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Published byConrad Dawson Modified over 7 years ago
1 Historical Sources of Law Common Law
2 In Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman conquest of 1066, there was a tradition of law- making which focused on the king as the protector of the realm, the corrector of wrongs. Theft and inter-personal violence for example, were dealt with in the courts of the shire and its sub-division the hundred. These courts survived the Norman conquest.
3 The Norman kings realised that control of the country would be easier if they controlled the legal system. William the Conqueror set up the Curia Regis (the King’s Court) at Westminster and appointed his own judges. Nobles who had a dispute were encouraged to apply to have the king (or his judges) decide the matter.
4 As well as sitting in the central court in London, the judges were sent to major towns to decide any important cases. This meant that the judges travelled from London all around those parts of the country that were under the control of the king.
5 During the reign of Henry II (1154-89) these tours became more regular and Henry divided the country into ‘circuits’ or areas for the judges to visit. This system was known as the ‘General Eyre.’
6 Initially the judges used the local customs or the old Anglo-Saxon laws to decide cases. It is believed that when they returned to the Curia Regis in Westminster they discussed the local customs, and laws that they had applied in the local courts and the decisions that they had made.
7 Gradually, over many years, the judges selected the best customs. These were then used by all the judges throughout the country. The effect of this was to create law that was uniform or ‘common’ through the whole country. This is the origin of the term ‘common law.’
8 Common law is the basis of our law today: it is unwritten law that developed from customs and judicial decisions. The term ‘common law’ is still used to distinguish laws that have been developed through judicial decisions as opposed to laws that have been created by legislation. For example, murder is a common law crime, while theft is a statutory crime. Murder has not been defined in an Act of Parliament, but theft is defined by the Theft Act 1968.
9 The term ‘common law’ also has another meaning. It is used to distinguish between rules that were developed by the common law courts (the King’s courts) and the rules of Equity, which were developed by the Lord Chancellor and the Court of Chancery.
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