Victorian Reform of Civil Litigation in the Superior Courts of Common Law
WITHIN A REASONABLE TIME: THE HISTORY OF DUE AND UNDUE DELAY IN CIVIL LITIGATION, C.H. van Rhee, ed., Duncker & Humblot, 2010
24 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2010 Last revised: 30 Jan 2011
Date Written: August 27, 2010
The “delay, vexation, and expense” of English civil procedure attracted considerable criticism at the beginning of the nineteenth century, most notably from Jeremy Bentham and his ardent supporter in Parliament, Henry Brougham. Brougham’s marathon speech in 1828 attacked the “double tax of cost and delay” and urged a series of sweeping reforms. Reform would come piecemeal throughout the century, culminating in transformative statutes enacted after Brougham and Bentham had died. Holdsworth accurately labeled the Victorian period the “age of reform” in procedure as in so many other areas of the law. This essay examines the Victorian era’s responses to undue delay in English civil litigation in the superior courts of common law. The immediate verdict on the reforms was overwhelmingly positive, but with the benefit of hindsight the appraisal is more modest. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether the High Court judges of the twenty-first century will be more successful than their Victorian counterparts in combating undue delay.
Keywords: civil procedure, English law, legal history
JEL Classification: K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation