Thomas Bonham v College of Physicians (“Dr Bonham’s case”) 8 Co Rep 107a; 77 Eng Rep 638 | 1 December 1610

ON 1 DECEMBER 1610, the Chief Justice of the English Court of Common Pleas, Sir Edward Coke, delivered Thomas Bonham v College of Physicians 8 Co Rep 107a; 77 Eng Rep 638.

Dr Bonham had been fined and imprisoned by the Royal College of Physicians for continuing to practise as a Physician in London. He brought a case for false imprisonment.

Coke CJ held that Charter granted by the Parliament to the College of Surgeons was invalid due to bias.

Coke CJ at 118a ruled:

“The censors cannot be judges, ministers, and parties; judges to give
sentence or judgment; ministers to make summons; and parties to have the
moiety of the forfeiture…”

Coke CJ at 118a said:

“It appears in our books that in many cases the common law will control acts of Parliament and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void; for when an Act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it and adjudge such an act to be void.”

The case establishes the rule against bias as a constitutional limit on the exercise of parliament’s legislative powers. In short, (1) a person may not be a judge in their own case and (2) an Act of Parliament is invalid if it conflicts with a basic principle of the common law (such as that a person may not be a judge in their own case).

 

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