1st February 1552. Jurisdiction.

Tu regere imperio populus romane memento: You remember the rule of Rome. (Virgil)

Today in 1552 Sir Edward Coke, the famous jurist born to a Norfolk barrister was later to become Commons Speaker, Solicitor General and Attorney General and noted for his apothegm. ‘A Man’s Home is his Castle’.

As Crown Advocate it was he who indicted Essex and Southampton after their abortive rebellion in 1601, the ‘traitor’ Raleigh in 1603 and prosecuted the Gunpowder Plotters.

The law of the courts, followed by Coke, is the ability to present an argument and goes back to classical Greece when the Sophists were criticized by Aristophanes as hair-splitting wordsmiths and suggested Socrates was one.

The early lawyers developed rhetoric and argument like Libanius in a practical way rather than the arid philosophising of Plato and Aristotle. It was a technique to hold sway with the medieval universities where rhetoric and disputation was a sine non qua of the students classical learning a method which was to dominate English universities into the 19thc.

In medieval times the Lord Chancellor’s role developed in the Curia and Petitions for Justice and normally addressed to the King and the Curia, but in 1280 Edward I instructed his Justices to examine and deal with petitions themselves as the Court of King’s Bench with petitions to the Lord Chancellor and only in the last resort to the King.(1)

Court of King’s Bench where Coke brought his first case.

Clerics by this time had been forbidden by Canon Law from appearing in secular cases, thus we see the foundations of the English Bar with its Common Law and the setting up of their own Inns, leaving the post-graduate Canon lawyers in the Universities.

Sited off the Strand, London, the Inns of Court were founded after the crusading Order of the Knights Templar was dissolved and thus vacated the mosque-styled Temple.

When the Order was abolished the control over their estates fell to the Crown and Edward II granted the Temple to the Earl of Pembroke who surrendered it in turn to the earl of Lancaster who transferred it to the persons who were then becoming an organised and collegiate body; the students and professors of law.

Many legal colleges developed like Admiralty Courts with its Advocates similar to Barristers in the Common Law, and trained in Canon Law (before the Reformation, to be suppressed in 1535), then later the Roman Law studied at university.

Another court was the Court of Doctors Commons with its advocates and Proctors (solicitors), a College of Civilians operating Civil Law.(2)

The 1873 Judicature Act, coincident with the new Strand Law Courts, united Chancery, King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, Admiralty and Probate and Divorce into the Supreme Court, divided into a High Court of Justice and Court of Appeal with the House of Lords as the final Court of Appeal. Distinctions between rules of common law and equity and of procedure were thus to disappear.(3)

In 1875 The Court of Pleas was reduced to a Division of the High Court and Alex Cockburn served as first Chief Justice of England. Pleas was dissolved in 1880 and became part of Queen’s Bench. John Coleridge previously Chief Justice of Pleas served as Chief Justice of a fully unified High Court.

Monument to Edward Coke. St Mary’s, Tittleshall, Norfolk.

(1) The English Justinian as Coke had described the King, in a reign which separated the education of lawyers under judges from the Church’s jurisdiction.

(2) David Copperfield was articled in Doctors Commons ‘entered under low archway’ at Spenlow and Jorkins office.

There is a plaque on the Faraday Building, Victoria Street, London the site of the old Doctors’ Commons, demolished in 1867.

(3) The Supreme Court superseded the Lords in the New Millennium.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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