Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Wager of Law Definition:

An ancient English law defence to a claim of contractual debt.

In defending against a claim for monies owed on a contract, an English defendant could deny the claim and issue formal words, as follows:

"And this he is ready to defend against him, the said (plaintiff) and his suit, as the court of our lord the king here shall consider."

By these words, as explained by John Bouvier in his Law Dictionary:

"...he is said to wage his law. He is then required to swear he owes the plaintiff nothing, and bring eleven compurgators who will swear they believe him. This mode of trial, is trial by wager of law.

"The wager of law could only be had in actions of debt on simple contract, and actions of detinue."

J. M. Rigg wrote:

"(W)ager of law ... a suitor ... was allowed or required to purge himself by his oath and the oath of compurgators .... that he would purge himself o the day and with the full tale of compurgators assigned by the Court."

To avoid this defence, the plaintiffs would bring breach of contract cases on the legal basis of assumpsit, and instead of detinue, relief would be claimed under the doctrine of trover.

Wager of law seems to have died a gentle death in the history of the common law, certainly urged out by section 13 (XIII) of the Civil Procedure Act of 1834:

"And be it further enacted, that no Wager of Law shall be hereafter allowed."

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Contract Law Dictionary
  • Rigg, J. M., Calendar of the Public Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews (London: MacMillan & Co., 1905), page xi.

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