Historical development of equity

In Roman mythology, Aequitas, also known as Aecetia, was the goddess of fair trade and honest merchants. Like Abundantia, she is depicted with a cornucopia, representing wealth from commerce. She is also shown holding a balance, representing equity and fairness. Aequitas is the source of the word equity, and also means ” equality” or ” justice” (Wikipedia 07). English law has deep historical roots and equity started due to the imperfections of the common law system. In 1066 William 1st invaded and conquered England; he claimed ownership of the country under the concept of the ‘ divine right of Kings’.

This in itself was problimatic as the Country had different rules in different areas brought about by outside influences. In order to control and remain in power William introduced the ‘ feudal system’, this system had been used in France by the Normans since settlement in 900AD. It was simple & effective the land was owned by the King, one quarter was kept as personal property, some was given to the church and the rest was leased out to favoured nobles under strict controls.

In return the noblemen provided certain services (tenures) they also had to swear on oath to remain faithful and loyal if they wanted to remain in the Kings favour and keep the land. The land that was given to the Nobles was vast and could not be controled and managed properly so smaller areas were given to lesser nobles on the same basis as with the king (in return for services) and so the system went on until lastly the lower class or workers who performed services for the basic needs of food and shelter.

Where the joint responsibility of kin-groups had once served as the basis of dispute settlement, it now became the responsibility and the right of the feudal lords to see that justice was done. As a means of consolidating power, feudal lords began requiring that disputes be submitted to a local ” court” for settlement. The hundreds of courts were essentially meetings of residents at which all manner of local problems were discussed; among them were the resolution of local disputes.

The right to hold court and to profit from it was the essential hallmark of a feudal ruler. Early feudal rulers required that compensatory damages be paid not to the offended party but to the lord. The right of a lord to collect the profits resulting from the administration or Justice eventually became an essential force in the development of common law. As early as the 15th century, it became the practice that litigants who felt cheated by the common-law system would petition the King in person.

For example, they might argue that an award of damages (at common law) was not sufficient redress for a trespasser occupying their land, and instead request that the trespasser be evicted, from this developed the system of equity. People started petitioning the King for relief against unfair judgments and as the number of petitioners rapidly grew, the King delegated the task of hearing petitions to the Lord Chancellor. The first Chancellors were men of the cloth, and they were required to pass judgment guided by their conscience and based on morals and equality.

As these Chancellors had no legal training, and were not guided by precedent, their decisions were often widely diverse. However, in 1529 a lawyer, Sir Thomas More, was appointed as Chancellor, this was the beginning of a new era, from then on all future Chancellors were lawyers, and from around 1557 onwards, records and equitable doctrines were kept. The Court of Chancery developed a number of principles in order to exercise discretion and grant orders these still apply today.