Book Review: The Duty to Account
Author: J. A Watson
Publisher: The Federation Press
Reviewed by David Marks QC
It is first important to understand what this book is not. The book does not provide direct and practical guidance, nor court forms, for something like an executor’s account. Such guidance does exist, such as in chapter 6 of Mr de Groot’s Wills, Probate and Administration Practice (Queensland). Dr Watson is not setting out to do that.
Rather, Dr Watson sets out to portray the modern law of account, including the common money actions, in their historical context.
We begin with the Norman Conquest, and Dr Watson engagingly takes us through formative cases.
One thing that must be understood is that the courts were in competition, for the revenue of filing fees. The court offering a better writ or remedy was better placed. Hence, Chancery’s ascent in offering more streamlined account.
Dr Watson refers to Blackstone’s view that the option of wager of law was “probably the real reason for the fading of the action at common law … but also its transfer into equity” with which account is now mostly associated (page 55).
A deep historical understanding of the origins of accounting does come through. As a practitioner, it is possible to be put off by this. Persistence will repay.
In a practical sense, I found the discussion of “Accounting Parties at Law” a good refresher. Recently, I was looking, particularly, at the discussion of payment by mistake (which I found brief but authoritative).
This book will not yield ready answers to practical questions of daily practice. It will repay study, including providing the tools to read around a topic.
Dr Watson writes in an engaging and opinionated way which this reader found inspired confidence and a desire to return, as needed, to this book.