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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

Roman law and English law, both widely influential, are characterized by very different approaches. In broad terms Roman law follows a coherent written code and a set of principles, while English law relies more on case law (an accumulation of previous decisions by judges, known as precedents). The division is seen within the United Kingdom itself, where Scotland is strongly influenced by Roman law.

The developing common law was mainly concerned with penalties and damages after an offence was committed. It therefore often conflicted with people's sense of natural justice (where there was a need, for example, for a contract to be enforced or for legal authority to prevent something happening). This led to another strand of law known as equity (fairness); such cases, where the common law offered no remedy, began to be referred to the lord chancellor (the Court of Chancery). The third element, developing with the growth of *parliament, has been statute law – the accumulated body of laws established by successive *acts of parliament.

There is no evidence that any trace of their legal system survived the departure of the *Romans from Britain, and in the succeeding centuries of settlement by *Anglo-Saxons and *Danes the law was largely a matter of local tribal customs. It was the strong centralized rule of the *Normans which introduced the basis of English law. Itinerant judges, sent round the country to standardize legal practice, gradually formed the *common law (in the sense of common to the whole kingdom). Common law was linked with the *inns of court; university lawyers at the time concentrated on canon law, the legal structure of the Roman Catholic church.

The Roman element in Scottish law is the result of major legal reforms in the 17C, when Scotland looked to France and Holland for its models. The Scots and the English therefore had different legal systems at the time of the Act of *Union in 1707, a situation resulting in their differing courts of law today.

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