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Gumersalls News

Historic Legal Decisions That Still Shape The Courts Today

by | May 17, 2023 | News

Most of the laws that shape our lives are built upon layers of previous legal decisions that established common principles that we take for granted in our everyday lives.

This is also very true for property law, and for people in Woking or Guildford, property solicitors in Surrey are a valuable part of ensuring that any property purchase and conveyancing procedure completes without any further complications.

With that in mind, here are some of the oldest legal decisions that still have an effect on cases and the courts to this very day.


The 1610 Case Of Proclamations

The Case of Proclamations is the legal case that not only changed Great Britain’s relationship with the monarchy and the power they have over property law, it may have also shaped British history as we know it.

Up until 1610, the monarchy and Parliament were constantly in conflict, in no small part because many successive kings and queens had tried to bypass parliament via the use of royal proclamations, citing the idea that royals were chosen by God to rule.

Sir Edward Coke, then the chief justice, ruled that without the support of parliament, King James I could not block the construction of new buildings in London and by extension could not arbitrarily wield absolute power.

This would, through a convoluted series of events, lead to the English Civil War and the Bloodless Revolution, creating the modern system of constitutional monarchy, a system that has been the subject of several other cases.


Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co 1892

One of the first contract law cases many students study, the historic case that establishes the nature of a contract and what claims should be taken seriously in advertising is still commonly cited as the basis of contract law in the UK, which includes buying and selling property.

The case revolves around a classic case of medical quackery; amidst an influenza pandemic, 

The Carbolic Smoke Ball was a strange rubber ball filled with carbolic acid and with an attached tube. The idea is that you insert the tube into your nose and squeeze the ball to release the vapours.

The company promised it would give £100 (roughly £12,000 adjusted for inflation) to anyone who used the ball properly and contracted influenza. Ironically enough the vapour would make you more vulnerable to the flu but that was only known later.

Louisa Carlill bought the ball and used it for two months, only to contract the flu herself. When they refused, she sued, claiming that the claim established a contract between herself and the company.


Ultimately, in a series of lengthy judgements still commonly cited today, the courts found in favour of Mrs Carlill, had to pay up and the judgement was used in further marketing of the smoke ball product until the company was wound up in 1896.


Interestingly, the defence counsel who failed to prove his case was H.H. Asquith, who would later become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.


On another somewhat ironic note, Mrs Carlill died of influenza, but not until 1942, over 50 years after the case she was known for.