John Holt (Lord Chief Justice)

English lawyer and Lord Chief Justice of England

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.

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


  • 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 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.
    • 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.