Before the Roman conquest, Britain was divided into many small nations and tribes. The law of these places would be kept by the local rulers or holy men such as druids. Many were superstitious and actions such as trial by combat were used, if the accused won it was seen that the gods were showing him innocent by his victory. Laws were passed by word of mouth and very cultural rather than there being any set system of law as we know it.
During this time Britain is largely controlled by Rome. The Romans are considered the founders of law and many of the expressions we use today come from them. They would have a Senate who would create laws that would affect the Empire and order was kept by the local governors and prefects who would enforce law and pass out punishment.
Britain is conquered by the Normans who bring many new laws and customs to the country. One of the most important is the idea of land and property. They create the ‘Doomsday Book’ a record of who and what is owned by everyone in the country. During this time, although the King and Treasury were in London, the courts of the country and the “Sheriffs” would travel around, staying wherever they thought was suitable at the time. In time the judges were given routes they must follow; even today we often refer to some judges as ‘circuit judges’. The time when a judge would be in town was often known as ‘assize’ and the judge would go through the jails sentencing people. It could be that a suspect would have to wait in prison for months until the next assize to find out if he was guilty or innocent.
The nobles of England force the King to sign the ‘Magna Carta’ or ‘Great Charter’. This was a document which took power from the King and gave some of it to the nobles and people. It meant that if the King broke the law he could be held accountable to his people. The most important aspect of the document was the right to due process; that no innocent man may be condemned without fair trial by his peers.
Henry VIII forms the Church of England, dissolving the Catholic church and severing the country's ties with The Pope. This gives the King huge amounts of power and control in a country which had always seen the King as below the Pope and a church which carries equal weight with the state.
The English Civil War replaces the King and makes Parliament all powerful. Although King Charles II eventually restores the monarchy it is recognised now that it is Parliament and not the crown which runs the country.
17th and 18th Centuries
The legal profession as we know it takes shape. The legal profession has long been in possession of certain lands in London which it has claimed since the collapse of the Knights Templar a few hundred years before. The fashion of wearing powdered wigs takes off and is retained by the courts even when the rest of the country stops. Similarly the tradition of wearing black after the death of various monarchs such as Charles II remains . At this point Barristers are the dominant legal professionals; very few people are solicitors who are seen as a lower class of lawyer.
Courts of Equity and Common law combined. Equity will continue to be a headache for law students and professionals , despite the decline of the form of law.
19th and 20th centuries
Due to dramatic changes in the world and recent conflicts including two world wars, the British Empire breaks apart. In its time over 100 countries including Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Africa were ruled by the UK and continue to use similar legal systems. 52 countries exist even today in the commonwealth, a collection of countries with similar institutions and values.
Legal Aid and Advice Act makes funding available for individuals to pursue claims in court paid for by the state. This is not an automatic right but goes a long way to making justice widely available.
Britain Joins the European Union. In doing so it surrenders Parliamentary sovereignty to Brussels which basically means that in certain areas the UK must follow the laws of the EU or leave the Union.
Role of Lord Chancellor changed to Secretary of State for Justice, transferring the role from a Lords' to Commons' position.
The House of Lords ceases to exist as a Court and is replaced with the Supreme court which is the same in all but name.