John Holt (Lord Chief Justice)

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Lord Chief Justice Holt painted by Richard Van Bleeck, circa 1700

John Holt (Lord Chief Justice) (23 December 1642 – 5 March 1710) was an English lawyer and served as Lord Chief Justice of England from 17 April 1689 to his death.


  • An universal custom is a law, and I know no distinction between lex mercatoria and consuetudo mercaborum.
    • Cramlington v. Evans (1680), Show. 4.
  • My judgment ought to be given for the plaintiff: but my brothers are all of another opinion, and so I submit to it. The defendant must have his judgment.
    • Philips v. Bury (1694), 2 T. R. 358.
  • I am far from being such a Judge as shall lay any intolerable yoke upon any one's neck.
    • Philips v. Bury (1694), 2 T. R. 358.
  • We cannot make a law, we must go according to the law. That must be our rule and direction.
    • Parkyns' Case (1696), 13 How. St. Tr. 72. Compare: "We cannot make laws". Reg. v. Nash (1703), 2 Raym. 990; Powell, J., Queen v. Read (1706), Fortesc. 99.
  • We cannot alter the law, we are bound by our oaths to proceed according to the law as it is at present.
    • Parkyns' Case (1696), 13 How. St. Tr. 73.
  • No counsel in the world that understand themselves, can argue anything against what has been often settled and always practised.
    • Parkyn's Case (1696), 13 How. St. Tr. 134.
  • It is expected you should do your best for those you are assigned for, as it is expected in any other case, that you do your duty for your client.
    • Rookwood's Case (1696), 13 How. St. Tr. 154.
  • We ought, as far as we can by law, to support the government of all societies and corporations, especially this of the city of London; and if the mayor and aldermen should not have power to punish offenders in a summary way, then farewell the government of the city.
    • Clark's Case (1696), 5 Mod. Rep. 320.
  • To excuse himself from damage, must say, was ready always and at all times.
    • Horn v. Lewins (1698), Fortesc. 235.
  • Libelling against a private man is a moral offence; but when it is against a government, it tends to the destruction of it.
    • Rex v. Beare (1698), 1 Raym. 418. For the antiquity of this notion, see Vinnius, 741, by the law of the twelve tables.
  • Rokeby, J.: I do not think but a Popish doctor may be a good doctor to a Protestant patient; but I do not think that a Popish governor can be a good governor for a Protestant subject.
    Holt, C.J.: Aye, but a Popish censor is not so proper to supervise and inspect all the Protestant physicians.
    • King against Dr. Burrel (1699), 5 Mod. 432.
  • A gentleman of Lincoln's-inn.
    • Butler's Case (1699), 13 How. St. Tr. 1259.
  • The subject being unusual, I fear that I shall not make myself intelligible, but I will do my endeavour, that the reasons of our judgment may be apprehended.
    • B. v. Knight and Burton (1699), 1 Raym. 527.
  • I do not pretend to dispense equity at large, but only by the consent of the parties, upon a rule of Court.
    • Anonymous (1699), 3 Salk. 213.
  • We are not to issue process here as instruments or conduit-pipes, but judicially as Judges: and it will not be an objection to say, that we may award process at all hazards, and let the party grieved come after and plead to it; for we shall never grant an ill-writ, that the party may avoid it in pleading.
    • Lucy v. Bishop of St. David's (1702), 7 Mod. 59.
  • A man may be reputed an able man this year, and yet be a beggar the next; it is a misfortune that happens to many men, and his former reputation will signify nothing.
    • Reg. v. Swendsen (1702), 14 How. St. Tr. 596.
  • It is abominable to convict a man behind his back.
    • The Queen v. Dyer (1703), 6 Mod. 41.
  • We take notice of all feasts, and the almanack is part of the common law, the calendar being established by Act of Parliament, and it is published before the Common-prayer Book.
    • Brough v. Parkings (1703), 2 Raym. 994; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 92.
  • Shall we indict one man for making a fool of another?
    • Reg. v. Jones (1703), 2 Raym. 1013.
  • Shall we relieve a man, that trusts when he needs not?
    • Tawney's Case (1703), 2 Raym. 1013.
  • It is a disparagement of the Government, who put an ill man into office.
    • Regina v. Langley (1703), 2 Raym. 1029.
  • Whatever at common law might be amended in civil cases, was at common law amendable in criminal, and so it is at this day.
    • The Queen v. Tutchin (1704), 1 Salk. 51 pl. 14.
  • He whose dirt it is must keep it that it may not trespass.
    • Tenant v. Goldwin (1704), 1 Salk. 361.
  • Surely the navy must be the navy royal.
    • Tutchin's Case (1704), 14 How. St. Tr. 1122.

Ashby v. White (1703)[edit]

Ashby v White is a foundational case in UK constitutional law and English tort law. It concerns the right to vote and misfeasance of a public officer.
  • I agree we ought not to incroach or inlarge our jurisdiction; by so doing we usurp both on the right of the Queen and the people.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 938.
  • We must not be frighted when a matter of property comes before us by saying it belongs to the Parliament; we must exert the Queen's jurisdiction.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 938.
  • Actual perceptible damage is not indispensable as the foundation of an action; it is sufficient to show the violation of a right, in which case the law will presume damage.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 938.
  • It is a vain thing to imagine a right without a remedy; for want of right and want of remedy are reciprocal.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 953.
  • It would look very strange, when the Commons of England are so fond of their right of sending representatives to Parliament, that it should be in the power of a sheriff, or other officer, to deprive them of that right, and yet that they should have no remedy; it is a thing to be admired at by all mankind.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 954.
  • Where a man has but one remedy to come at his right, if he loses that he loses his right.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 954.
  • Every man that is injured ought to have his recompence.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 955.
  • Every injury imports a damage, though it does not cost the party one farthing, and it is impossible to prove the contrary; for a damage is not merely pecuniary, but an injury imports a damage, when a man is hereby hindered of his right. As in an action for slanderous words, though a man does not lose a penny by reason of the speaking them, yet he shall have an action. So if a man give another a cuff on the ear, though it cost him nothing, no, not so much as a little diachylon, yet he shall have his action, for it is a personal injury.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 955.
  • If it be a matter within our jurisdiction, we are bound by our oaths to judge of it.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 956.
  • If public officers will infringe men's rights, they ought to pay greater damages than other men, to deter and hinder other officers from the like offences.
    • Ashby v. White (1703), 2 Raym. 956.
  • Let all people come in, and vote fairly; it is to support one or the other party, to deny any man's vote.
    • 2 Raym. Rep. 958.


  • It was the rule of Holt, Chief Justice, to make words actionable whenever they sound to the disreputation of the person of whom they were spoken; and this was also Hale's and Twieden's rule; and I think it a very good rule.
    • Fortescue, J., Button v. Heyward (1722), 8 Mod. 24. This is in reference perhaps to Baker v. Pearce, 6 Mod. 23.

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