Define: Bill Of Exceptions

Bill Of Exceptions
Bill Of Exceptions
What is the dictionary definition of Bill Of Exceptions?
Dictionary Definition of Bill Of Exceptions

A bill of exceptions is a legal document that is filed by a party in a court case to challenge a ruling or decision made by the trial court. It is typically used when a party believes that there was an error in the trial court’s decision that affected their rights or the outcome of the case. The bill of exceptions outlines the specific error or errors that the party believes were made and provides supporting evidence or arguments to support their position. The purpose of filing a bill of exceptions is to preserve the issue for appeal, as it is generally required to have raised and preserved the issue at the trial court level before it can be raised on appeal. Once the bill of exceptions is filed, it is typically reviewed by the appellate court, which will determine whether the trial court made an error and whether that error warrants a reversal or modification of the trial court’s decision.

Full Definition Of Bill Of Exceptions

A Bill of Exceptions is a formal written statement by a judge or trial court detailing the objections or exceptions taken by a party during a trial. This document is crucial in common law jurisdictions as it allows a party to formally express discontent with a court’s ruling or the conduct of the trial, particularly with regard to the admission or exclusion of evidence, jury instructions, or other pivotal trial matters. This overview delves into the historical background, procedural aspects, and the contemporary relevance of the Bill of Exceptions in British legal practice.

Historical Background

The concept of the Bill of Exceptions has its roots in English common law. Historically, it provided a mechanism for litigants to ensure that their objections were noted and reviewed, particularly in a period when appellate courts were emerging and procedural formalities were being crystallized. The development of the Bill of Exceptions was instrumental in shaping the right to appeal, which has now become a cornerstone of modern judicial systems.

The earliest recorded use of a Bill of Exceptions dates back to the reign of Edward I. Initially, it served as a safeguard against judicial error, allowing parties to have their objections formally recorded. These records could then be reviewed by higher courts, facilitating the correction of mistakes made at trial.

Procedural Aspects

A Bill of Exceptions must adhere to stringent procedural requirements to be valid and effective. The key elements of the procedure involve the identification, formulation, and preservation of exceptions during the trial.

  1. Identification of Exceptions: During a trial, exceptions can be raised at various points, typically relating to the admissibility of evidence, the propriety of jury instructions, or other significant rulings. When a party believes that the trial court has made an erroneous decision, they must immediately object and request that the exception be noted.
  2. Formulation of the Bill: The objecting party is responsible for drafting the Bill of Exceptions. This document must accurately detail the objection, the court’s ruling, and the legal basis for the exception. The drafting process requires precision, as any ambiguities or errors can undermine the effectiveness of the Bill.
  3. Submission and Settlement: Once drafted, the Bill of Exceptions must be presented to the trial judge for approval. The judge’s role is to ensure that the Bill accurately reflects the proceedings and the objections raised. If the judge agrees, they will “settle” the Bill, effectively certifying its accuracy. If there is a disagreement, the trial judge may propose amendments or even refuse to settle the Bill, though such refusals are rare and can themselves be subject to appellate review.
  4. Inclusion in the Record: After settlement, the Bill of Exceptions becomes part of the official trial record. It is then available for review by appellate courts, providing a clear and concise record of the alleged errors and the legal grounds for contesting them.

Function and Importance

The Bill of Exceptions serves several critical functions in the judicial process:

  • Preservation of Error: It formally preserves objections for appellate review, ensuring that potential errors are documented and can be addressed by higher courts.
  • Facilitation of Appeals: By providing a detailed account of the trial proceedings and the objections raised, it facilitates the appellate process, allowing appellate courts to review the alleged errors without requiring a complete retrial.
  • Judicial Accountability: It promotes judicial accountability by ensuring that trial judges’ decisions can be scrutinized and, if necessary, corrected by appellate courts.
  • Legal Precedent: The issues raised and resolved through Bills of Exceptions can contribute to the development of legal precedents, shaping the interpretation and application of the law in future cases.

Contemporary Relevance

In contemporary British legal practice, the use of Bills of Exceptions has evolved but remains relevant, particularly in ensuring fair trial procedures and facilitating appellate review. While procedural reforms and the development of comprehensive rules of court have streamlined many aspects of trial and appellate processes, the fundamental principles underlying the Bill of Exceptions continue to influence modern legal practices.

  1. Civil and Criminal Proceedings: In both civil and criminal cases, parties retain the right to object to trial court rulings and to seek appellate review. Modern procedural rules, such as those found in the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) and the Criminal Procedure Rules (CrPR), provide detailed guidance on how to raise and preserve objections, ensuring that the principles of the Bill of Exceptions are upheld.
  2. Written Grounds of Appeal: The practice of submitting written grounds of appeal, which outline the legal basis for contesting a trial court’s decision, can be seen as a contemporary equivalent of the Bill of Exceptions. These documents serve a similar function, ensuring that appellate courts have a clear record of the issues in dispute and the objections raised during the trial.
  3. Judicial Review: In cases where judicial review is sought, the principles of the Bill of Exceptions are evident in the need to clearly articulate the grounds for challenging a decision, whether it involves procedural irregularities, errors of law, or abuses of discretion.

Comparative Perspective

A comparative perspective reveals that the principles underpinning the Bill of Exceptions are not unique to British law but are reflected in various forms across common law jurisdictions.

  • United States: In the United States, the Bill of Exceptions played a significant role in early appellate practice. Although its formal use has declined, the principles are embodied in the Federal and State Rules of Appellate Procedure, which require parties to preserve objections for review.
  • Canada and Australia: Similar practices exist in Canada and Australia, where procedural rules ensure that objections raised during trial are preserved for appellate review. The emphasis on detailed records and written submissions echoes the traditional function of the Bill of Exceptions.

Challenges and Criticisms

Despite its importance, the Bill of Exceptions has faced criticism and challenges over the years. Some of the key issues include:

  1. Complexity and Formalism: The procedural requirements for drafting and settling a Bill of Exceptions can be complex and highly formalistic. This can pose challenges for litigants, particularly those without legal representation, and can lead to inadvertent procedural errors that undermine the effectiveness of the bill.
  2. Judicial Discretion: The trial judge’s role in settling the bill can sometimes lead to disputes, particularly if the judge is perceived to be reluctant to acknowledge errors. While appellate courts can review such disputes, the process can be contentious and time-consuming.
  3. Evolving Procedures: As legal procedures evolve, there is a risk that the principles underlying the Bill of Exceptions may be diluted or overlooked. Ensuring that modern procedural rules continue to uphold the core principles of a fair trial and appellate review is essential.


The Bill of Exceptions remains a vital component of the legal landscape in British common law, embodying principles of fairness, accountability, and the right to appeal. While its formal use may have evolved, the underlying principles continue to shape modern legal practice, ensuring that objections are preserved, errors are corrected, and justice is upheld. Understanding the historical roots, procedural requirements, and contemporary relevance of the Bill of Exceptions provides valuable insights into its enduring importance in ensuring fair and just legal proceedings.

Bill Of Exceptions FAQ'S

A Bill of Exceptions is a legal document that allows a party to challenge a ruling or decision made by a trial court during a trial or hearing.

A Bill of Exceptions can be filed after a trial court has made a final ruling or decision that is adverse to the party filing the bill.

The purpose of filing a Bill of Exceptions is to preserve any errors made by the trial court during the trial or hearing, which can be later reviewed by a higher court.

Any party to a trial or hearing can file a Bill of Exceptions if they believe that the trial court made an error in its ruling or decision.

A Bill of Exceptions should include a statement of the alleged error made by the trial court, along with any relevant evidence or legal arguments supporting the claim.

The time limit for filing a Bill of Exceptions varies depending on the jurisdiction and the specific rules of the court. It is important to consult the local rules or seek legal advice to determine the applicable deadline.

After a Bill of Exceptions is filed, the opposing party may have an opportunity to respond or object to the allegations made in the bill. The court will then review the bill and any responses before making a decision.

No, a Bill of Exceptions is not intended to introduce new evidence. It is solely meant to challenge the trial court’s ruling or decision based on the evidence and arguments presented during the trial or hearing.

Yes, if the trial court denies the Bill of Exceptions or rules against the party filing the bill, they may have the option to appeal the decision to a higher court.

The standard of review for a Bill of Exceptions is typically an abuse of discretion standard, meaning that the higher court will defer to the trial court’s decision unless it finds that the trial court made a clear error or acted unreasonably.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th June 2024.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Bill Of Exceptions. DLS Solicitors. June 16 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Bill Of Exceptions. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 16 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Bill Of Exceptions. Retrieved June 16 2024, from website:
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts