THE FIRST LAW REPORTS.*
ROGER NORTH says of Serjeant Maynard that he had such a relish of the old Year-Books that he carried one in his coach to divert Lim in travel, and said he chose it before any comedy. Roger North died in 1734, and not long before that date, though "Law French" had ceased to be in reality the language of the English Courts, and the Moots of the Inns of Court, where it had prevailed for centuries, were fast losing their significance, it was still written in formal documents, and was still loved by the professional man even if it irritated the layman. "Really," said Roger North, "the law is scarcely expressible properly in English." The late Professor Maitland, to whom the student of English law owes so much, quotes in his scholarly editions of Year-Books earlier in date than the one before us, Taine's description of the French of the English forum : "Un francais colonial avarie prononce les dents serrees avec une contorsion de gosier la mode, non de Paris mais de Stratford- atte-Bow "! No wonder that these unique books (never before in the history of the law of any country were books of the same kind and with a like purpose written) were to modern generations unfamiliar and well-nigh incomprehensible. A Treasury Minute of 1857, however, ratified a proposal of the then Master of the Rolls that they should be edited, trans- lated, and published, and for a quarter of a century Mr. Pike Las been labouring assiduously and with conspicuous success to make that proposal a reality.
There are various views as to when law-reporting, as we know it, began. In Fortescue's Reports it is stated that the Doom. Book or Liber Judicialis contained judgments given by Saxon Judges : Chaucer has references to some case law, and Lord Coke goes back to "Almighty God Himself" when He delivered His decisions to be reported by Moses. The old Plea Rolls, it is true, may be taken as precedents for ease law ; but it was not till 1285, in the reign of Edward I., that law-reporting really began, and it began with the Year-Books. Professor Maitland's studies forced him to the conclusion that these books were not official. No appointments of Reporters are recorded. The MSS. are often divergent, and almost invariably to-day are in private hands. Mixed up with the words attributed to Judges and counsel are notes and comments, criticisms and speculations, very often of a most amusing nature. A Report often ends with the statement or argument of counsel (being so far as the case was proceeded with during the first day) without the least mention of what became of it finally. All this would seem to show that the Reports were merely taken "for instructive purposes, for apprentices by apprentices." There were no text-books for the youthful lawyer, except, perhaps, an antiquated " Bracton," and his custom was to attend the Courts to take notes, as the best means of aiding him to overcome the mechanism of some thirty forms of action. Very often what interested him was not "the bald form of abstract argument," but the "quip courteous and the countercheck quarrelsome," and these were jotted down (at times an " &c." hides from us the end of a statement or an argument) for the use and amusement of himself and his friends when the foregathering took place in the evening. There were in the year with which Mr. Pike's volume deals eighteen counsel in practice. They were called narratores or countors. The Justices of the Court of Common Pleas numbered seven, and it is curious to note that one of these, Sir John de Stouford, seems to have, for a part of the Hilary Term of 1346 at least, ceased to act as Judge, and resumed his practice as a counsel, "receiving chirographs of fines," before returning to the Bench.
Some of the cases reported here are extremely interesting, not only from the dogged and ingenious way in which the counsel argued (they emphasised their point very often with "In the name of God "), but also from the light which they shed on the "moral and economic forces" at work shaping and establishing our law and Constitu- tion. There is one very important case which relates to "a chronic dispute" between the Bishop of Norwich and the Abbot of Bury St. Edmunds. The Abbot had long claimed to be exempt from the rule of the Bishop by reason of certain early charters. The reason assigned for the • Year Books of the Reign of Edward III. (Year XL) Edited and Translated by Luke Owen Pike. London : His Majesty's Stationery Office. [15s.]
exemption was that the body of St. Edmund, the glorious King and martyr, lay buried in the Abbey. The Bishop and the Commissaries excommunicated one Richard Freiselle when he delivered a writ to him from the King, the writ being one to forbid the Bishop to do anything to the prejudice of the privileges granted by the King or his ancestors to the monastery. This was a clear case of contempt; and "the nation watched for the end of this struggle between the King and the Pope." "We understand," said the King's counsel, "that every one, be he Bishop or any one else, who is the King's liege ought to be obedient to the King's command." And so in the end the Bishop had to be. The citizens of London were very jealous of their franchise. One of them sued an appeal of robbery. It was his privilege to say that he would not accept a wager of battle ; but "he went out to unfurl and afterwards came back gratis and joined battle." But his fellow-citizens will not submit to that. They make a profert of a writ reciting that the King had granted to them that no battle should be waged against any citizen of the town, and they said "that, although the plaintiff put himself upon the battle, they did not understand, since he is one of the citizens, that the Court would admit him to do so to the prejudice of their franchise—And thereupon the Court desired to consider." The decision of the Court is not stated. Equally jealous of its privileges was the town of Lancaster. The case referring to them incidentally presents a picture of a mediaeval market town.
In a Quare Impedit case (p. 490) the jury were challenged on the ground that they had taken bribes. Four " triers " were elected to try whether they had actually done so, and they found that they had. Then it was found that two of the " triers " themselves had taken bribes ! When triers could not agree with regard to the challenges submitted to them, they were imprisoned till they could do so. If a litigant said he was ill (" cast an Ession de mato lecti"), four knights were sent to see him and diagnose his malady ! A Sheriff was responsible to the Courts for the body of an outlaw ; and Blaykeston (Narrator) in an avowry suit maintains that a manor can well extend into divers vills, and into divers counties. The volume is full of interesting pieces of informa- tion of this character. We cannot be too grateful to Mr. Pike for the care and scholarliness with which he places before us these veritatis et velustatis vestigia.