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Anna de Buisseret is an experienced British lawyer and retired army officer, speaks at a London freedom rally about the importance of common law.
Common law is distinguished from other forms of judge-made law from parallel court systems. In medieval times, for example, common-law courts were secular, as contrasted with the ecclesiastical courts of the Roman Catholic church. Common-law courts did not deal with merchant law, which was administered in mercantile courts, or with maritime law, administered in the admiralty court.
The most important parallel system was equity jurisdiction. Equity originated in early English law when subjects petitioned the monarch for justice. Such petitions were delegated to the lord chancellor and later to a tribunal called the court of chancery. Equity grew into a special body of rules over and above those administered in other royal courts of law. At first, common-law courts were more bound by precedent than were courts of equity, which provided remedies based on notions of fairness to litigants who were denied relief on technical grounds under common law.
By the end of the medieval period, common law and equity constituted the vast bulk of all English law. As common law became less formal and as equity accumulated its own set of precedents, these two forms of judge-made law grew closer together. Britain abolished the distinction between common law and equity in the Judicature Act of 1873. The ultimate effect of the growth and absorption of equity jurisdiction was to gradually expand the range of disputes that could be adjudicated in formal courts.
During and after the Industrial Revolution, in response to the growing complexity of law and the need for greater clarity and accessibility, the British Parliament asserted itself as the principal source of new law, modifying and adding to the body of judge-made law by statute. In modern times, the statutes of Parliament have come to encompass most legal relationships. The common law, however, remains in force to help interpret statutes, many of which are primarily restatements of common-law rules and principles.
Anna de Buisseret, an experienced British lawyer and retired army officer, speaks at a London freedom rally about the importance of common law