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Some of the clergy were familiar with Roman law and the canon law of the Christian church, which was developed in the universities of the 12th century.
Canon law was applied in the English church courts, but the revived Roman law was less influential in England than elsewhere, despite Norman dominance in government.
Historically, the common-law system in England (applied to Wales since 1536) has directly influenced that in Ireland but only partially influenced the distinct legal system in Scotland, which is therefore, except as regards international matters, not covered in this article.
The legal systems in the United Kingdom have, since 1973, experienced integration into the system of European Union law, which has direct effects upon the domestic law of its constituent states—the majority of which have domestic systems that have been influenced by the civil-law tradition and that cultivate a more purposive technique of legislative interpretation than has been customary in the English common law.
The common law of England was largely created in the period after the Anglo-Saxons, especially after the accession of Alfred the Great (871), had developed a body of rules resembling those being used by the Germanic peoples of northern Europe.
A money economy was important only in commercial centres such as London, Norwich, and Bristol.
Although the criminal codes of most English-speaking countries are derived from English criminal law, England itself has never had a criminal code. The English common law originated in the early Middle Ages in the King’s Court (Curia Regis), a single royal court set up for most of the country at Westminster, near London.
Like many other early legal systems, it did not originally consist of substantive rights but rather of procedural remedies.
Political power was rural and based on landownership. Under the king came the aristocratic “tenants in chief,” then strata of “mesne,” or intermediate tenants, and finally the tenant “in demesne,” who actually occupied the property.
Each piece of land was held under a particular condition of tenure—that is, in return for a certain service or payment.
The regime of human rights represented by the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) has exercised a similar influence in the United Kingdom since the passage by Parliament of the Human Rights Act 1998.