Coke on the Virtues of Obedience to the Common Law

Sir Edward Coke was a lawyer, an MP, Attorney General, and Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas of the King’s Bench. He is widely considered one of the fathers of the common law. Here is a fragment of the preface to Part Two of his Reports. I was struck by the terms in which he discusses the common law:

To the learned Reader

There are (sayeth Euripides) three Virtues worthy [of] our meditation; To honor God, our Parents who begat us, and the Common Lawes of Greece: The like doe I say to thee (Gentle Reader) next to thy dutie and pietie to God, and his annointed thy gracious Soveraigne, and thy honor to thy Parents, yeeld due reverence and obedience to the Common Lawes of England: For of all Lawes (I speak of humane) these are most equall, and most certaine, of greatest antiquitie, and least delay, and most beneficiall and easie to be observed; As if the module of a Preface would permit, I could defend against any man that is not malicious without understanding, and make manifest to any of judgement and indifferency, by proofes pregnant and demonstrative, and by Records and Testimonies luculent and irrefragable: Sed sunt quidam fastidiosi, qui nescio quo malo affectu oderunt Artes antequam pernoverunt [MOD trans.: But there are some disdainful types who hate every high calling with which they are unfamiliar, I know not for what reason]. There is no Jewell in the world comparable to learning; No learning so excellent both for Prince and Subject as knowledge of Lawes; and no knowledge of any Lawes, (I speak of humane) so necessary for all estates, and for all causes, concerning goods, lands, or life, as the Common Lawes of England….

Their example [that of the “Sages of the Law”] and thy profession doe require thy imitation: for hitherto I never saw any man of a loose and lawlesse life, attaine to any sound and perfect knowledge of the said lawes: And on the other side, I never saw any many of excellent judgement in these Lawes, but was withall (being taught by such a Master) honest, faithfull, and vertuous.

If you observe any diversities of opinion amongst the professors of the Lawes, contend you (as it behoveth) to be learned in your profession, and you shall finde that it is Hominis vitium, non professionis [MOD trans.: the vice of man, not of the profession].

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