This article was first published in Free Nations and we re-publish with the kind permission of both the author and the publisher.
We are pleased to publish this summary, by Sonya Jay Porter, of the legal systems in England before the Norman invasion, before the rebellion of the Barons against King John (and his supporter, the Pope) and the freedoms guaranteed by Magna Carta. Now that we are facing a future without the imperial impositions of another continental power, the EU, it is worth recalling the systems of law which are the foundation of an English and hence largely a British sense of justice and the rule of law. That sense springs from local courts, the common law and case law where the grievances of the people are addressed and form precedents for “free men” – and not from bowing to top down, king/state imposed statute – and certainly not the imposed order of a foreign sovereignty like the EU.
The ruthless suppressions attempted by William the Conqueror, by King John, by Charles 1, by bloody Mary, by the consistent claim of the “divine right of Kings” and the repeated centralisations of power were largely overcome – until the world wars of the 20th century and the constitutional surrender to EU rule in 1973. Now we are breaking free once again from oppressive European autocracy we have the opportunity to re-discover our former freedoms, laws and legal systems.
I note that Martin Howe QC and two others have just proposed a new (domestic) “International Treaty Court” to restore British legal supremacy – ensuring sovereign freedom from the European Court. The British passport no longer bears the words “European Union”. At last we can see the light at the end of this miserable, dark tunnel! The road could be hard but freedom and prosperity were never built by easy compromise.
Whether our current Parliament proves to be the last democratic Parliament before the United Kingdom’s governance is handed over to what will eventually become a European State, is still to be decided. Should this happen, Westminster would become little more than a local council and it would be the end of a Parliament which is considered to have been established during the 13th century but whose roots go back some 800 years before that.
As we know, the Romans occupied much of Britain for about 400 years and finally left during the 5th century to defend their own territory. For some time the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and other Germanic tribes had raided the coasts of Britain but then took the chance to invade the now defenceless and depopulated country to establish small kingdoms of their own. What is less known is that they brought with them their traditions of Folcmoots and the Witan and by the 7th century these had been established in the southern kingdoms of the Jutes and Anglo-Saxons.
Folcmoots were gatherings of local people who made decisions for their area on everything from contracts to judicial matters and were also councils of war. The Witan or ‘Wise Men’ was an assembly composed of noblemen, both secular and ecclesiastic, and met at a Witengemot, meeting or council, to give advice to the King but only when called upon to do so. However, at this time the Witan could not frame laws but only assent to those already decided upon by the King. But at least the Anglo-Saxon Kings were not dictators and realised that they could not govern their territories without the local support of these powerful men of the Witan.
It was the very beginning of a parliament as we know it today.
After the reintroduction of Christianity at the end of the 6th century, Law Codes were established in Kent, Mercia and in Wessex – the kingdom which at times covered what are now the counties from Kent to Devon and which in 937 melded the small Germanic kingdoms into the nation of England.
King Aethelberht of Kent (601 – 604), which was originally settled by the Jutes, became the first ruler both to convert to Christianity and, impressed by Roman law, to draw up to a law code which he did with the help of the Bishops of London and Wi[ta]nchester. This was based on local customs and instituted many new secular laws but also established the legal position of the clergy.
In 755 the Anglo-Saxon King Offa (757-796) of Mercia which was situated between Wales and East Anglia, next produced a law code based not only on King Ine’s Code but also on the old British Celtic customs and regulations.
While later Anglo Saxon Kings and also King Canute, both created new laws and added to Ine’s code, that of King Alfred (The Great) of Wessex (871 – 899) is probably the largest and best known. He not only appended to his laws (or Dooms) those of Kings Ine and Offa which he thought suitable, but also attempted to blend old Celtic and Germanic customs together with the principles of the Mosaic and Christian laws.
Part 2 will be published here tomorrow.