Hark, frēndes! The feld flours blosme and the sǒnne shines. “Tis spring. And that means its Ren Fest season!
Right now, through April 24, just outside of Austin there is the Sherwood Forest Faire. After that, head north by horse for three days and you will arrive at Scarborough Renaissance Festival. If you are going to Scarborough Faire, can you please check in on one who lives there and see if my Cambric shirt with no seems or needlework is ready?
In honour of the season, I thought it might be fun to look at some of ye olde qui tam actions. My colleagues have previously written much more useful and informative blogs on modern American qui tams, which enable individuals to sue government contractors and grantees on behalf of the government for fraud. Mostly these involve Medicare and Medicaid fraud, but there are other types of fraud claims that can be brought through qui tam actions as well. If you wish for such practical and helpful information because you think your employer is defrauding the government, let me refer you to the following two blogs:
Julie St. John’s 2021 blog, “When You Believe Your Employer is Defrauding the Federal Government – Protection from Retaliation, available at:
Deontae Wherry’s 2020 blog, The False Claims Act: Suing Your Employer on Behalf of the Government, available at:
Essentially, a qui tam action is an action that allows enforcement of the law by an uninjured private citizen on behalf of the government in exchange for a share of the proceeds obtained in a successful prosecution of the claim. You can find laws providing for such actions going all the way back to Ancient Rome. For example, in the first century B.C.E., Cato the Younger both sued his political opponents and was sued by them for alleged violations of criminal law. In the Sixth Century C.E., during Justinian’s reign, a private citizen could be prohibited from bringing a private enforcement action if that citizen had already brought two prior qui tam actions.
In 695 C.E., the King of Kent in England passed a law that prohibited work between sunset on Saturday and sunset on Sunday. If you informed the authorities about someone who violated that law, you would be entitled to half of the healsfang, or fine, collected from that damnable overachiever who worked on the weekends as well as half of the profits form the labour that was done during that time.
In the fourteenth century, the English Parliament provided many avenues for qui tam actions as a way to ensure enforcement of the laws. Here are a couple fun ones.
The 1331 law providing a qui tam mechanism to enforce aspects of the 1328 Statute of Northampton is relevant to the current faire season. The Statute of Northampton, in part, regulated the length of time fairs could remain open. However, both merchants and lords had incentives to keep fairs open longer. Merchants obviously wanted to sell more product and the lords who hosted the fairs often collected tolls on the total merchandise sold at the fair. So, to ensure compliance with the law, Parliament enabled private citizens to sue on behalf of the King and, as reward, receive a fourth of what was forfeited. The penalty for violations was double the value of what was sold outside the permissible time for the fair.
In 1455, Parliament passed an Ordinance limiting the number of lawyers that could practice in the City of Norwich to two and in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk to six each. The preamble to this Ordinance is too good not to quote at length:
Whereas of Time not long past within the City of Norwich, and the Counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, there were no more but six or eight Attornies at the most, [coming] to the King’s Courts, in which Time great Tranquillity reigned in the said City and Counties, and little Trouble or Vexation was made by untrue or foreign Suits; And now so it is, that in the said City and Counties there be Fourscore Attornies, or more, the more Part of them having no other Thing to live upon, but only his Gain by [the Practice of] Attorneyship, and also the more Part of them not being of sufficient Knowledge to be an Attorney, which [come] to every Fair, Market, and other Places, where is any Assembly of People, exhorting, procuring, moving, and inciting the People to attempt untrue [and] foreign Suits, for small Trespasses, little Offences, and small Sums of Debt, whose Actions be triable and determinable in Court Barons; whereby proceed many Suits, more of evil Will and Malice, than of the Truth of the Thing, to the manifold Vexation and no little Damage of the Inhabitants of the said City and Counties, and also to the perpetual [Diminution] of all the Court Barons in the said Counties, unless convenient Remedy be provided in this Behalf.
Ordinance, 33 Hen. VI, ch. 7 (1455). The Ordinance was enforced through a qui tam action by private citizens against any person who acted as a lawyer without proper admission to the King’s courts.
I could provide many more examples of historical qui tam actions, but I have a faire to get to!
I am heavily indebted to the following resources for the above blog post, which also provide great further reading!
- R. Beck, The False Claims Act and the English Eradication of Qui Tam Legislation, 78 N.C. L. Rev. 539 (2000), available at: http://scholarship.law.unc.edu/nclr/vol78/iss3/2
- Jonathon Rose, Medieval Attitudes Toward the legal Profession: The Past as Prologue, 28 Stetson L. Rev. 345 (1998),
available at https://www.stetson.edu/law/lawreview/media/medieval-attitudes-toward-the-legal-profession-the-past-as-prologue.pdf
- Middle English Compendium, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary