1902 Encyclopedia > Exchequer


EXCHEQUER, COURT OF EXCHEQUER, EXCHEQUER CHAMBER. The name scaccarium, from which the word "exchequer" is derived, was used under the Norman kings of England to signify the treasury. Madox, in his learned History of the Exchequer, exhausts the possible definitions of the word. According to some, it is connected with scaccus or scaccum, a chess-board, and the exchequer of England " was in all probability, called scaccarium because a chequered cloth (figured with squares like a chess-board) was anciently wont to be laid on the table in the court or place of that name." " From the Latin," continues Madox, " cometh the French eschequier or exchequier, and the English name from the French. Or if any one thinks more likely that the French word was the ancienter, and the Latin one formed from it, I do not oppose him,—nay, I incline to believe it was so." Another and less probable explanation is, that the original word was statarium, "from its stability, as it was the firm support of the crown _or kingdom." But Madox points out that from the early times of the Conquest onwards it was always called scaccarium and never statarium.

At the present day, exchequer means two very different and independent institutions, the historical origin of which is one and the same. It is a court of law—one of the three superior courts at Westminster. It is also the treasury. The connexion between the treasury and the court is still kept up in one or two points. The chancellor of the exchequer still takes his seat in the Exchequer Court on certain formal occasions, and the Exchequer Court (or, as it is now called, the Exchequer Division) is still the appropriate tribunal for cases connected with the revenue.

The Exchequer makes its appearance among English institutions in close connexion with the King's Court (curia regis)—the germ from which so largo a portion of the English constitution has sprung. In the language of later times it might be called a committee of that court specially charged with the management of the revenue. The King's Exchequer, says Theodore, " was anciently a member of his court, and was wont to be held in his palace. It was a sort of subaltern court, partly resembling in its model that which was properly called the curia regis, for in it the king's barons and great men who used to be in his palace near his royal person ordinarily presided, but sometimes the king himself; in it the king's chief-justiciar, his chancellor, his treasurer, his constable, his marshal, and his chamberlain performed some part of their several offices." And. just as the curia regis was not a pure court of law, so the Exchequer was not merely a financial council but a court of law. Its principal business, says Madox, related to the revenue, and although the justices on circuit had cognizance of revenue matters, such matters, as they arose, were certified or sent into the Exchequer "to which place the affairs of the royal revenue tended as to their centre." Madox divides the business of the Exchequer, during the period between the Conquest and the reign of King John, under the head of revenues, causes, non-litigious business, and matters of public policy.

From the reign of Henry III. the Exchequer was recognized as a separate court, the others being the King's Bench and the Common Pleas (q.v.). Mr Stubbs thinks that a separate staff of judges was not assigned to each court until the end of the reign of Henry. The special business of the Exchequer was as before the decision of revenue cases, but from a very early time, and in spite of repeated prohibitions, the lawyers of the Exchequer com-peted for the ordinary litigious business—the common pleas—of the country. They finally succeeded by means of the well-known fiction which allowed oue of the litigants to own that he was indebted to the king, and forbade his opponent to traverse the averment. The organization of the court seems to have been somewhat later in point of time than that of the Common Pleas and the King's Bench. The barons of the Exchequer wore not at first recognized as judges. They are not mentioned in the statutes of Nisi Prius (13 Edward I. c. 30, and 14 Edward III. c. 16). In the reign of Elizabeth the Exchequer was definitely recognized a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction with the Com-mon Pleas and the King's Bench.

The Exchequer was further distinguished from the two other courts by possessing an equitable as well as a common law jurisdiction. " The Court of Equity," says Blackstone, "is held before the lord treasurer, the chancellor of the ex-chequer, the chief baron, and the three puisne ones," whereas the common law jurisdiction isexercised by thebarons onlyof the exchequer, and not the treasurer or chancellor. This equity jurisdiction was abolished in 1841, when two addi-tional vice-chancellors were appointed in the Court of Chancery.

Bv the Judicature Act of 1873 the Court of Exchequer was abolished as a separate court, and its jurisdiction was transferred to the new High Court of Justice. The Ex-chequer still survives, however, as one of the divisions of the High Court, and still retains under its new name its old exclusive jurisdiction.

The Court of Exchequer Chamber was, until the passing of the Act just referred to, the court of appeal from the three courts of common law. Appeals from any one of these were heard before judges of the other two. It was originally intended (by statute 31 Edward III. c. 12) to de-termine causes by writs of error from the common law side of the Court of Exchequer, the judges being the lord chan-cellor, lord treasurer, and the justices of the King's Bench and Common Pleas. A statute of 27 Elizabeth (c. 8) made similar arrangements for writs of error from the King's Bench. The jurisdiction of the Exchequer Chamber is transferred by the Judicature Act to the new Court of Appeal.

The chancellor of the exchequer is the second commissioner of the treasury, the first lord being the premier. Occasionally both offices are held by the same person. It is the duty of the chancellor to prepare and lay before the House of Commons the " budget " for the year, and therefore he must be a commoner. The chancellor takes his seat in the Court of Exchequer once a year—at the nomination of persons to serve as sheriffs. (E. E.)

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