Debt: the legal position

The recovery of debt was of everyday importance to many people. 

The legal process in use had originated in the later middle ages. It was a civil process and could be initiated by any creditor owed 40 shillings or more.  The creditor could issue a summons to his debtor to attend court either by a summons or by having the debtor arrested.  If the debtor could not afford bail, the creditor could order imprisonment (‘imprisonment on mesne process’).
 
Once the trial had taken place and the debt found to be as alleged, the creditor could either have the debtor’s property seized and sold or have the debtor imprisoned against a promise of future payment (‘imprisonment on final process’ or ‘in execution’). 

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