Updated: Aug 3
This article looks into the brief history of the English legal system. The English legal system is based on a huge foundation of over 900 years of law practice in the United Kingdom. This should mean that the legal rules and working law must have gone through a great deal of changes. However, this is not so. Since 1066, in the rule of King William I, the Anglo-Saxons were free to follow the existing laws. It was not until the 1200 in the rule of King Henry that a centralised system of Common Law was established. This is the same ‘Common Law’ that very much prevails in current times. Perhaps it is the persistence of the same working law over the period of so many centuries that the law of United Kingdom holds its robustness and value.
One of the amazing facts of the British law is that the laws from older times are still considered valid to the extent that they are also re-established by passing new legislation. For instance, the Appeals of Murder Act 1819 and the Witchcraft Act 1735 have not been used recently to pass judgment on prevailing legal cases.
It gives us law tutors the privilege of being part of a profession which is valued for its existence over so many centuries. It is both exciting and inspiring for a law tutor to be part of an academic system that gives an opportunity to study and deliver discourses from English Law – a profession which is ancient and yet so profound.
Every country has a history of revolution and the existence of a foreign rule. This has a lot to change in a particular nation’s economy, culture and law among other things. But United Kingdom was never ruled by a foreign power and hence, consistency can be observed in their legal framework.
In the subject of law, the degree of sameness over a consistent period of time does not make the legal framework obsolete. More so, the time that passed by has given the legal rules a deeper foundation on which the complexities of today’s English legal system thrive. The legal cases which belong to the seventeenth century are still cited by lawyers in the English court. One example is the case of Lampleigh v Braithwait (1615) 80 E.R. 255, where Braithwait had committed murder, and asked Lampleigh to make endeavours to obtain him a royal pardon to annul his crime. Lampleigh had an audience before the King of England and successfully gained the pardon. Braithwait made a verbal promise to Lampleigh to pay him £100. When Braithwait failed to pay up the £100, Lampleigh brought action against him. His claim was successful. This case is regularly cited today as an exception to the principle that consideration should move from the promise. Similarly, government rulings hold ground until they are amended or discarded completely.
In the subject of law, it is common to quote and cite legal cases from the past, but this practice has not made the United Kingdom law – ‘a framework established on the basis of legal codes’. The English legal system rarely does the collation of information and its labelling in the form of a single code. This is because the English legal framework is established on case by case basis and rules of law that are made decades ago by senior judges are followed today by the new judges in prevailing cases of similar nature. It is true that legislation or governmental rulings are majorly significant in comparison with individual decisions. But even when the lawyer in an English court refers to statutes, it is done so in the light of individual cases and not the statutes alone. Thus, barring few exceptions, in English law, a single book does not contain law reports based on the particular type of law, for instance, the law of contract. The exceptions to this are: Partnership Act 1890, Employment law, Road Traffic Law and so on.
READ PART2 OF THIS ARTICLE.