Leave the Paperwork Alone. Don’t Mess With It.

The rule in Pigot’s case. Leave the Paperwork Alone, It’s Not Worth It.

As a Notary, I spend my working days preparing paperwork. Why do I do that? Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer.

Why do I prepare words and print them onto paper and then ask you to sign and then add my own signature?

Why for example, do I not prepare a short video film, in which you and I speak to the camera as evidence of whatever transaction we are effecting? Or a voice record? Or an emailed document which is digitally signed and then converted to a PDF or XPS.

The obvious reason is that most of these ways of recording or documenting transactions have only been possible within the last fifty years or fewer.

The law moves slowly and cannot react to technology changes overnight. Also the law is based on precedent. Today’s rules are the result of earlier decisions.

And for the past thousands of years, records of transactions have been documented and stored, by using ink on parchment or paper.

So history is part of the reason. So is philosophy.

In the later middle ages, the status of a written document was different from what it seems to be now. In the minds of most people today, the actual paper document is seen as mere evidence which proves what was agreed. The actual agreement is thought of as a historical occurrence, not the actual piece of paper.

But back then, in the sixteenth century and earlier, the paper document was considered to be the actual transaction. So, the contract itself was entirely bound up into  the parchment, the seal, the ink.

Until, in anno 8 Jac. Regis the case of Winchcombe v Pigot came before the English Courts.

When? Anno 8 Jac. Regis.

Or, the eighth year of the reign of King James. Who, as you know, was already King of Scotland, and took the English throne in 1603. So eight years later was 1611. Do I have to spell everything out?

Here is a link to the law report of Pigot’s case in 1611.

Incidentally, I love the wording of the case following, on the last page of the link. Alexander Powlter was a clergyman who burnt down a house, a heinous and exorbitant felony in anyone’s book. And as we all know, “anyone who shall be taken for house-burning feloniously done, shall in no ways be replevisable”. [Anyone?]

Back to the case of Pigot. There was a debt agreed in the form of a Bail Bond, Pigot owed “the Sheriff of Oxford” Sixty Pounds as a bail surety. The written bond was held by a third party who added an additional description of the Sheriff, by adding the full name of that office holder, Mr Winchcombe. So it now read in translation from the Latin language actually used – “the money is due to the Sheriff of Oxford – MR WINCHCOMBE–“.

The bond came to be payable, Mr Pigot had a look at it and said “It’s been changed – so I don’t have to pay anything”.

Prior to this case, that was the law. If a written bond, contract, deed, was altered, it became void in law.

This court of 1611 decided, no – it the amendment is not “material”, and is made by a person who has no direct interest and is not a party to the original, then the amendment is of no effect and the deed shall be written as it was drawn.

This became known as “The Rule in Pigot’s case” and has been in place in England ever since, for the past 400 years.

But what it is really saying is, that the immaterial intervention by a third party, is the ONLY case in which an alteration of a Deed does not render it void.

Compare that with the position for Wills, which are creatures of Statute.

There, if I find my widowed father’s will and read that he has left me £40 and the rest of his massive estate to the Donkey Sanctuary, what is the effect if I change the £40 to £40 million?

Under the rule in Pigot’s case, because I am an interested party, and because the change is not immaterial, the effect would be to render the Will void. Then the rules of intestacy would apply, the poor old Donkeys would get nothing and I would get the estate or a large share of it.

But no, under rules relating to Wills, the unauthorised amendment would be treated as if it had never happened and the amended Will would take effect as it was originally written. That’s got to be right hasn’t it?

Because of its harsh consequences, many jurisdictions have abolished Pigot’s Rule. As near to home as Northern Ireland, it has been abolished. But in England it carries on.

So what does that mean for you and me, people who hold documents for ourselves and our clients?

It means, don’t mess with documents.

Don’t amend then, don’t try to correct them.  Just don’t touch them.

So don’t even think about doing what is so often done [even if not perhaps especially in the big City firms of lawyers] – witnessing signatures to documents with significant [i.e. “material”] blanks in them, dating them, and then filling in the details after. Void. Void VOID. Pigot’s Rule. Or else, Negligence claims will follow.

OK. Got it? Good.

What song shall we have? [After it’s signed, you] Don’t Want Anything To Change. Link here .

As ever, Please do contact me and Louise whenever you need Notarial certification or Legalisation – at http://www.atkinsonnotary.com or phone me on 0113 816 0116 (internationally 0044 113 8160116)