Legal Battles


In the beginning, crime and tort were much the same in scope. Criminal law and tort law, therefore, covered much common ground. The law's function in both instances was to satisfy a public and private need for vengeance and to avoid cit- izens taking the law into their own hands. Additionally, deterrence of wrongful conduct also came to be seen as an important objective. Tort liability, in effect, was a legal device to dissuade a victim from retaliation by offering monetary compensation instead. The recognized torts in this evolutionary period were closely related to threats of public disorder or what came to be known later as breaches of the peace. Thus, tort law has ancient roots and can be traced back to the first written codes of law. Importantly, the earliest codes we are aware of, dating back more than 3500 years ago, included laws not only requiring compensation for certain intentional wrongdoing, but also for some careless misconduct.


Some years after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, a system of royal courts was established. Many of the royal judges were trained at the best universities in Europe where they studied Roman law, and in this early period, Roman law study was also an important part of the study of all English lawyers. Roman law was a highly sophisticated legal system that included rules of tort law premises on fault as well as intentional wrongdoing. Roman legal principles, of course, were not the law of England but they were often accepted by the judges for their practical value in resolving disputes where there was no applicable common law. A tort action was commenced in the king's courts through a writ of trespass. The writ of trespass came to encompass all those actions related to direct and immediate aggression against a person, or against the personal and real property of an individual. Eventually, cases of indirect injury were allo howed under the alternate writ of "trespass on the case.” The medieval usage of the word "trespass" still figures in the modern day version of the Lord's Prayer.

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