Equity is frequently referred to as a supplement to the common law. Cruzon defines Equity as a system of law developed by the court of chancery in parallel with the common law. It was designed to complement it, providing remedies for situations that were unavailable at Law. Because of this, Equity provided a dimension of flexibility and justice that was often times lacking because of the common law’s rigidity. This rigidity stems from the fact that, while courts sometimes altered their jurisdictions and procedures, the fundamental premises and noticeable forms of the common law went largely unchanged between the 13th and 19th centuries.
The common law was regarded as a birthright for all Englishmen; however, as the Crown continued to impose new jurisdictions, many statues sought to protect the peoples’ right to due process. In 1215 the Magna Carta was issued which sought to protect a free man’s right to life, liberty, and property except by the due process of the law. These statutes meant to limit the power of the crown, the very power that had introduced the common law as an alternative to the previous localized form of justice, and characterized a shift in the common law. Yet, due process legislation could only be invoked where the common law was considered to be deficient, and petitions were sent to the king, seeking his grace, when this was thought to be the case. Gradually the number of these petitions increased so much that they had to be reserved for special councils of the parliament, and as they continued to increase, only the most significant petitions were reserved for the parliament. The rest, mainly private suits, were passed on to individual councilors such as the chancellor, admiral, or marshal. These councilors grew in importance as petitioners began approach the appropriate individual directly. Out of the councilors’ arrangements for dealing with these cases, along with their added significance, developed several distinct courts. The most important of these was that of the chancellor as it developed its own jurisprudence.
The Chancery began as the royal secretariat. Originally it was a department where royal writs and charters were drawn and sealed. Much of the chancellor’s later power stemmed from the fact that he had custody of the great seal of England, which was used to authenticate these documents. Because the writs originated from this department, the chancery was associated with the administration of justice. The jurisdiction of the chancellor, however, grew from the jurisdiction of the king’s council to deal with bills of complaint, rather than the departmental work of the chancery. Little by little the chancery developed into its own court of law.
In the 14th century, bills complaining of interference with the common law were passed on to the chancery. It was a convenient clearing-house for all types of business in this regard. By 1400 people simply went straight to the chancellor. The Chancellor gained popularity due...