Chancellor of the High Court

The Chancellor of the High Court is the head of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. This judge and the other two heads of divisions (Family and Queens Bench) sit by virtue of their offices often, as and when their expertise is deemed relevant, in panel in the Court of Appeal. As such this judge ranks equally to the President of the Family Division and the President of the Queen's Bench Division..

From 1813 to 1841, the solitary and from 1841 to 1875, the three ordinary judges of the Court of Chancery rarely a court of first instance until 1855 were called vice-chancellors. The more senior judges of the same court were the Lord Chancellor and the Master of the Rolls (who were moved fully to the Court of Appeal above in 1881). Each would occasionally hear cases alone or make declarations on paper applications alone. Partly due to the old system of many pre-pleadings, pleadings and hearings before most cases would reach Chancery the expense and duration of proceedings was pilloried in art and literature before the reforms of the late 19th century. Charles Dickens set Bleak House around raised hopes in (Jarndyce and Jarndyce) a near-incomprehensible, decades-long case in Chancery, involving a decision on an increasingly old will which was rendered useless as all of the deceased's wealth was – unknowingly to the prospective beneficiaries – absorbed in legal costs. Reform swiftly followed.

Certain 1870s to 1899 Acts (the Judicature Acts) merged the courts of law and those of equity and enacted a halt to the position of vice-chancellor which lasted from 1875 until 1971.

From 1971 until October 2005,[1] the revived high judicial office was called the Vice-Chancellorship (and the judge bore the title Vice-Chancellor). The holder nominally acted as the Lord Chancellor's deputy in the English legal system and as head of the Chancery Division. The key duties of this judge have not changed in substance since 1971.


An equivalent position existed in Ireland between 1867 and 1904 (Vice-Chancellor of Ireland) when the office was abolished. Throughout that period it was held by Hedges Eyre Chatterton (who was born in Cork and died in 1910 aged 91).

Vice-chancellors, 1813–1875

Because of an increased in caseload in the Court of Chancery for its two judges (the Lord Chancellor and the Master of the Rolls), an additional judicial office, The Vice-Chancellor of England, was created by the Administration of Justice Act 1813 to share the work. With the transfer of the equity jurisdiction to the Court of Chancery from the Court of Exchequer, two vice-chancellors were added in 1841 by the Chancery Act 1841, with the caveat that no successor for the second of the two new judges (James Wigram) could be appointed. Soon Lancelot Shadwell (the Vice-Chancellor of England at the time the bill came into effect) left office and the three vice-chancellors became of equal status, with the "of England" dropped. In 1851, Parliament relented so a successor to Wigram could be named to keep the number at three (George Turner), but again with the caveat (that proved temporary) that no future successor could be appointed. The caveat was lifted by an Act of 1852 so the number became fixed at three until the next major court reforms.[2]

After the Judicature Acts, which merged the Court of Chancery and various other courts into the new High Court of Justice, came into force, new vice-chancellors were not appointed: new judges of the Chancery Division became styled "Mr. Justice ..." like other High Court judges (adopting the style of the pre-merger common law courts).

Vice-chancellors, 1971–2005

A new judicial post of Vice-Chancellor (its last holder having been that of 1882) was created by section 5 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970, which came into effect on 1 October 1971. Under its provisions the Vice-Chancellor was appointed by the Lord Chancellor (president of the Chancery Division). He became responsible to the latter for administering the division.[20] The Senior Courts Act 1981 made the position one appointed by the Queen (like the President of the Family Division)[21] and made the Vice-Chancellor vice-president of the Chancery Division.[22]

Chancellor of the High Court, 2005–present

The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 removed the Lord Chancellor's role as a judge. As one of the judicial roles of the office was president of the Chancery Division, the office of Vice-Chancellor was renamed Chancellor of the High Court and replaced the Lord Chancellor. The name change took effect on 1 October 2005,[28] but some of the responsibilities (including the presidency of the division) did not transfer until 3 April 2006.[29] The Constitutional Reform Act retained the position of Vice-Chancellor as vice-president of the Chancery Division,[30] though it does not appear anyone has been appointed to the position or who would make or be eligible for such an appointment.

See also


  1. when relevant parts of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 took effect
  2. Section 52 of the Master in Chancery Abolition Act 1852.
  3. "No. 16718". The London Gazette. 6–10 April 1813. p. 699.
  4. "No. 17324". The London Gazette. 20 January 1818. p. 147.
  5. "No. 18358". The London Gazette. 4 May 1827. p. 985.
  6. "No. 18410". The London Gazette. 2 November 1827. p. 2250.
  7. "No. 20032". The London Gazette. 29 October 1841. p. 2652.
  8. "No. 21150". The London Gazette. 5 November 1850. p. 2883.
  9. "No. 21162". The London Gazette. 13 December 1850. p. 3388.
  10. "No. 21197". The London Gazette. 4 April 1851. p. 917.
  11. "No. 21255". The London Gazette. 20 October 1851. p. 2751.
  12. "No. 21360". The London Gazette. 21 September 1852. p. 2527.
  13. "No. 21401". The London Gazette. 11 January 1853. p. 72.
  14. "No. 23194". The London Gazette. 4 December 1866. p. 6757.
  15. "No. 23361". The London Gazette. 11 March 1868. p. 1647.
  16. "No. 23456". The London Gazette. 5 January 1869. p. 49.
  17. "No. 23631". The London Gazette. 5 July 1870. p. 3265.
  18. "No. 23729". The London Gazette. 18 April 1871. p. 1922.
  19. "No. 24033". The London Gazette. 11 November 1873. p. 4901.
  20. Administration of Justice Act 1970, c. 31 s. 5. (as enacted).
  21. Senior Courts Act 1981, c. 54 s. 10. (as enacted).
  22. Senior Courts Act 1981, s. 5. (as enacted).
  23. Who's Who 1986
  24. "No. 50145". The London Gazette. 6 June 1985. p. 7817.
  25. "No. 52677". The London Gazette. 4 October 1991. p. 15091.
  26. "No. 53811". The London Gazette. 6 October 1994. p. 14001.
  27. "No. 55920". The London Gazette. 21 July 2000. p. 8033.
  28. Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (Commencement No. 3) Order 2005, SI 2005/2505 art 2.
  29. Constitutional Reform Act (Commencement No. 5 Order) 2006, SI 2006/1014 sch 1.
  30. Senior Courts Act 1981, s. 5. (as amended by Constitutional Reform Act 2005, Sch. 4, para. 118(2).
  31. "No. 60392". The London Gazette. 15 January 2012. p. 674.
  32. "No. 61745". The London Gazette. 28 October 2016. p. 22900.
  • A History of English Law, Vol. I, by Sir William Holdsworth (Methuen & Co, 1961 reprint)
  • Twentieth-Century British Political Facts 1900–2000, by David Butler and Gareth Butler (Macmillan Press 2000)
  • Joseph Haydn, The Book of Dignities, 1894
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