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The Law Reporters

Neither drams, pints nor flagons — to say nothing of the dismal London weather — detained them from their self-appointed rounds at the Old Bailey, Kings Bench, Chancery Courts and the local pubs, including the Cittie of Yorke at 22 High Holborn and the Olde Bell at 95 Fleet Street. Upon their skills and quills fell the destiny of the common law. Plowden and Coke were among the most famous. Barnardiston and Keble were among the not so famous. They were scribes, one and all, who found profit in publishing summaries of the points of law contained in the oral arguments and judgments made and given in the king’s courts. The practice, begun in the late 13th century, was, as Edmund Plowden put it in the preface to his [italic]Les Commentaries, ou les Reportes[end italic], first published in 1571, “to commit to writing what I heard, and the judgment thereupon, which seemed to me to be much better than to rely upon treacherous memory which often deceives its master.” This was especially true of memory clouded by drowsiness or a flask or two…. Barnardiston was known to nap over his notebook in the court, and Lord Mansfield forbade his work to be cited, “for it would only be misleading students to put them upon reading it.” As for Keble, C. J. Willes spoke of him as a “reporter who seldom enlightens anything.” Justice Park said he “burned his copy, thinking it not worthwhile to lumber his library with trash.”

In 1765 the system of private reporting gave way to court licensed private reporting. In 1865, court licensed private reporting gave way to official law reporting published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales as directing body for the Law Society (solicitors), the General Council of the Bar (barristers) and the Inns of Court. Subsequently, the great body of “named” court reports from 1285 to 1865 were reprinted in one set known as the [italics]English Reports – Full Reprint[end italics]. Citations found in court decisions to Ad.&E., Barn & Cress, and PL. can all be found in the 178-volume English Reports – Full Reprint. We are fortunate to have a complete set with accompanying wall chart where researchers can conveniently convert the volumes of the many “named reporters” to the corresponding volume numbers in the Full Reprint. The enterprising scribes of the common law, both esteemed and vilified, live on in the law library.

Others were known to nip a few before engaging in the arduous task of putting pen to paper. At a trial on the proper taxation of brandy, historian William Holdsworth credits biographer Roger North (1653–1724) for this story about the highly regarded Saunders: The specimens were handed about, and the judges tasted, the jury tasted, and Saunders seeing the phials moving, took one, and set it to his lips and drank it all off. The court, observing a pause and some merriment at the bar about Saunders, called to Jeffries to go on with his evidence. “My lord, we are at a full stop and can go no further,” he said. “What’s the matter?” asked the chief.

The Honest Lawyer pub at 59 Lodge Rd. in Southampton, England

“Mr. Saunders has drunk up all our evidence,” Jeffries replied.

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Willamette Lawyer | Spring 2008 • Vol. VIII, No. 1