In 1739 a London attorney called John Theobald fell into a dispute with a man called John Drinkwater, widely regarded as ‘the most litigious Fellow in London’. Theobald met with Drinkwater’s enemies in a Holbourn tavern, and they decided ‘the Way to perplex Drinkwater and bring him to Terms, was to indict him for Barretry – the offence of bringing vexatious lawsuits.
On Theobald’s complaint Drinkwater was indicted and taken to a debtors’ prison. But the jury acquitted him on every count. Drinkwater then in turn indicted Theobald on 15 counts of barratry, with the same result: Theobald was acquitted, with the jury, not for the last time in legal history, demonstrating more common sense than the lawyers.
The offence of barratry fell into obsolescence and was finally abolished in 1967 along with eavesdropping, challenging to a fight, and ‘being a common scold’.