The development of Common Law in England in 1066 by William the Conqueror who defeated King Harold has some importance in the Australian Legal System today as some of its characteristics have been replicated into our legal system.
Before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 there was no unitary, national legal system. Prior to 1066 the England legal system involved a mass of oral customary rules, which varied according to region. Each country had its own local court dispensing its own justice in accordance with local customs that varied from community to community and were enforced in arbitrary fashion. An example of this is where the 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 defendants wound healed within a prescribed period, he was set free as innocent; if not, execution usually followed.
The English law system began as a 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 many different types of court apart from the royal court – The Stannary courts of Devon and Cornwall, the courts of the Royal Hunting Forests. 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.
In 1154 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...
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