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1 That part of English law originally administered by the Lord Chancellor and later by the Court of Chancery, as distinct from that administered by the courts of common law. The common law did not recognize certain concepts (e.g. uses and trusts) and its remedies were limited in scope and flexibility, since it relied primarily on the remedy of damages. In the Middle Ages litigants were entitled to petition the king, who relied on the advice of his Chancellor, commonly an ecclesiastic (“the keeper of the king's conscience”), to do justice in each case. By the 15th century, petitions were referred directly to the Chancellor, who dealt with cases on a flexible basis: he was more concerned with the fair result than with rigid principles of law (hence the jurist John Selden's jibe that “equity varied with the length of the Chancellor's foot”). Moreover, if a defendant refused to comply with the Chancellor's order, he would be imprisoned for contempt of the order until he chose to comply (see in personam). In the 17th century conflict arose between the common-law judges and the Chancellor as to who should prevail; James I resolved the dispute in favour of the Chancellor. General principles began to emerge, and by the early 19th century the Court of Chancery was more organized and its jurisdiction, once flexible, had ossified into a body of precedent with fixed principles. The Court of Chancery had varying types of jurisdiction (see auxiliary jurisdiction; concurrent jurisdiction; exclusive jurisdiction) and many of its general principles were stated in the form of maxims of equity; equity had (and still has) certain doctrines (see election; conversion; reconversion; performance of contract; satisfaction). Under the Judicature Acts 1873–75, with the establishment of the High Court of Justice to administer both common law and equity, the Court of Chancery was abolished (though much of its work is still carried out by the Chancery Division). The Judicature Acts also provided that in cases in which there was a conflict between the rules of law and equity, the rules of equity should prevail. The main areas of equitable jurisdiction now include trusts, equitable interests over property, relief against forfeiture and penalties, and equitable remedies. Equity is thus a regulated scheme of legal principles, but new developments are still possible (“equity is not past the age of child-bearing”): recent examples of its creativity include the freezing injunction and the search order.

2 An equitable right or claim, especially an equitable interest, or equity of redemption, or mere equity.

3 A share in a limited company.

Subjects: Law

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