Law, Liberty and the Constitution: A Brief History of the Common Law

Law, Liberty and the Constitution: A Brief History of the Common Law

by Harry Potter


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Throughout English history the rule of law and the preservation of liberty have been inseparable, and both are intrinsic to England's constitution. This accessible and entertaining history traces the growth of the law from its beginnings in Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. It shows how the law evolved from a means of ensuring order and limiting feuds to become a supremely sophisticated dispenser of justice and the primary guardian of civil liberties. This development owed much to the English kings and their judiciary, who, in the twelfth century, forged a unified system of law - predating that of any other European country - from almost wholly Anglo-Saxon elements. Yet by the seventeenth century this royal offspring - Oedipus Lex it could be called - was capable of regicide. Since then the law has had a somewhat fractious relationship with that institution upon which the regal mantle of supreme power descended, Parliament.
This book tells the story of the common law not merely by describing major developments but by concentrating on prominent personalities and decisive cases relating to the constitution, criminal jurisprudence, and civil liberties. It investigates the great constitutional conflicts, the rise of advocacy, and curious and important cases relating to slavery, insanity, obscenity, cannibalism, the death penalty, and miscarriages of justice. The book concludes by examining the extension of the law into the prosecution of war criminals and protection of universal human rights and the threats posed by over-reaction to national emergencies and terrorism. Devoid of jargon and replete with good stories, Law, Liberty and the Constitution represents a new approach to the telling of legal history and will be of interest to anyone wishing to know more about the common law - the spinal cord of the English body politic.

Harry Potter is a former fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge and a practising barrister specialising in criminal defence. He has authored books on the death penalty and Scottish history and wrote and presented an award-winning series on the history of the common law for the BBC.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783270118
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer, Limited
Publication date: 06/18/2015
Pages: 362
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Abbreviations x

Introduction 1

Part I Laying Down the Law: 600-1500

1 The Promulgation of the Law in Anglo-Saxon England 9

2 The Enforcement of the Law in Anglo-Saxon England 23

3 A Norman Yoke? 33

4 Henry II and the Creation of the Common Law 46

5 Becket and Criminous Clergy 52

6 The Achievement of Henry II 62

7 Magna Carta 69

8 From Ordeal to Jury 77

9 Legal Eagles 82

Part II Conflict of Laws: 1500-1766

10 The King's Conscience, the Lord Chancellor's Foot 97

11 Star Chamber: Keeping England in Quiet 103

12 Torture 109

13 The Writ and Charter of Liberty 115

14 Rex Lex v. Lex Rex: Sir Edward Coke 119

15 Oedipus Lex: The Trial of Charles I 133

16 Free-born John 149

17 From Restoration to Revolution and Reaction 157

Part III The Transformation of the Law: 1766-1907

18 The Purity of England's Air 173

19 The Menace of the Mob 185

20 The Fear of the Felon 197

21 Garrow's Law? 201

22 The Tongue of Cicero: Thomas Erskine 206

23 The Drum Major of Liberty: Henry Brougham 218

24 The Bonfire of the Inanities: Peel, Public Protection and the Police 224

25 Lunacy and the Law 232

26 Necessity Knows No Law 241

27 The Apollo of the Bar: Edward Marshall Hall 252

Part IV The Rule Of Law: 1907-2014

28 'The Martyrdom of Adolph Beck' and the Creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal 261

29 Liberty Sacrificed to Security 267

30 Nuremberg and Norman Birkett 276

31 Wrongs and Rights 285

32 Deprave and Corrupt: Blasphemy, Obscenity and Oscar Wilde 289

33 Hanging in the Balance 305

34 A Murder in Catford 314

35 The Rule of Law under Threat? 319

Bibliography 327

Index 335

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