Law, Common law and equity

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Summary

Law is, generally, a system of rules which are enforced through social institutions to govern behaviour,Robertson, Crimes against humanity, 90. although the term "law" has no universally accepted definition.Lord Lloyd of Hampstead. Introduction to Jurisprudence. Third Edition. Stevens & Sons. London. 1972. Second Impression. 1975. Page 39. Laws can be made by legislatures through legislation (resulting in statutes), the executive through decrees and regulations, or judges through binding precedents (normally in common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including (in some jurisdictions) arbitration agreements that exclude the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be

Details

Common law and equity are legal systems where decisions by courts are explicitly acknowledged as legal sources. The "doctrine of precedent", or stare decisis (Latin for "to stand by decisions") means that decisions by higher courts bind lower courts. Common law systems also rely on statutes, passed by the legislature, but may make less of a systematic attempt to codify their laws than in a "civil law" system. Common law originated from England and has been inherited by almost every country once tied to the British Empire (except Malta, Scotland, the U.S. state of Louisiana, and the Canadian province of Quebec). In medieval England, the Norman conquest led to a unification of various tribal customs and hence a law "common" to the whole country. The common law developed when the English monarchy had been weakened by the enormous cost of fighting for control over large parts of France. King John had been forced by his barons to sign a document limiting his authority to pass laws. This "great charter" or Magna Carta of 1215 also required that the King's entourage of judges hold their courts and judgments at "a certain place" rather than dispensing autocratic justice in unpredictable places about the country. A concentrated and elite group of judges acquired a dominant role in law-making under this system, and compared to its European counterparts the English judiciary became highly centralised. In 1297, for instance, while the highest court in France had fifty-one judges, the English Court of Common Pleas had five. This powerful and tight-knit judiciary gave rise to a rigid and inflexible system of common law. As a result, as time went on, increasing numbers of citizens petitioned the King to override the common law, and on the King's behalf the Lord Chancellor gave judgment to do what was equitable in a case. From the time of Sir Thomas More, the first lawyer to be appointed as Lord Chancellor, a systematic body of equity grew up alongside the rigid common law, and developed its own Court of Chancery. At first, equity was often criticised as erratic, that it varied according to the length of the Chancellor

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's foot. But over time it developed solid principles, especially under Lord Eldon. In the 19th century the two systems were fused into one another. In developing the common law and equity, academic authors have always played an important part. William Blackstone, from around 1760, was the first scholar to describe and teach it. But merely in describing, scholars who sought explanations and underlying structures slowly changed the way the law actually worked.

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