FORGERY. Forgery has been defined as the making or alteration of any docu ment with the intention of prejudicing another person.
Where the numbers on certain Bank of England notes had been altered, the inten tion being to prevent the notes (payment of which had been stopped) being traced, it was held in the case of SufJell v. Bank e/ England (1882, 9 Q.B.D. 555) that the plain tiff, who was an innocent holder for value, could not recover from the Bank of Eng land because the notes had been altered in a material part. The importance of the numbers on notes was pointed out by Jessel. M.R., in the course of his judgment. (See BANK OF ENGLAND NOTES.) If a banker, unknowingly, gives forged bank notes in payment of a cheque, they do not operate as a payment.
" Whosoever shall forge or alter, or shall offer, utter, dispose of, or put off, knowing the same to be forged or altered, any note or bill of exchange of the Bank of England or of the Bank of Ireland, or of any other body corporate, company or person carrying on the business of bankers, commonly called a bank note, a bank bill of exchange, or a bank post bill, or any indorsement on or assignment of any bank note, bank bill of exchange, or bank post bill, with intent to defraud, shall be guilty of felony ; and " Whosoever without lawful authority or excuse (the proof whereof shall lie on the party accused) shall purchase or receive from any other person, or have in his custody or possession any forged bank note, bank bill of exchange, or bank post bill, or blank bank note, blank bank bill of exchange, or blank bank post bill, knowing the same to be forged, shall be guilty of felony." (Forgery Act, 1861, 24 & 25 Viet. c. 98, Sections 12 and 13.) By Section 22 of the same Act :— • ' Whosoever shall forge or alter, or shall offer, utter, dispose of, or put off, knowing the same to be forged or altered, any bill of exchange, or any acceptance, indorsement or assignment of any bill of exchange, or any promissory note for the payment of money, or any indorsement or assignment of any such promissory note, with intent to defraud, shall be guilty of felony. . . ." A transferor by delivery warrants to his immediate transferee, being a holder for value, that the note is what it purports to be, and therefore the person who receives a forged bank note can reclaim the money from the person who gave him the note, provided he makes the claim within a reasonable time.
The Bills of Exchange Act, 1882, Section 24, enacts as follows : " Subject to the provisions of this Act, where a signature on a bill is forged or placed thereon without the authority of the person whose signature it purports to be, the forged or unauthorised signature is wholly inoperative, and no right to retain the bill or to give a discharge therefor or to enforce payment thereof against any party thereto can be acquired through or under that signature, unless the party against whom it is sought to retain or enforce pay ment of the bill is precluded from setting up the forgery or want of authority.
" Provided that nothing in this Section shall affect the ratification of an unauthorised signature not amounting to a forgery." The words " through or under that signature" in the Section just quoted require particular attention. A holder, even a holder in due course, cannot retain a bill, or give a discharge for it or sue upon it, where a signature on the bill is forged The forged signature which is referred to is the signature which is necessary to transfer the bill to the holder, that is, the one through or under which he gets his title. If the signature of the drawer or acceptor is forged the bill is valueless, and if an indorsement which is necessary to pass the title of the bill is forged, the bill is valueless to the party acquiring it through that signature. But where an indorsement, which is not necessary for the transfer of the title, is forged, that forged indorsement may be ignored and the holder in due course can sue all the other parties to the bill. For example, where a bill is specially indorsed, say to John Brown, the real signature of John Brown is required in order to make the bill valid and to pass the title to a succeeding holder. If John Brown's signature is forged, a subsequent holder gets no title. If John Brown's signature is genuine and the indorsement is in blank (the bill then passing by simple delivery) it does not matter to a subsequent holder whether a signature following that of John Brown is a genuine one or not, as that sub sequent holder derives his title through John Brown and not through the person from whom he received the bill.