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Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

In re Boughton [1850] NSWSupC 4 [criminal procedure, figures not words]

criminal procedure, figures not words

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Stephen C.J., Dickinson and Therry JJ, 16 April 1850

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 17 April 1850, Supreme Court Collection, vol. 3, pp 88-89

The question reserved in this case was, whether the recognizances entered into by the above person were void, by reason of the sum mentioned in them, being expressed thus---"£40."

His Honor the CHIEF JUSTICE stated, that, no doubt, looking at an instrument of mercantile accounts, containing the figures 40 with £ prefixed, every one would know that was meant by them. But the question was, whether occurring in a record, as a recognizance was, if it was not invalid by reason thereof? No doubt figures have been used by the legislature in statutes; but this may be accounted for, partly for the sake of convenience.

His Honor said, the impression he had formed in the first instance was now a confirmed opinion---that the recognizances were void, by reason of "pounds" not having been written in full. As to the figures not being so written, the recognizances would not be void by reason thereof, but it would be more prudent to write them in full.

His Honor then referred to the English Statutes,---the 4 Geo. II., c. 26, and 6 Geo. II., c.14 ; by virtue of the latter, figures, or indeed all ordinary abbreviations of English words used in the English language, might be made use of in records, &c. But, said his Honor, "£" is no abbreviation at all, it is a mere arbitrary sign, and is the first letter of a Latin word meaning pounds. His Honor then referred to the English decision on the point. The fact that the colonial legislature had affixed a meaning in some of their acts to the letter "£," did not alter his opinion, because the legislature might use what language of what sign they pleased.

His Honor Mr. Justice DICKINSON said, he did not concur in the above judgment. As to the figures there was now no difficulty; and as to the letter "£,", his Honor said, he regarded it, not as an abbreviation of an English word at all, or an abbreviation of any kind; it has a meaning generally attributed to it; but the question is, whether the Court can now take judicial notice of its meaning. He was of opinion the Court could do so, as, among other reasons, he found in Plunkett's Magistracy, that the form of recognizances used in this case, was similar to that given in the book, and no doubt the form in question had been followed for many years, a course of practice had therefore sprung up; indeed he might say all the world knew what was meant by £---, and if any doubts were in existence as to its meaning, the legislature of the colony has on more than one instance cleared it up, and assigned a meaning to it, and particularly in the schedule to the Harbour Act. In conclusion, he said, he agreed that it would be safer both to express the figures and the letter £ in words at length, because then they could not be so easily tampered with.

His Honor Mr. Justice THERRY stated that he agreed with the judgment of his Honor Mr. Justice Dickinson. In ordinary language every one would know what the letter £ meant, and the \Court was bound to ascribe to it the same meaning every one else did.

The order of the Court was, that the recognizances be enforced, and that execution do go.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University