The oldest written law currently in force in England is the Distress Act, part of the Statute of Marlborough, 1267 (sources: [1], [2][3]) – but a Law Commission document published in April 2012 reveals that after more seven hundred years on the statute book the Act came very close to being repealed.

“As indicated earlier in this Part we looked at the topics of distress and waste in the context of the Statute of Marlborough 1267 but, as explained, formed the view that it would be premature to pursue repeal of the distress chapters, pending enactment by parliament of amendments to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 following the UK government’s consultation on transforming bailiff action, and that it would be inappropriate to repeal the chapter on waste.”

Depending on the outcome of the Government’s consultation on bailiff action the Act could still get repealed. Worryingly nowhere in the Law Commission’s analysis to they really take into account the historical significance of this Act as the oldest law we have left.

The 13th century Act has the effect of stopping a person recovering damages from someone else except by order of a court which amounts to outlawing private feuds. The Act also protects tenant’s property in certain circumstances.

I am not proud of every aspect of British history but I think everyone in the UK can be proud of the positive contributions the British have made to the development of the rule of law and democracy (Magna Carta being among the most famous).We should try to save Britain’s oldest law from repeal if it all possible.

2 thoughts on “Save England’s oldest statute

  1. i understand that an act is maritime law that requirs permition of those on dry land to be enforced … can you help me find a link or book to prove this please ?

  2. I wrote to the Law Commission about this a year ago, though received no acknowledgement. Having been introduced to these statutes a couple of years ago, I am fully in agreement that their loss would be appalling – nothing in the Tribunals Act 2007 covers much of the essential protections that Marlborough does. I have covered some of the essential characteristics pertinent to modern circumstances in a Statement of Case prepared last year for a boater’s lawsuit against the Canal and River Trust – – and have repeated pertinent parts of that in his Skeleton Argument. I am hoping that this will demonstrate the currency of the statutes.


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