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Practice and Procedure of the Commercial Court

Page 1 CHAPTER 1 THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE COMMERCIAL COURT THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE COMMERCIAL COURT The foundations of much of English mercantile law were laid in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Trials of commercial actions were frequently held in the Court of King’s Bench, one of whose judges would sit at nisi prius in the Guildhall in the heart of the City of London. It was there that Lord Mansfield often sat in the 32 years from 1756 to 1788 during which he was Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench. It was there that under his influence there were developed consistent principles of mercantile law, particularly in relation to bills of exchange, insurance and shipping. The incorporation into English law of mercantile usage and the consequent consistent application of those usages to the cases which came before the court was brought about by Lord Mansfield’s practice of empanelling a body of jurymen who were experienced merchants from the City conversant with mercantile usage. He would leave to the jury specific questions as to mercantile usage and then incorporate their verdict on such questions into his judgment. The same jurymen served over a number of years and Lord Mansfield was thus able to conduct the trials at the Guildhall in such a way as to encourage City merchants to feel that their disputes would be decided by a tribunal closely conversant with trade practice and mercantile law.

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