Formally known as Everet v. Williams (1893), 9 L.Q. Rev. 197

At the beginning of the eighteenth century one John Everet, of the Parish of St. James's, Clerkenwell in England and one Joseph Williams formed a partnership and duly went into business together.

Their business, described as "dealing in several sorts of commodities" was generally conducted on Hounslow Heath, Blackheath and Finchley although also "at Pagshot, Salisbury, Hampstead, and elsewhere" and consisted of dealing "with several gentlemen for divers watches, rings, swords, canes, hats, cloaks, horses, bridles, saddles, and other things" which they acquired "at a very cheap rate".

Or to put it bluntly, they were highwaymen and their business was robbery.

As is often the case, there was eventually a falling out amongst thieves and John Everet came to believe that his partner Joseph Williams was somehow managing to obtain a disproportionate share of the profits of their joint enterprise. It was at this point that John Everet formed the notion of first consulting a lawyer, presumably the very Jonathan Collins, who was to later put his name to the Bill or statement of complaint presented before the court, and was advised that the law might indeed be a remedy for his problem.

On the 30th October 1725 lawyers acting on behalf of John Everet presented a Bill in Equity at the Court of Exchequer, setting out the details of his claim and calling "for discovery, an account, and general relief", or to put it plainly, requesting that the court order Joseph Williams to account for the profits of the partnership and to remit any sums due.

As it happens the Court of Exchequer was less than impressed with the idea of being asked to settle a dispute amongst highwaymen regarding the division of the spoils and considered the Bill "both scandalous and impertinent". The case was dismissed and an order issued for the arrest of the two solicitors, William White and William Wreathock, who were acting for the plaintiff, to answer for their contempt of court in bringing such a case to court.

The court subsequently decided that "upon consideration had of the premises, doth fyne the said William White £50, and the said William Wreathock £50, and commit them to the custody of the Warden of the Fleet until they pay the said fynes". The Jonathan Collins who originally drafted the Bill was ordered to pay the defendant's costs.

The case is often cited as an example legal principle of ex dolo malo non oritur actio; that is, "no court will lend its aid to a man who founds his cause of action upon an immoral or an illegal act"; or in plain English, illegal contracts are unenforceable.

It is presumed, that having now been alerted to the activities of Everet and Williams, the authorities took appropriate action to apprehend the two essentially self-confessed felons. In any event, neither of the two parties to the case were to prosper; the defendant Joseph Williams, was arrested tried and hanged at Maidstone in 1727, whilst the plaintiff John Everet suffered the same fate at Tyburn in 1730. Even William Wreathock, one of the aforementioned solicitors, demonstrated once more the ethical standards for which his profession has long been noted, found himself convicted of robbery in 1735, sentenced to be hanged, but was later reprieved and the sentence commuted to one of transportation.


The Law Quarterly Review No. XXXV. July, 1893 Reproduced at quoting its source as the European Magazine for May, 1787, vol. i 360, "which sets out the Bill and the orders made. As the orders are dated, we have been able to procure a collation of the originals".

The reasoning of Lord Mansfield in Holman v Johnson (1775) 1 Cowp. 341, 343). see the Canadian Legal Information Institute quoted at