Alternate Names



The court of chancery, also known as equity, emerged in fourteenth-century England as an alternative to the common law courts, which over preceding centuries had developed complicated and strict rules of procedure, governed by precedent. Partial compliance or non-compliance with those rules could derail a party’s claim, and precedents could sometimes exclude an otherwise valid claim. In addition, common law courts at times lacked “plain, adequate and complete” remedies for parties. In contrast, the court of chancery was permitted to review each case in isolation and to develop new rules and remedies to ensure a fair outcome. The court of chancery sometimes worked in tandem with the common law courts, issuing injunctions that intervened to provide remedies not available at common law. In other instances, such as suits involving mortgages, the court of chancery claimed exclusive jurisdiction. American colonial courts adopted equity in various forms and by the early nineteenth century, most states in the United States had given county-level circuit courts (or courts of common pleas) both common law and equity jurisdiction. State legislators defined equity process by statute.