Law, Liberty and the Constitution

Law, Liberty and the Constitution

A Brief History of the Common Law

Harry Potter

Personal eBook

Boydell Press



A new approach to the telling of legal history, devoid of jargon and replete with good stories, which will be of interest to anyone wishing to know more about the common law - the spinal cord of the English body politic.
Throughout English history the rule of law and the preservation of liberty have been inseparable, and both are intrinsic to England's constitution. This accessible and entertaining history traces the growth of the law from its beginnings in Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. It shows how the law evolved from a means of ensuring order and limiting feuds to become a supremely sophisticated dispenser of justice and the primary guardian of civil liberties. This development owed much to the English kings and their judiciary, who, in the twelfth century, forged a unified system of law - predating that of any other European country - from almost wholly Anglo-Saxon elements. Yet by the seventeenth century this royal offspring - Oedipus Lex it could be called - was capable of regicide. Since then the law has had a somewhat fractious relationship with that institution upon which the regal mantle of supreme power descended, Parliament.
This book tells the story of the common law not merely by describing major developments but by concentrating on prominent personalities and decisive cases relating to the constitution, criminal jurisprudence, and civil liberties. It investigates the great constitutional conflicts, the rise of advocacy, and curious and important cases relating to slavery, insanity, obscenity, cannibalism, the death penalty, and miscarriages of justice. The book concludes by examining the extension of the law into the prosecution of war criminals and protection of universal human rights and the threats posed by over-reaction to national emergencies and terrorism. Devoid of jargon and replete with good stories, Law, Liberty and the Constitution represents a new approach to the telling of legal history and will be of interest to anyone wishing to know more about the common law - the spinal cord of the English body politic.

Harry Potter is a former fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge and a practising barrister specialising in criminal defence. He has authored books on the death penalty and Scottish history and wrote and presented an award-winning series on the history of the common law for the BBC.


18 black and white illustrations
362 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Personal eBook, 9781782045236, June 2015
Hardback, 9781783270118, June 2015
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC LAW060000, HIS015000
Share on Facebook   Share on Twitter   Pin it   Share by Email

Related Titles

Table of Contents

The Promulgation of the Law in Anglo-Saxon England
The Enforcement of the Law in Anglo-Saxon England
A Norman Yoke?
Henry II and the Creation of the Common Law
Becket and Criminous Clergy
The Achievement of Henry II
Magna Carta
From Ordeal to Jury
Legal Eagles
The King's Conscience, the Lord Chancellor's Foot
Star Chamber: Keeping England in Quiet
The Writ and Charter of Liberty
Rex Lex v Lex Rex: Sir Edward Coke
Oedipus Lex: the Trial of Charles I
Free-Born John
From Restoration to Revolution and Reaction
The Purity of England's Air
The Menace of the Mob
The Fear of the Felon
Garrow's Law?
The Tongue of Cicero: Thomas Erskine
The Drum Major of Liberty: Henry Brougham
The Bonfire of the Inanities: Peel, Public Protection and the Police
Lunacy and the Law
Necessity Knows No Law
The Apollo of the Bar: Edward Marshall Hall
The 'Martyrdom of Adolf Beck' and the Creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal
Liberty Sacrificed to Security
Nuremberg and Norman Birkett
Wrongs and Rights
Deprave and Corrupt: Blasphemy, Obscenity and Oscar Wilde
Hanging in the Balance
A Murder in Catford
The Rule of Law under Threat?


Potter lacerates the jargon and marches through a long timeline to produce a slim, superbly written account of the common law. LAW SOCIETY GAZETTE

Full of triumphs, tragedies, comedies, accidents and unintended consequences (with) an immense cast of characters. ... (A) lively and opinionated book. TIMES