Definitions

Exchequer

Exchequer

[eks-chek-er, iks-chek-er]
Exchequer, Court of, in English history, governmental agency. It originated after the Norman Conquest as a financial committee of the Curia Regis. By the reign of Henry II it had a separate organization and was responsible for the collection of the king's revenue as well as for exercising jurisdiction in cases affecting the revenue. By the latter part of the 13th cent. a separation became discernible between the court proper and the exchequer or treasury, especially with the appointment of lawyers as barons (judges) of the exchequer. Its jurisdiction over common pleas now steadily increased, to include, for example, money disputes between private litigants on the assumption that the plaintiff was indebted to the crown and needed payment from the defendant to enable him to pay the king. A second Court of Exchequer Chamber was set up in 1585 to amend errors of the Court of the King's Bench. From an amalgamation in 1830, a single Court of Exchequer emerged as a court of appeal intermediate between the common-law courts and the House of Lords. In 1875 the Court of Exchequer became, by the Judicature Act of 1873, the exchequer division of the High Court of Justice, and in 1880 was combined with the Court of Common Pleas into the Queen's Bench.
The Exchequer was (and in some cases still is) a part of the governments of England (latterly to include Wales), Scotland, and Northern Ireland that was responsible for the management and collection of revenues. The various Exchequers have also developed judicial roles.

History of the Exchequer in England and Wales

At an early stage in England (certainly by 1176, the 23rd year of the Reign of Henry II (England) which is the date of the Dialogue concerning the Exchequer), the Exchequer was split into two components: the purely administrative Exchequer of Receipt, which collected revenue, and the judicial Exchequer of Pleas, a court concerned with the King's revenue.

According to the Dialogue concerning the Exchequer, an early medieval work describing the practice of the Exchequer, the Exchequer itself referred to the cloth laid over a large table, 10 feet by 5 feet, with a lip on the edge of 4 'fingers', on which counters were placed representing various values. The name referred to the resemblance of the table to a chess board.

The term "Exchequer" then came to refer to the twice yearly meetings held at Easter and Michaelmas, at which government financial business was transacted and an audit held of sheriffs' returns.

Under Henry I, the procedure adopted for the audit would involve the Treasurer drawing up a summons which would be sent to each Sheriff, which they would be required to answer. The Treasurer would call on each Sheriff to give account of royal income in their shire. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would then question them concerning debts owed by private individuals. The results of the audit were recorded in a series of records known as the Pipe Rolls.

After the Union

The Exchequer became unnecessary as a revenue collecting department as a result of William Pitt's reforms. It was abolished in 1834. Those government departments collecting revenue paid it directly to the Bank of England.

By extension, "exchequer" has come to mean the Treasury and, colloquially, pecuniary possessions in general; as in "the company's exchequer is low".

History of the Exchequer in Scotland

The Scottish Exchequer dates back to around 1200 and had a similar role of auditing and deciding on royal revenues as in England. The Scottish exchequer was slower to develop a separate judicial role, and it was not until 1584 that it became a court of law, separate from the King's council. Even then, the judicial and administrative roles never became completely separated into two bodies, as with the English Exchequer.

The term Court of the Exchequer was only used of the Exchequer department during the Scottish administration of Oliver Cromwell, between 1655 and 1659.

In 1707, the Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act (6 Ann. c. 53) reconstituted the Exchequer into a court on the English model with a Lord Chief Baron and 4 Barons. The court adopted English forms of procedure and had further powers added to it.

From 1832 no new Barons were appointed, and their role was increasingly taken over by judges of the Court of Session. By the Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act 1856 (19 & 20 Vict. c. 56) the Exchequer became a part of the Court of Session. One of the Lords Ordinary acts as a judge in Exchequer causes. The English forms of process ceased to be used in 1947.

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