Notes and Articles for Law students

User Tools

Site Tools


De minimis non curat lex

Of trifles the law does not concern itself.

This is shown in the refusal of the courts to grant new trials in trifling cases, or where the damages are small ; in discountenancing, and even refusing to try, trifling actions ; in amending proceedings for defect in form, or trifling irregularities ; in putting a reasonable construction upon the law, and in discouraging litigation upon mere technicalities. Courts of equity will not, as a rule, entertain a suit where the amount of property in question is under 200/., nor will they allow a bill to be filed where the matter in question does not exceed 10l. The superior courts of common law will not try an action of debt under 40s. ; and in actions for damages merely, and not to try a right, they mark the light in which they view trifling suits by refusing costs to the successful party where the circumstances of the case require them so to do. Where the action is in damages the question of costs is regulated by various statutes, as for example : — By statute 43 Eliz. c. 6, it is enacted that where the debt or damage does not exceed 40s. the plaintiff shall not be entitled to more costs than damages ; by statute 3 & 4 Vict. c. 24, that he shall not be entitled to any costs in trespass or case where 40s. only shall be recovered, unless the judge certify that the action was to try a right, or that the trespass or grievance was willful and malicious ; and by 23 & 24 Vict. c. 126, that where the plaintiff, in an action in the superior courts for an alleged wrong, recovers less than 51., he shall not recover any costs in case the judge certify that the action was not to try a right, or that the trespass or grievance in respect of which the action was brought was not willful and malicious, and that the action was not fit to be brought, and so in like cases.

It was upon this principle that the County Courts were established to try trifling actions, first, to the extent of 40s., next of 20l., and now of 50l. And, as to costs, allowing to the successful party : under 40s., nothing ; under 201., next to nothing ; and above 20l., a more trifle. So no appeal is allowed in those courts where, in debt and interpleader the amount claimed, in replevin the rent or damage, and in recovery of tenements the yearly rent or value, does not exceed 20l.

Where there is any miscarriage or damage by default of a judge, however, the courts are careful to interfere in the most trifling cases, and will grant new trials for the improper reception of the smallest particle of evidence, or for misdirection, in the most trifling cases, where the justice of the case requires it. But the court will not, as a general rule, grant a new trial in an action for tort on account of the smallness of the damages ; and they have refused to grant it where, in an action against a surgeon for negligence, whereby the plaintiff lost his leg, the jury only gave nominal damages. So the court will not grant a new trial where the value of the matter in dispute, or the amount of damages to which the plaintiff would be entitled, is too inconsiderable to merit a second trial.

By the Stamp Acts, legacies under 20l. are exempt from duty ; so, under the Savings Bank Acts, administration need not be taken out for sums less than 50l. ; the interests of the revenue being in such trifling cases disregarded. The Court of Chancery, also, will pay out sums of money and shares of estates without administration where they do not amount to 20l.

Cro. Eliz. 353 ; 2 Bla. Com. ; 'J & 10 Vict. c. 95 ; 13 & 14 Vict. c. 61 ; Kennard v. Jones, 4 T. R. 495 ; Wilson v. Rastall, 4 T. R. 753 ; Wellington v. Arters, 5 T. R. 64 ; Hayne v. Davey, 4 A. & E. 8112 ; Eoosey v. Purday, 4 Exch. 145 ; Branson „. Didsbury, 12 A. & E. 631 ; Manton c. Bales, 1 C. B. 444 ; Hawkins v. Alder, 18 C. B. 640 ; Marsh v. Bower, 2 W. Bl. 851 ; Rochdale C. C. c. King, 14 Q. B. 122 ; Reg. v. Betts, 16 Q. B. 1022 ; Hinnings v. Hinnings, 10 L. T. (X.S.) 294 ; Gibbs r. Turmaley, 1 C. B. 640 ; Jones r. Tatham, 8 Taunt. 634.

Navigation: Home»Legal Maxims