Court of Exchequer (Ireland)
The Court of Exchequer (Ireland) was one of the senior courts of common law in Ireland. It was the mirror image of the equivalent court in England. The Court of Exchequer was one of the four royal courts of justice which gave their name to the building in which they were located, which is still called the Four Courts, in Dublin.
According to Elrington Ball the Irish Court of Exchequer was established before 1300, and by 1310 it was staffed by the Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer and at least one associate Baron of the Exchequer. The early Barons were not required to be qualified lawyers, and in 1400 complaints were made about their lack of legal expertise. In 1442 it was suggested that the administration of the Irish Government would be improved if the Chief Baron was a properly trained lawyer. This criticism was principally aimed at Michael Gryffin, the incumbent Chief Baron, who apparently had no legal qualifications.
Later in the fourteenth century the Court moved briefly to Carlow, which was then closer to the centre of the Pale (that part of Ireland which was under secure English rule) than was Dublin, but local disturbances in Carlow soon brought it back to Dublin.
Although the workload of the Court of Exchequer in the early centuries was less heavy than that of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland), it became notorious for slowness and inefficiency; an eighteenth-century Baron, John St Leger, spoke of the Court being in a state of "confusion and disorganisation almost past remedy". Due to its inefficiency, it lost a good deal of business to the other courts, especially to the Court of Chancery, in the course of the eighteenth century. The death of Thomas Dalton, the Chief Baron, in 1730 was believed by his friends to have been hastened by his heavy workload.
The Court of Exchequer's reputation was further damaged by its judgment in Sherlock v. Annesley. In itself a routine property dispute between two cousins, the lawsuit revived the long-standing quarrel between the English House of Lords and the Irish House of Lords as to which House was the final court of appeal from the Irish courts. The decision of the Barons of the Exchequer that they were obliged to implement the decree of the English House infuriated the Irish House, which imprisoned the Barons for contempt. To resolve the matter the British Government passed the Declaratory Act 1719, removing the power of the Irish House of Lords to hear appeals. This Act became notorious in Ireland as the Sixth of George I, and quite unfairly the judges of Court of Exchequer bore the brunt of the blame for it: as one of the Barons, John Pocklington, remarked "a flame burst forth, and the country's last resentment was visited upon us."
By the mid nineteenth century the Exchequer had overtaken the Court of King's Bench as the busiest common law court, and the death of Chief Baron Woulfe, in 1840, was widely blamed on his crushing workload (indeed Woulfe, who suffered from chronic ill health, had been warned that the job would kill him, and had been most reluctant to accept it).
On the passing of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877, the Court of Exchequer was merged with the other Courts of common law and the Court of Chancery (Ireland), and became a division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland. In a further reorganisation of the Court system in 1897 the Exchequer Division was abolished. The last Chief Baron, Christopher Palles, retained his rank until he retired in 1916, by which time his reputation for judicial eminence was so high that, despite his advanced age (he was eighty-four) and increasing physical frailty, the Government only accepted his resignation with great reluctance.
- Commissioners of Inquiry into Courts of Justice in Ireland (1817). Second report (Exchequer Court) with appendix. Sessional papers. Vol.11 10. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
|volume=has extra text (help)