges of the division and in 1950 trials in revenue cases by way of petition or case stated from decisions of the commissioners of income tax, etc were taken over from the King's Bench Division.

Under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 the division took over contentious probate work previously handled by the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division but lost its guardianship and wardship work to the newly-designated Family Division. Under the Patents Act 1977 a Patents Court was constituted part of the division to take certain proceedings relating to patents and other matters, together with the appellate jurisdiction formerly exercised by the Patents Appeal Tribunal. In 1990 the Lord Chancellor used powers under section 287 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to confer jurisdiction to hear patents and design cases on Edmonton County Court, sitting at Wood Green.

Chancery business outside London is exercised on many issues by District Registries; under the Courts Act 1971 it can also be taken by High Court or Circuit Judges at various provincial centres. Under that act the High Court also took over the Chancery jurisdiction of the palatine courts of Durham and Lancaster.

Much of the court work of the division, such as the calling up of papers, swearing of witnesses, marking up of exhibits, settlement of judgments and orders etc is undertaken through the Office of the Chancery Registrars and in chambers by masters of the Supreme Court, known until 1897 as chief clerks.

Under the Supreme Court of Judicature (Officers) Act 1879 the records, writ and enrolment work of the division passed to the Central Office and provision was made for the abolition of the office of clerk of the petty bag. Earlier, the great seal duties attached to that post had been transferred to the clerk of the crown in Chancery under the Great Seal Officers Act 1874. Abolition was finally effected in 1889 when the remaining work of the Petty Bag Office passed to the Crown Office department of the Central Office.

In 1884 the funds of the various courts were consolidated and the Chancery Pay Office became the Supreme Court Pay Office. In the same year the Examiners' Office was abolished and in 1902 the Chancery taxing masters were transferred to the newly-formed Supreme Court Taxing Office which thereafter undertook the taxation of costs arising from actions heard in the division.

By the Bankruptcy Act 1883 it was laid down that the courts having jurisdiction in bankruptcy should be the High Court and the County Courts. For the purposes of their bankruptcy jurisdiction County Courts were to enjoy, in addition to their ordinary powers, all the powers and jurisdiction of the High Court. Appeals from their decisions lay to a Divisional Court of the High Court and from decisions of the High Court of Justice in Bankruptcy to the Court of Appeal.

It was also enacted that the London Bankruptcy Court should form part of the Supreme Court of Judicature and its jurisdiction should be transferred to the High Court as though such union had been effected under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873. This merger had, in fact, been provided for by the 1873 act but had later been repealed by the Supreme Court of Judicature (1873) Amendment Act 1875.

The officers of the court are attached to the Bankruptcy Department of the High Court and work in close association with their counterparts attached to the Companies Court. For many years the department undertook its own taxing work but in 1964 this was formally absorbed within the Supreme Court Taxing Office, the taxing master in bankruptcy having operated under the direction of that Office from 1928.

Since 1921 cases in the High Court of Justice in Bankruptcy have been assigned to judges of the Chancery division. Before that time they were taken by Queen's Bench judges, and during the vacation judges from that division may still act.

Under the Companies (Winding up) Act 1890 the jurisdiction to wind up companies was vested in the High Court, the Chancery Courts of the counties palatine of Lancaster and Durham, the County Courts and the court of the vice-warden of the Stannaries. To deal with High Court proceedings a Companies Court, sitting under a Chancery or Bankruptcy judge, was established. This court also dealt with cases other than those concerned with winding-up, known as 'Chancery' cases, such as application for confirmation of reduction of capital or sanction of schemes of arrangement.

The court has its own administrative office which works in close association with the Bankruptcy Department. Taxation of costs in companies winding up matters was undertaken by the court until 1957 when this work passed to the Supreme Court Taxing Office.

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