Chancery

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A chancery is also the office building in which an ambassador houses his diplomatic mission.
File:Court of Chancery edited.jpg
Court of Chancery, London, early 19th century

The Court of Chancery was one of the courts of equity in England and Wales. The High Court of Chancery was the court that developed from the Lord Chancellor's jurisdiction. Unlike the common law courts, which were rigidly based on precedent, the Lord Chancellor had jurisdiction to determine cases, on behalf of the King, according to equity or fairness rather than according to the strict letter of the law. Gradually the rules of equity also became codified, but they preserve important innovations, such as mandatory orders and injunctions, investment trusts, etc. See equity.

The High Court of Chancery was merged with the common law courts in 1873, and common law judges given the power to administer equity. In other common law jurisdictions most states either (1) abolished chancery courts and merged the powers of the courts of equity with the common law courts, thus making it possible for one to seek equitable relief at the same time as legal relief or (2) made the equitable jurisdiction the responsibility of a separate chancery division of the court of general jurisdiction. However, four American states (Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi, and Tennessee), chose to retain completely separate Courts of Chancery. Judges who sit on such courts are called Chancellors.

One important distinction between these courts (at least in the United States, where juries still commonly hear civil cases) is that generally a jury trial is not possible in equitable actions as only a judge can dispense equity; a jury, while it can answer questions of fact, has no power to answer questions that involve interpretation of the law. Another important distinction is that the law of equity is a set of principles that are based upon the discretion of the judge interpreting them.

In Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House, the interminable chancery case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is a major element of the plot.

In Agatha Christie's novel "And Then There Were None", one verse of the rhyme quoted throughout the book is "Five little sailor boys going in for law, one got In chancery and then there were four".

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