This was for a piece of work undertaken during my Foundation Degree (which took many weeks of research) – and whilst I am sure I have probably missed lots and lots of key dates, I thought it was something worth having online.
A Timeline of the Legal History of Britain
The timeline below has been split into its historical context and marked with the various important historical dates. Further you will find that important cases have been marked in blue while legislation has been marked in red.
Circa 380BC – Aristotle first mentions the idea of Equity Law as a notion of correcting general law in “Ethica Nichomachea”
England as the Roman Province of Britannia
A.D 85 – The first reported English case is heard before Jovolenus Prius in his role as the Legatus Juridicus of the Roman province of Britannia. Baker (1990)
A.D 400 – The Romans depart from Britain. The Roman legal systems that were in place are replaced by tribal law.
A.D 450 – The Anglo-Saxons conquer Britain and the major system of the law is the Witan. This is not in any sense a law we today would recognise but it appeared to be more a council of elites who advised the king (Knappen, 1987) and this was the forerunner to the Feudal Curia Regis (also known as the Kings Court System). This then led to the Kings Council which was finally subdivided into a modern Parliament and Privy Council. Much of the law is carried out as customary law rather than a codified set of laws. At this early stage Stare Decisis is in its infancy and therefore is not applied in a formalised and methodical way. There is no distinction between crime and Tort, (Knappen, 1987)
A.D 450 – Marriage Law consisted of a bride price, however women did have legal freedom including the right to own land and business as well as the right to sue. (Knappen, 1987)
A.D 450 – Trial by Oath – both the defendant and the accused were expected to bring a party of members with them to provide backing. However, due to the times, the higher up the social chain the members were the more value and worth their oath had. They also had oath-backers. (Baker, 1990)
A.D 450 – Trial by Ordeal – was introduced with the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. The main were Trial by Fire and Trial by Water. These were used in the cases in which it was considered that a trial by oath was considered inefficient. (Baker,1990)
At this time, there was no legal profession.
7th Century – The introduction of the Kent Law Codes outline a system of personal injury payments as well as wergild (this was blood money if someone had been killed, they were paid in an attempt to avoid a feud).
A.D 600 – William I was crowned King
A.D 600 – Criminals were started to be put on trial in courts.
A.D 600 – The earliest surviving legislation can be dated back to that of Ethelber, King of Kent. This was followed shortly by Ine of the House of Wessex (A.D 688-725) and Alfred Athelstan (A.D 925-940). (Knappen,1987)
A.D 800 – King Alfred makes the very first attempt to compare the vast array of existing customs, he chooses Kent, Mercia and Wessex. He was looking for a common ground. This is now considered to have been an early attempt at Codification, which has been considered largely unsuccessful. (Baker, 1990)
9th Century – The North and the North East England fall under Dane law as opposed to the Kingdom of Wessex. It is from this Dane law that our English word ‘Law’ arises. (Baker, 1990)
A.D 925 – Alfred Athelstan (A.D 925-940) laid down a code of law that included rules for blood feuds and the payment of weregeld in an attempt to avoid feuds whereever possible.
A.D 962-963 – Edgar issued a code of law as “measures common to all the nation, whether English, Danes or Britons in every province of my kingdom, to the end that poor man and rich may possess what they rightly acquire” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/conquest/wessex_kings/anglosaxon_law_01.shtml)
10th Century – This saw England unified. It had one legal system. Dane law and Mercia Law were replaced and subsumed by the law of the House of Wessex. It has been thought that many Anglo-Saxon laws (and certainly the earliest examples) were direct exports from their own early Germanic homeland that had later been directly transplanted on their arrival in England. Historically the Anglo-Saxons pushed out the native Celts so it seems likely that they did not bother to adopt the former local tribal customs, unless these were continued in the Mercia Law, which was active in one particular area (roughly thought to be modern day Wales) and to which many Celts may have fled.
1066 Norman England
1066 – The Norman Invasion. This saw the end of the reign of Edward the Confessor.
1066 – Feudalism was introduced in Britain (it required that while you could hold or occupy land you were required to work on it on behalf of your Lord, while the Lord and his Knights offered protection to vassals. Lords had limited and precise jurisdiction over vassals and serfs on the land. Serfs and Vassals were not (in theory) the same as slaves and had the legal right to leave the land (and to annul their contract). From this basic right the contractual relations, and all feudal contractual relations (between the king and his people) as well as revocable contracts were developed. (Piccinni, 2004). Feudalism, in a sense appeared to be a contractual relationship.
1066 – The introduction of “Trial by Battle” arrives. This was literally the ability to challenge your accuser to combat.
1070 – William I decrees that the matters of the church will not be tried in the Hundred Courts and this seemed to outline and indicate an early sign of the judicial split between state and church/religion. (Baker, 1990)
1086 – The Doomsday Book was written/published, (it was originally spelt Domesday). It was first proper census of all peoples and property of the land, probably since the Roman times.
1100 – The Charter of Liberties was created by Henry I. It was the forerunner to the Magna Carta and it bound the King to certain treatments of the Church and Nobles.
1136 – The Charter of Stephen separated the Church into their own jurisdiction, therefore separating them from the state. This saw the church now being responsible for their own legal matters as well as justice for matters involving priests etc… (Knappen, 1987)
1140 – Gratian wrote “Decretum” which systemised the hierarchy of the church and created the field of ecclesiastical law with complete rule over marriage and bastardry. (Baker, 1990)
1154 – 1189 Platenginate Kingdom
British Nobles had their fundamental rights removed, including the rights to administer justice to their own people, however they maintained some political power through a Grand Council. The King did consult them on relevant decisions. (Piccini, 2004)
1166 – Assizes of Callerdon. This established the process for jury’s which they adhered to, especially the Grand Juries. (Establishment of Trial by Jury).
1178 – Abbot Benedict of Peterborough recorded the first instance of a static King’s Court. Five judges were ordered by the King to reside in one location and to refer only to the most difficult of cases to his person. This separation of the Monarch and court lays down the model for the modern court structure. (Baker, 1990)
1179 – Henry II created the “Grand Assize.” This was a type of jury that was available to the defendant in place of the right of battle.
1192-1220 – “Le Tres Ancien Coutumier de Normandie” was published. This was about the customs and laws of the Normans. At this time the Norman and English laws were common as the Kings were Kings of both England and Normandy. The Channel Islands were run by Norman law long after the English Monarchy had lost Normandy.
13th Century – Bracton wrote “Trerebeccas and Customs of England”, which was an early and thorough piece of work on the laws of the time.
1200 – Robin Hood laws implemented.
1200 – By this date it was already the given practice, for a clerk of the judges to be taken and appointed to the Bench, in order to create continuity in the legal service. (Baker,1990)
1200 – By this time there a class of legal professionals (men whose time is mostly spent dealing with legal issues) is beginning to emerge. (Baker, 1990)
1200 – Saw the emergence of the beginning of a police force. It was not in the form of a modern day police force that we would recognise – it was comprised of knights and ran more as a militia. (Baker, 1990)
1215 – Priests officially refused to participate in Trial by Ordeal. This facilitated the movement towards a trial by jury. However, the last reported use of Trail by Water was illegally carried out in 1863. (Knappen, 1987)
1215 – The signing of the Magna Carta creates basic rights for all. It also took some power away from the King, and gave some rights and freedom to the people.
1234 – Pope Gregory IX wrote the “Decretals” which formed a collection of cases on church law.
1236 – Saw the first use of the term Parliament’. (http://www.parliament.uk/about/livingheritage/evolutionofparliament/birthofparliament/keydates/1215to1399.cfm)
1258 – The Provision of Oxford bans the creation of new Writs. This was issued to stop clerks creating new writs when they could not find one to fit with a case; this was felt to undermine the powers of the law makers higher up the chain. This also created the requirement for regular meetings of Parliament. (Keenan, 2007)
1265 – The Palace of Westminster saw its first English Parliament meeting conducted.
1275 – The first Statute of Westminster was passed.
1275 – It was held that lawyers who were guilty of deceit were prosecuted. This appears to be an early attempt to create the integrity expected of the profession in later centuries.
1284 – The English system of counties, sheriffs and justices was extended to Wales, however this was not extended to the jurisdiction of the English Courts into Wales.
1285 – To solve problems created by the Provision of Oxford the Statutes of Westminster II was passed to allow clerks to adapt an existing writ for a similar case.
1278 – Legislation enforces that only cases of less than 40 shillings may be tried in the county This seems an early example of the same financial limits we see in modern courts. (Baker,1990).
1280 – Records of apprentices to the bench emphasise that a form of legal training was taking place. By the end of the 1200’s it seems that the church had a fully operating legal system of their own that stood separate from the state. (Baker,1990).
1308 – Saw the earliest record of a graduate from Grays Inn. (http://www.graysinn.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=category§ionid=1&id=1&Itemid=661)
1316-1634 – Pope John XXII writes his “Extravegances” to expand on the earlier works of church law.
1327- More formal training of Lawyers commences. (Keenan, 2007)
1327 -1377 – Reign of Edward III. The early police force is regularised through legislation and has their judicial power expanded. They become “Justices of the Peace”. (Baker,1990)
1327 – The Judges Act is enforced.
1341 – The House of Commons separated from the Upper House for the very first time.
1344 – Justices of the Peace Act
Mid 14’Th century – The Court of the Lord High Constable and Court of the Admiralty and was created to deal with military matters and some overseas issues including prisoners of war. (Baker, 1990)
1352 – Treason Act
1352 – Juries Act
1352 – Criminal and Civil Justice Act
1360 – Justices of the Peace Act
1362 – Statute established that all taxation must be approved by parliament.
1368 – The Eyre system collapsed.
1399 – Parliament removed a Richard II (monarch).
1414 – Henry V acknowledged that the agreement of both Houses must be secured to pass new laws (http://www.parliament.uk/about/livingheritage/evolutionofparliament/birthofparliament/keydates/1399to1603.cfm)
1421- The last wondering of the Curia Regis occured before it became permanently stationary.
1422 – The probable founding date for Lincolns Inn (http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/about/innsofcourt/a-lincolnsinn/)
1470 – Printing was introduced to England. This new invention found a ready market in law. (Baker, 1990)
1472 – Bryan CJCP became the first judge to receive the tenure for life. This arose after previous monarchs had taken to dismissing judges that didn’t fall into line. (Baker, 1990)
1481 – “Tenures” was the first English legal book to be printed.
1484 – The introduction of bail for defendants in legal courts.
1485 – Battle of Bosworth.
15th Century – The Judicial power of the Chancellor was formally recognised and the Law of Equity was created.
1501 – The earliest records of Middle Temple are held, although the site has stood for much longer (http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/about/innsofcourt/c-middletemple/)
1523 – The first known and recorded call for free speech is made in the House of Commons by Sir Thomas Moore. (http://www.parliament.uk/about/livingheritage/evolutionofparliament/birthofparliament/keydates/1399to1603.cfm)
1534 – The Church of England was officially severed from Rome and any appeals to the Pope were forbidden. There was also a Common Law movement to do away with church courts. Henry VIII suppressed the study of Cannon Law. From this time onwards, most advocates were Doctors of civil law belonging to the Doctors’ Commons. (Baker, 1990).
1535 – Canon Law
1536 – England and Wales were finally unified and given one law. The Admiralty Court’s ability to try criminals of the high seas (pirates etc) was removed by Statute and passed to Common Law.
1543 – The Henry VIII clause allowed the monarch to legislate in Wales (Baker, 1990)
1563 – The Poor Law
1558 – The Act of Supremacy; gave the Monarch the power to set up a Court of High Commission.
1582 – When Elizabeth refused to appoint a new constable to the Court of the Lord High Constable in order to try Sir Francis Drake, the court then fell into decline.
1590 – Lawyers start to begin to take serious notes in courts of what the Chancellor said and what his decision was.
1597 – The Poor Law Act; saw the erection of Parish church houses for the poor.
1601 – The Great English Poor Law Act was passed.
1603 – 1714 – The Stuarts (With James I and VI on the throne.)
1608 – The Status of The Inner Temple Inn is formally recognised. (http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/about/innsofcourt/b-theinnertemple/)
1617 – The Chancery appointed an official reporter.
1628 – Sir Edward Coke published his “First Institute”, a work on land law.
1633 – The Privy Council restricted the Admiralty Court to a jurisdiction over freight only. (Baker, 1990)
1642- Sir Edward Coke published his “Second Institute” on Statutes of the time.
1642 – The English Civil War took place. 1642 – 1649.
1644 – Sir Edward Coke published his “Third Institute” about criminal law and in the same year the “Fourth Institute” about the history of the courts and their jurisdiction.
1654 – The first Protectorate Parliament.
1660 – The Chancery cases by now were being regularly reported.
1670 – R v Penn and Mead. The judge repeatedly attempted to force the jury to come back with the verdict he wanted. This included locking up the jury. Ultimately the jury would not be swayed and this cemented the jury’s independence from the judge forever.
1676 – The Law of Equity was no longer dependant on the inner consciousness of the Chancellor as it had been in earlier times and now it had its own set of distinct procedures and rules. (Baker,1990)
1679 – Habeas Corpus Act. This required a prisoner to be produced within three days before the court with the reasons for him being held, and to try the said prisoner within a reasonable time.
1680 – A new parliament was summoned by William and Mary – it passed statutes declaring that all actions of 1688-89 were lawful.
1688 – The Glorious Revolution (The ‘Strange’ Revolution), it was the enduring settlement – sovereignty, liberty and the constitution.
1688 – The Bill of Rights secured freedom of speech in Parliament, known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’.
1689 – English Bill of Rights passed.
1694 – The Trennial Act; ensured the calling of Parliament every 3 years.
1701 – The Act of Settlement.
1707 – The Act of England Parliament; united English and Scottish Parliaments.
1707 – The United Kingdom is formally created. The union between England and Scotland – corruption, poverty and fear of invasion. Unitary State and limited parliament.
1715 – The Septennial Act; stated that a minimum of one election had to be held every 7 years.
1721 – First Prime Minister – Walpole. Executive power and its journey from monarch to prime minister.
1724 – The right to make a will for personal property is finally granted to everyone (Keenan, 2007)
1750-1850 – Child Labour occurred, with reforms and Acts in order to improve conditions, hours and treatment.
1753 – Dr William Blackstone began to lecture on English Law in Oxford University and this seems to be the beginning of a university education in English Law as opposed to apprentices or the study of Cannon or Roman Law. (Baker, 1990)
1765-1769 – Dr Blackstone published his Oxford lectures to act as a primer to the study of law. (Baker, 1990)
1765 – Sir William Blackstone published “Commentaries on the Law of England” which he based on a series of lectures he took at Oxford in which he covered a number of legal aspects.
1799 – The Combinations Act introduced.
1799 – Income Tax introduced.
1800 – Acts of Union
1806 – Lord Ellenborought became the last Chief Justice to serve in the Cabinet.
1818 – Trial by battle finally banned after the case of Ashford v Thornton (1818)
1818 – Adams V Lindsell: The postal rule is created (Common Law)
1819 – Appeals of Murder Act
1823 – Judgement of Death Act
1828 – Andrew Amos gave lectures at the new ‘University of London’.
1829 – The introduction of the first ‘proper’ Police Force.
1830 – Law Terms Act
1832 – The Great Reform Act. This was a step towards democratic representation.
1832 – Representation of the People Act (first reform) extended the right to vote to more men as long as they met certain criteria, this saw a change in the spread of seats in Parliament. (http://www.parliament.uk/about/livingheritage/evolutionofparliament/reformacts/keydates.cfm)
1833 – Judges formally applied the principle of Stare Decisis to all cases to create uniformity in decisions (through the process of critical evaluation of previous decisions). (Baker, 1990)
1833 – Abolition of Slavery Act
Victorian Era (1837-1901).
1839 – The University of London issued the first ever degree in Common Law.
1839 – Jamaica Act – Finalised the earlier Abolition of Slavery Act 1833 by freeing the remaining slaves in the British colonies.
1840 – The Parliamentary Papers Act
1840 – The Court of Admiralty had their jurisdiction expanded by statute to include nearly all maritime areas.
1843 – The McNaughton Rules were formulated to deal with mentally disturbed individuals who committed crimes.
1846 – The County Courts Act
1846 – The end of the Sergeants at Law, when the courts were open to the whole bar.
1847-1848 – Indictable Offences Act
1847-1848 – The Crown Cases Act
1852 – The council of Legal Education was created to serve the Inns of Court.
1852 – The Introduction of the Common Law Procedure Act.
1854 – Common Law Procedure Act stated that certain issues of fact can be left up to the Judge. It also stated that the verdict of the judge and jury would carry the same weight.
1855 – Ecclesiatiacal Courts Act
1857 – The Matrimonial Causes Act
1857 – The first Secular divorce court started. (Baker, 1990)
1860 – The introduction of Trade Unions.
1860 – The Common Law Procedure Act
1861 – The Offences against the Persons Act.
1861 – The Doctors’ Commons sold off its Library.
1863 – The last occurrence of trial by ordeal was illegally carried out in Chelmsford when the townspeople swam a witch.
1865 – The Doctors’ Commons sold off its premises.
1868 – The last public hanging.
1872 – The Ballot Act introduced secret ballots in elections.
1872 – The Bar Exam became compulsory.
1873-1875 – The Judicature Act finally created a formalised legal process for lawyers to follow for bringing a court action. It created majoritively the court form used in present today and it allowed for equity to be dealt with in the same courts as the Common Law. (Baker, 1990)
1875 – A Probate, Divorce and Admiralty division of the High Court was created.
1893 – Carlill v The Carbolic Smoke Ball Company: The unilateral offer was created (Common Law)
1889 – The Moorcock: Implied terms were created (Common Law).
1898 – The House of Lords Appellate Committee (now the Supreme Court since Summer 2009) declared that its decisions may only be changed by an Act of Parliament.
20th Century – present day
1902 – Holloway Prison was converted into both London and the UK’s first female prison.
1907 – Criminal Appeal Act
1911 – The Parliament Act was passed. This limited the powers of the House of Lords to block legislation. It guaranteed the legislative superiority of the House of Commons. The People’s Budget, was a reform of the House of Lords (under the constitution)
1911 – Official Secrets Act
1912 – The last member of the Doctors of Law order died, Dr T H Tristram. (Baker,1990)
1914 – Criminal Justice Administration Act
1918 – Women over the age of thirty gained the right to vote thanks to “The Representation of the People Act.”
1919 – The Sex Disqualification Act was passed and the age of gender inequality was starting to come to an end.
1919 – Assembly Powers Act
1920 – Administration of Justice Act
1921 – Lord Lindley died, he was one of the last of the Sergeants.
1948 – The National Health Services Act; provided free health care to all.
1948 – The Companies Act
1949 – The Marriage Act
1949 – The Married Women Act
1949 – The Adoption Act
1949 – The Second Parliament Act was passed to further cement the power of the House of Commons which limits the amount of time the House of Lords can block an Act.
1951-1953 – Britain ratified The European Convention on Human Rights. This secured basic rights including the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy among others and the right to vote. Provided an external influence within the constitution.
1952 – The Magistrates Court Act
1952 – The Defamation Act
1953 – Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemist; laid down the foundation that goods on display were an invitation to treat not an offer.
1954 – Law Reform Act
1955 – The Childrens Act
1955 – The County Courts Act
1957 – The Homocide Act
1957 – The Solicitors Act
1958 – A Pupilage for Barristers became compulsory.
1964 – The abolition of hanging.
1966 – The House of Lords removed the limitation that it be bound by its previous decisions and gains the ability to reverse decisions it feels may have been incorrect. This set it apart from all the other courts.
1966 – Britain was granted the right to take Human Rights cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
1967 – The council of Legal Education became the Inns of Court Law School. (Baker, 1990)
1967 – The Abortion Act.
1969 – The Administration of Justice Act recognised by statute that the decisions of courts are binding, and it set out the requirements to bypass the Court of Appeal and request the House of Lords.
1970 – The Division of the Admiralty was finally abolished and it was absorbed by the Queen’s Bench.
1972 – The European Communities Act saw all English Courts bound by the decisions of the European Court of Justice. European Legal Supremacy under the UK constitution. 1957-1972 it was the European Community the entry of the UK.
1973 – Britain joined the E.U.
1973 – The European Courts and the European Parliament gained the ability to affect laws and policy decisions based in the U.K.
1975 – Referendum: Providing Democratic Legitamacy. National Sovereignty. The Parliamentary Sovererignty Debate. Establishing European Legal Supremacy.
1984 – Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE); provided the police with the powers they needed.
1985 – A high court defendant in Scotland demanded trial by battle, claiming that earlier laws apply only to England. This was unsuccessful.
1998 – The Treaty of Amsterdam is signed.
1998 – The European Union stopped being a series of singles nation states and became a legal entity in its own right. This meant that it had the ability to sign trerebeccas that would bind all its member states.
1998 – The devolution of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The decentralising of the Union in State.
1998 – Britain created The Human Rights Act to allow alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights to be tried in British Courts without the need to go to Strasbourg. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/948143.stm)
2000 – The Terrorism Act.
2002 – The euro replaced Member States’ former currencies.
2006 – The Fraud Act.
2009 – House of Lords Appellate Committee became the Supreme Court.
2009 – The Government administered its guidelines on when and when not family members could be imprisoned on their return from a country in which their loved one took their own life.
2008/9 – 2010 – The Coroners and Justice Bill. An Act covering a while multitude of legal areas, including the defences to murder and pornography.