Amy Goymour: Civil (Roman) Law I

Amy Goymour: Civil (Roman) Law I


My name is Amy Goymour and I’m one of the
lecturers in the Cambridge Law Faculty, and I’m going to say a few words that one of the
subjects I teach – Civil Law I – which is also known as Roman Law. And that is the law that the ancient Romans
used. Now in Cambridge Roman Law is a first-year
subject and it’s actually a compulsory subject. You won’t find it taught in many other law
schools, so why in Cambridge do we regard it as an essential first-year paper? Now for at least two reasons, somebody might
query whether Roman Law is a useful subject to study. First of all law tends to reflect
the society it has to govern. Roman Law obviously governed an ancient system
– not England, and not in modern times – so an ancient system from another country. So
we might query where the Roman Law is relevant at all. Secondly Roman Law was – compared to English
Law – a much more simplistic system. Its contents can be found in about four books, whereas
English Law spans several hundreds and thousands of pages in a library if you were to discover
it in full. So we need to ask ourselves why we study Roman
Law especially as a compulsory first-year subject. My aim in this short video is to
look at those two concerns and to actually show you that neither of those two concerns
actually holds, and that actually Roman Law is a relevant and fascinating subject and
also a really important one to study if you want to be a really good law student. So let’s first address the first concern,
that Roman Law arguably concerns an ancient society and therefore can’t be of any relevance
to the modern day. While that is true in part – for example the Romans had slaves and therefore
they had law to govern the holding of slaves – thankfully that’s not relevant today. But
actually many of the factual scenarios that Roman Law had to govern equally arise today. For example people used to sell things. They
used to have disputes over who owned things. They used to have disputes when one person
injured another. We have exactly the same factual scenarios today which English law
also has to provide answers to. So the idea that Roman Law isn’t relevant
and the answers the Romans provided to these problems isn’t relevant just isn’t true, because
we have to provide solutions to exactly the same sorts of problems. Now in Cambridge our Roman Law course is divided
into three parts: The law of property, the law of contract, and the law of wrongdoing
(what they called the law of delict), and we look at all of these three parts. Now I’m just going to give you an example
from the law of property, just to illustrate that the Romans had to find solutions to exactly
the same sorts of problems that we have today. Now the example is very straightforward – imagine
that A owns the chariot. It is stolen by a thief party B. B then sells the chariot to
a purchaser who is innocent and doesn’t realize the chariots been stolen. The purchaser has
enjoyed using the chariot. B the thief is paid the money and runs away never to be seen
again. A manages to track down that chariot and wants it back, but C argues that it should
be his because he paid good money for it and didn’t know it was stolen. So this is the
problem should A get the chariot back or should C get to keep it. And this is a problem that
the Romans had to solve. Both of these parties are innocent parties. Should we prefer the
first owner or should we prefer the later purchaser? It was a dilemma and the Romans
decided to resolve that dilemma by allowing party A to get their chariot back. Now in English Law you can imagine that we
have to solve exactly the same question. The chariot could of course be a bicycle or a
computer or a car, and we have to decide which of these two innocent parties A or C gets
to keep the item of property when it’s stolen and sold on. Now English Law tends to adopt
much the same solution as the Romans did which is an interesting insight. A generally will
get to get the item back, except in a few exceptional circumstances. So hopefully that shows that Roman Law offers
a really interesting insight into another legal systems response to everyday problems. Now let’s go back to the second concern that
somebody looking at Roman Law might have as to its relevance today – the idea that Roman
Law was a simplistic system compared to the many hundreds of pages that make up English
law today. Now I’m going to offer you three reasons why actually it’s definitely worth
looking at Roman Law even though it was a more simplistic system than our legal system
today. First of all it’s actually a real bonus that
Roman Law can be found in just four books. This means that you can get to grips with
a whole legal system in just one year, and you can get a really nice overview of the
subject and how different parts of the subject actually fit together. You will never ever
even if you study and practice law for the rest of your lives get to grips with the whole
of English Law – there’s just too much of it. But you will do that with Roman Law, and
you will get to see how the law of contract fits with the law of property, and fits with
the law of delict. Making those connections will make you a really good lawyer. Secondly, the Roman Law, even though it was
ancient, was actually exceptionally good. The Romans were very very good at building
roads and they were equally good at creating law, and developing an advanced legal system.
So Roman Law yes it’s ancient but it’s definitely worth studying. Thirdly many European systems are directly
built on Roman Law. For example German Law and French Law have directly built on Roman
Law when they created their civil legal code. So if you ever wanted to go on and study those
legal systems having a base in Roman Law would actually be very very useful. Now English law isn’t directly built on Roman
Law it’s a different type of legal system but there are parts of English Law that do
directly draw on Roman Law. Some of the most recent Supreme Court decisions have actually
quoted parts of ancient Roman Law when reaching decision. So hopefully this has given you something
of an insight into Roman Law and all that it has to offer.

Comments

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    Jade Preston

    I am currently researching relevant material for my EPQ question: 'To what extent has Roman Law influenced our current English legal system?' Are there any interesting points that you would expand on, regarding this question?

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    nicholas lazarou

    Roman law is superior to english law is the secret. For one the statutory basis of Llyods would lose its charter

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