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Now You Can Brush Up on British Law

First-year law students know that they have England to blame for so much of their misery, thanks to our reliance here on its many centuries of common law. Without the Duke of Norfolk's Case in 1682, we might have no Rule against Perpetuities to perplex about. Without Shelley's Case in 1581, there would be no need today to learn the Rule in Shelley's Case. But lawyers in the United States may be surprised to find out that even after we declared our independence and began to forge our own body of common law, Britain's jurists continued to grind out opinions of their own. Now, we have an opportunity to brush up on the most recent 200 years of British case law, thanks to a five-part series in The Times examining England's 100 most important cases of the past 200 years.

"Everyone will have their favourites, from the Paisley snail to the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company," promises the introduction. If these names mean nothing to you, this series may be for you. The 100 cases were chosen by Gary Slapper, professor of law and director of the Centre for Law at the Open University, who summarizes each one and provides a link to the original law report as it appeared in The Times. The series coincides with the launch of The Times Archive, a searchable database of everything that appeared in The Times since its launch in 1785. The archive includes the formal Law Reports spanning those years, as well as a history of legal drama as it played out in news reports, letters to the editor, commentary and trial transcripts.

One of the earliest cases was that of Ormond v Payne, in 1789, which involved a butcher and prince’s coachman. The claimant, George Ormond, was a butcher living at Turnham Green, West London. The defendant, Don Payne, looked after the affairs of the Prince of Wales at Carlton House.

The butcher sued Payne after the prince’s coachman drove into the butcher’s cart, breaking his leg. According to Osmond, the coachman was in a terrible hurry and 'in liquor'. The moment the horses were harnessed and he had mounted the box, he 'called for a glass of gin, drank it, threw the glass violently upon the pavement, flogged his horses' and sped away. The jury found that Payne was liable for the coachman's actions and awarded damages  of £100.

A lesson, perhaps, in how the common law gave rise to the modern-day DUI lawyer.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 20, 2008 at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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