Blog History

A (Brief) History of English Law!

english lawEnglish law has an interesting history and was one of the earliest European legal systems, along with Roman law, and has been the backbone of many other countries legal developments such as former colonies like Canada, Australia and the USA.

English law really evolved from the local customs of the Anglo-Saxons, some of which were still in place until as recently as 1925. After the Norman Conquest many of these customs merged with the laws from the Saxon shire courts and the feudal courts of the barons and the ecclesiastical courts.

Kings Council

Up until the Normans came along in 1066, all laws were local and were enforced by local courts. Following the Normans arrival, Royal Courts began to emerge from the King’s Council. These did not take over the duties and jurisdiction of the local courts immediately, but over a period of time the local courts lost jurisdiction over cases and therefore lost income.

To enforce this method of justice country wide, a practice began of sending judges around the country to hold assizes (or sittings) to hear cases locally. This enabled the judges to take the best local laws and apply them throughout the land, thus creating law which was `common to the whole country. This process was a gradual one and it took some 200 years to establish this “Common Law”.

Commercial Law and Victorian Reform

As the work of the common law courts grew, the judges began to use previous decisions as a guide for later cases. This was the beginning of the doctrine of precedent. In the 17th and 18th centuries common law absorbed the Law Merchant, the international code of mercantile customs which was the beginning of what we now know as commercial law.

The Victorian age has often been called ‘The Age of Reform’ and much of the legislation that passed through Parliament at the time, was aimed at reform, including bills relating to Parliament itself. The death penalty was one of the major reforms as, up until the early 1830’s, England had the most offences that carried the death penalty, including poaching from wealthy land owners! The Punishment of Death Act 1832 reduced the number of capital crimes by two-thirds and the death penalty was abolished for theft, counterfeiting and most forms of forgery in the same year.

Capital Punishment Ends

An act was passed through Parliament in November 1965 abolishing the death penalty entirely titled The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965. This was not the case however in Northern Ireland where the death penalty for murder continued until 1973.

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