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Use this guide to find the different types of Chancery Division records including:

  • orders
  • pleadings
  • affidavits

In 1875 the Supreme Court of Judicature was established. It incorporated the existing central law courts, common law and equity, into a new High Court of Justice with a separate Appeal Court.

The names of some of the old courts – Chancery or Queen’s/King Bench- became divisions of the new court. See section 3 to see what types of cases the Chancery Division heard.

2. Essential information

After 1945 little detailed information survives on most cases. Only a 2% random sample of all cases, along with particular cases considered to be of historical interest, are transferred to The National Archives.

3. Search help

Many cases you can search by name of plaintiff. Use advanced search to search by name within the record series suggested in the sections below.

Records are not viewable online. To view records which are not online you will need to visit The National Archives at Kew or pay for research.

You may find useful details also in:

4. Which cases did the Chancery Division hear?

Chancery Division’s specific responsibilities included the administration of:

  • the estates of the deceased
  • partnerships
  • mortgages
  • other charges on land, trusts, real estate
  • the wardship of infants

Queen’s Bench Division also dealt with many civil cases. Some cases might be dealt with by either division as they all exercised {concurrent jurisdiction[1]}.

  • contractual disputes
  • libel
  • debt
  • personal injury

Little detailed information survives on most cases after 1945. The 2% sample post 1945 are now in J 83 and J 84 which you can search by name in our catalogue. They consist of dossiers containing documents in the case.

Confidential papers are closed for various periods. Shorthand notes of trials are not kept.

5. Starting a search: decrees and orders (1876-1955)

The indexes are arranged by name of plaintiff or title of cause.

Step 1 Once you find a relevant index entry, note down:

  • the year
  • the series (A or B)
  • the number of the order
  • whether it is written or printed

Step 2 Use advanced search to search by year within J 15. Sort your results by reference.

Step 3 You need to use the information you noted from the index to work out which volume you need to order.

Until 1932, there are two main series of Entry Books for each year. The A series covers cases whose titles begin with the letters A-K and the B series for those beginning L-Z.

Within each of the A and B series, until 1921, there are two sets of running numbers: one for printed orders and the other for written ones.

Please note, in any given case there may be a series of entries, extending over a period of years.

6. Pleadings

They are documents filed by order of the court if the action was set down for trial. They were meant to be confined to material facts in the case and do not include evidence.

Pleadings may include:

  • formal statements made by the parties in the case
  • certificates of the outcome of cases
  • notices of change of solicitor

Pleadings in any particular case may be filed at different dates therefore you may need to search multiple dates.

Pleadings are in J 54 for 1876-1942. Use the advanced search option to search by year within J 54. Sort your results by reference. The records are arranged by the initial letter of the name of the plaintiff and by month, usually the month of the final judgment.

7. Affidavits (1876-1945)

These are sworn written statements submitted in evidence relating to serving of writs, production of documents and so on. Sometimes, however, they can be very informative.

Many affidavits in a particular case may be difficult to piece together as they are arranged by date of filing, then alphabetically by name of plaintiff or person/organisation ‘in the matter of’ (for example, matter of the estate of John Smith). There are indexes in IND 1 available at The National Archives, Kew.

8. Depositions

These are statements on oath used in evidence. They are filed with the pleadings in J 54 until 1880, and are in J 17 from 1880-1991. However those from 1926-1959 have been destroyed. From 1960 a representative selection has been kept.

Depositions are arranged by date of filing and then alphabetically by name of plaintiff or person ‘in the matter of’ (for example matter of the estate of John Smith). Indexes are in IND 1, available at the National Archives, Kew.

9. Petitions

Petitions, used to initiate actions in some cases (usually applications under particular acts, such as the Companies Acts and Charitable Trusts Acts, or concerning the administration of estates) are in J 53.

They are arranged by year and then alphabetically up to 1954, with indexes in IND 1. Those from 1955-1965 have been destroyed. From 1966, samples will be in the J 83-J 84 case files.

10. Reports and certificates (1875-1977)

Officials working for the judge, known as masters, also made reports.

  • accounts
  • schedules of debts
  • arbitration awards
  • trust schemes
  • statements
  • special reports

Indexes are in IND 1. J 57 is arranged by date of filing, and then alphabetically by name of plaintiff or person/organisation ‘in the matter of’ (for example, matter of the estate of John Smith.)

12. Cause Books (1875-1940)

Civil cases coming before the High Court were entered into the {Cause Book[1]} of the appropriate division and given:

  • an action number – the year, the initial letter of the plaintiff’s name
  • or title of the case and a running number, for example 1900 L 59

After 1880, the Cause Books have been destroyed. The exception is a ten yearly sample (1880 to 1940), together with the writs of summons (endorsed with the plaintiff’s statement of claim) for the same years (to 1930) in J 89.

Cause books record:

  • names of plaintiff and defendant and their solicitors
  • dates of appearances
  • sometimes the dates when pleadings were filed

They do not record final judgments.

Only a minority of actions started came to formal trial.

13. Further reading

Some of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

JM Lely and WD Foulkes, The Judicature Acts 1873 and 1875 (H Sweet, 1877)

Source: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk
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