Peter Jones

Henry III vs EU law

The EU is undoing an approach pursued since the days of Henry III

It is no surprise that the laws imposed on the UK by a European parliament in Brussels should so infuriate the ‘Leave’ campaign. England has form here going back 750 years.

Roman law has been one of the wonders of the world since its codification in the Twelve Tables (449 BC). But it is not the laws themselves that are the real point. The key lies in the way that laws were later argued over by the ‘jurists’. These started out as private, freelance legal consultants, simply earning respect for the legal advice they offered. In a case fought against his jurist friend Servius, though Cicero admitted Servius was good at ‘providing legal opinions, preparing documents, and giving advice’, he put the knife in later: ‘Many long to make the grade as orators, but failures regress into giving legal opinions.’ Ouch.

In fact the jurists, who eventually held positions at the emperor’s court, were of high importance. They effectively became legal scholars and theorists, interpreting the law in their opinions, which were recorded and passed down for future jurists to argue over (the emperor was the final arbiter). It was their methodology that was of such supreme juridical value. Gaius’s Institutes (c. AD 150) is one collection of such jurists’ opinions; and in AD 530 the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian published his massive Digest, jurists’ opinions drawn from some 1,500 books, mainly dated AD 100–250.

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