This essay seeks to illustrate the role that ‘Common law’ and ‘Case law’ has played in the development of UK health and safety statute. The author will seek to explain the origins of Common law, its application and its interrelationship with statute law, in terms of statutory interpretation and the doctrine of judicial precedent. Both positive and negative aspects of such systems will be discussed during the course of the essay. The origins of UK common law date back to the reign of Henry II. Prior to the Norman conquest in 1066, Britain consisted of several kingdoms, of which each held their own customary laws and methods of applying and enforcing justice. Although the Normans were successful in their conquest of England at the battle of Hastings in 1066 resulting in the unification of the country, a common legal system was not achieved fully until 1154 during the reign of Henry II through the existing courts of the time, ‘the Kings Bench’, ‘Court of the Exchequer’ and ‘the Court of Common pleas’. The unification of the legal system to ‘commonly’ apply to all of the country’s subjects was to be applied uniformly and consistently across the country by a circuit of travelling judges, dispensing justice based on past decisions (precedents) in court known as; In terms of the application of a judicial precedent, a court must consider if the earlier decision is applicable as a ‘Binding Precedent’, whereby the relevant ‘statement of facts’ are the same in each case and must be followed by a court of the same or lower standing, or that the earlier decision is applicable as a ‘Persuasive Precedent’ because, although not all of the criteria of a binding precedent has been met, other factors are contained in the previous decision that maybe influential. In the event of a conflicting point of view on a specific point of law, then the hierarchy of the court system is relied upon; higher courts set legal precedent for lower courts. This was illustrated in the case in the case of Dickins v O2 in 2008, whereby the claimant Ms Dickins had brought a successful claim against the defendant O2 for psychiatric injury due to excessive stress. On appeal, the defendant had argued; Common law and its judicial precedent have the advantage of providing certainty to cases that are the same and also direction to those that are alike. There is also an inherent flexibility within common law that allows for judicial decision to develop with the social expectation of its citizens and general societal change. However, the common law system also has an inherent disadvantage; that judgements on cases are only made following that they have been brought before the court.
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