The Chancery Court of Nova Scotia: Jurisdiction and Procedure 1751-1855

“The Court of Chancery in Nova Scotia enjoyed a history that may best be described as a progression from obscurity to infamy. During its first half-century, the Court operated with an intermittent caseload and remained out of the public eye. During its final years, the Court came under increasing public criticism as an unnecessary and inefficient institution.”

“Because some seventy-six per cent of causes heard in Chancery were mortgage foreclosures, the volume of cases in any one year should be inversely related to the prosperity of the province. In difficult times, the number of foreclosures would be expected to increase. Analysis of the data from the Chronological List supports this assertion.

The peak volume era of the Court, from 1814 to 1828, corresponds to a period of worldwide financial uncertainty. in particular, the years of 1811, 1820, and 1826 saw economic downturns. Postulating a one or two year lag between a downturn (when debtors would stop payments) and the start of foreclosure actions, one would expect to find a surge in the number of Chancery causes in the years following these economic downturns. The caseload statistics support such a correlation. 1812 was the Court’s busiest year to date, 1822 was the highest volume year ever, and 1827 was the second busiest year of the peak 1819 to 1828 decade.

This explanation of case volumes can be further tested by examining the increase in the proportion of foreclosure actions in each of the high volume years noted above. While the historical proportion of mortgages was seventy-six per cent, the proportion in 1822 was eighty nine per cent, and in 1827 was eighty-three per cent. This suggests that high volume years were the result of a surge in foreclosure actions. However, in 1812, only fifty per cent of the actions were foreclosures. This contradicts my thesis, but the relatively small sample size in 1812 may explain the deviation in that year.

A ‘litigation psychology’ theory can also be advanced to explain certain unique caseload fluctuations. The two major reforms of the Court in 1833 and 1855 were both preceded by vigorous public attacks on the Court and by a decline in case volume. I would hypothesize that litigants were avoiding the Court when its shortcomings were on the public agenda.”

Jim Cruickshank, “The Chancery Court of Nova Scotia: Jurisdiction and Procedure 1751-1855” (1992) 1 Dal J Leg Stud 27