Sources of English Law

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Sources of English Law

By Christopher Richards


Executive Summary

In this report I will be discussing the English Legal System, its structure and its primary sources. English law and its legal structure forms the basis of many countries common law legal system, this includes most commonwealth countries and the United States. English law falls into two broad categories: Civil law - derived from Roman law, it is applied when “wrongs” have been made against individuals; it is also know as a claim or an action. Criminal law - first instrumented following the Norman Conquest of 1066, Its offences relate to “wrongs” against property and, or persons which affects the whole community, it is often referred to as prosecution.. I will explain why the methods and tools of statutory interpretation are necessary for the correct implement of statutes and how judicial president formed the backbone of English common law.


The English legal system stems from The Norman Conquest, William of Normandy invaded England in 1066 and upon successfully defeating his adversary he gained the crown of England. William formed the fist basic government “The King’s Council“(Magnum Concilium) comprised of Lords, Bishops, Barons and other trusted figures Who’s advice which the monarch relied on. Introduced the separation of lay courts and church courts with a binding jurisdiction leading to church law i.e.: clergy were tried in there own courts. As the Monarch William owned all of England with lords, bishops and barons possessing land as tenants or sub tenants, this prompt the introduction of Feudalism of land tenure and judicial activity. “Common law” would be established by Judges discussing conduct and behaviour throughout the land, still at this point no legislation was ever written down. Further changes arise, these includes the advancement of “Case law” setting precedent through facts of similar cases that have already been decided so that it can be judged equally, additionally the hierarchy of binding precedents and court structure.

Statutory Interpretation

Some statutes have a vague or misleading words or phrases many with homonyms which can make the process of implementing the correct ruling a difficult one,

A few areas to look at are a Broad term (words that are used to cover many possibilities), Ambiguity (were the word has two or more meanings and its not defining in which one should be used), a drafting error (an error that was made when drafting the bill or when it was amended), new developments (developments in technology means that old acts may not cover present day situations) and use of language( words that have changed in meaning over time), this is why statutory interpretation as a tool is so important, it allows judges to look at statutes and deduce the true reasoning behind it, there are three methods which are used to do this.

Literal Rule
This is the most commonly used construction and takes precedent over the following rules; it means to take words written into the statute literally in the sense that if the words are clear then they should be applied. The literal rules had been scrutinised by many lawyers, and said to be “a rule against using intelligence in understanding language. Anyone who in ordinary life interpreted words literally, being indifferent to what the speaker or writer meant would be regarded as a pedant, a mischief-maker or an idiot”. An example of this is in the Hotel Proprietors act 1956, it provides that the hotel proprietor is liable for loss of or damage to guests’ property, but does not extend to guest vehicles or property left “therein” , so does the proprietor fall liable to property left on, rather than inside the vehicle ? Interpreted literally yes, the proprietor is liable, because if the act had intended to exclude property left on a vehicle the act would have said “therein or thereon” so great care must be applied when using this rule.

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