English Legal System Assignment
Yong Suan Kai
(a) Briefly explain the history of the English common law prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066. (5 marks)
(b) State the developments of the common law after Norman Conquest in 1066. (6 marks)
(c) Explain the drawbacks of the common law system in England and Wales. (7 marks)
(d) What are the effective developments that have taken place to overcome the problems faced by the common law system? (7 marks)
Prior to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, there was no unitary, national legal system. Before 1066 the English legal system involved a mass of oral customary rules, which varied according to region. The law of the Jutes in the south of England, for example, was different from that of the Mercians in the middle of the country. Each county had its own local court dispensing its own justice in accordance with local customs that varied from community to community and were enforced in often arbitrary fashion. For example, courts generally consisted of informal public assemblies that weighed conflicting claims in a case and, if unable to reach a decision, might require an accused to show their guilt or innocence by carrying a red-hot iron or snatching a stone from a cauldron of boiling water or some other ‘test’ of veracity. If the defendant's wound healed within a prescribed period, he was set free as innocent; if not, execution usually followed. Unlike continental civil law, the English system does not originate from any particular set of texts but from what has been called ‘tradition expressed in action’. It began as customary law used in the King's court to settle disputes and conflicts which affected the monarch directly. To begin with, these only included the graver crimes which became ‘Pleas of the Crown’. After the Norman invasion there were still many different types of court apart from the royal court . The stannary (tin mining) courts of Devon and Cornwall, the courts of the royal hunting forests, for example but principally, in potential rivalry with the royal court, were the feudal and manorial courts. It was during Henry II's reign that the clerics in his court began specialising in legal business and acting in a judicial capacity. Clerics were part of the King's royal entourage. (305 words)
After the Norman Conquest in 1066, a more organised system of courts emerged. The idea was to standardise the law. William the Conqueror set up the King’s Court(Curia Regis) and appointed his own judges. Other than the central court, judges were sent to major towns to decide any important cases. Later Henry II (1154-1189) divided the country up into ‘circuits’ or areas for the judges to visit. Henry II institutionalised common law by creating a unified court system ‘common’ to the country through incorporating and elevating local custom to the national level, ending local control, eliminating arbitrary remedies, and reinstating a jury system of citizens sworn on oath to investigate criminal accusations and civil claims. Judges of the realm went on regular journeys throughout the country bringing the King's justice to every citizen. Their aim was that there should be a common system of law throughout the land, hence the laws became known as the common law. In the expansion of the King's legal powers, an important role was played by the clerics. They developed a range of claim forms, called writs, and established procedures...