The Statutes of Westminster The Palace of Westminster 1275
Edward I (1239–1307)
We now use the term statute to refer to an act or, as Black’s Legislation Dictionary defines it, “a law passed by a legislative body.” However, as English historians H. G. Richardson and George Sayles demonstrate, that term was not widely used until the late fourteenth century. Enactments were previously referred to as provisions or établissements.
King Edward I convened his first parliament at Westminster in 1275, shortly after returning from the Ninth Crusade and ascending to the throne, and produced the first Statute of Westminster, with fifty-one clauses in Anglo-Norman (Old French) covering a wide range of substantive legal areas as well as the administration of justice. Because it offered common rights to all and free elections, English historian William Stubbs dubbed the act “nearly a code by itself” in 1877. Law historian George Crabb commended Edward I’s work at the time, naming him “the English Justinian.”
The estate “tail” in land (a device limiting succession in land ownership to the heirs of the original owner, thereby ensuring continued family ownership through succeeding generations) and the “action on the case,” a means of providing a remedy for wrongs not expressly recognized by the common law or for which there was no omission, was established by a second Statute of Westminster (II) enacted in 1285.
Subinfeudation, a practice in which feudal tenants leased part of their lands to others and collected payments from them to the prejudice of the feudal tenant’s lord and successors, was prohibited by the third Statute of Westminster (III), established in 1290. The Westminster Statute of Westminster’s original version is still relevant today. In a case involving attorney deception on the court, the New York Court of Appeals invoked one of its interpretive help provisions in 2009, noting that the New York Legislature adopted language very similar to the medieval enactment in a 1787 law.
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)