Outline and Critically Assess the Role Played by the System of Judicial Precedent in Modern English Law.

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Judicial Precedent is the way that English Common Law has evolved since the time of Henry II when courts were unified into a national system, making it common throughout England. Integral to it is the Latin phrase ‘stare decisis’ which literally means ‘to stand by what has been decided’. Its meaning in the case of judicial precedent is very similar, that a Judge will go by the same ruling as a previous judge has in the same cases; providing that the precedent comes from a higher or equal court, if it is from a lower court then the precedent is only considered, but may be used. It should be noted that this was not categorically announced by judges until the 19th Century.

Prior to 1066 and the Norman Conquest, law had been enforced by county, with a bishop and a sheriff presiding over ecclesiastical and civil law respectively. The King had very little control over law in the country; however, it was William the Conqueror who established a strong central government and the beginnings of a national law. The Treaty of Winchester (1153) was an important point for the origins of common law. Although it was the treaty which ended Stephen and Matilda’s war with Henry I and basically secured the succession of Henry II to be, it also marked the first time that the monarch interfered with the tenure of land between Feudal Lords and tenants. In previous cases it would have been a matter for the Lord’s court but now cases could be appealed to the King, a significant part of early common law. However it was not until Henry II’s reign that there was a unified system which was common to the whole country; thus common law emerged. It was, however, not as common law is today by any means. A jury would come to a verdict, having been sworn in, but usually come to a decision on the basis of common local knowledge; no evidence was usually presented to the jury. This could well be seen as a major problem as rumor and assumption could well play a major part in the jury’s verdict....
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