Precedents shape the legal system. Once a trial concludes one thing, future cases can refer to the decisions and definitions made during its length or conclusion to strengthen their arguments. Thus, landmark cases form the backbone of modern legal systems. The United Kingdom’s rich legal history has shaped its current one. The following landmark trials are some of the most important. Learning about them can help you understand modern British law.
The Snail Trial
In 1932, a Scottish woman named Mrs. Donoghue wanted to enjoy a simple bottle of ginger beer. She told the court later that she found the rotting remains of a snail inside the beer bottle someone else had given her. According to her testimony, the tainted drink caused her to develop gastroenteritis and go into shock.
Although Mrs. Donoghue hadn’t bought the bottle herself, the courts expanded contemporary negligence laws to protect people who were likely to be impacted by the actions of a company or person. Thanks to this case, solicitors and lawyers in the U.K. could file suits against companies even if their clients didn’t purchase something directly.
The Beck Case
Adolf Beck was a shipbroker in 1896 who was accused by several women for swindling them out of their property. His accusers brought him to Old Bailey in 1896 and again in 1905. They were so sure of their accusation that these women visually identified Beck as the perpetrator. He spent five years behind bars before his innocence was successfully proven.
Beck’s lawyer proved that he couldn’t possibly be the man who deceived the women because he was in Peru at the time. The process also involved determining that he was circumcised. Because of the miscarriage of justice committed against Beck, the U.K. Government created the Court of Criminal Appeal to prevent it from happening again.
Women in Juries
For decades before the 20th century, women have been famously excluded from the judicial system unless they were defendants. There were no female judges, lawyers, or even women jurors. Women were thought of as incapable of making rational decisions because of their reproductive systems and the notion they were too emotional to trust with such matters.
That changed in 1919 with the advent of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which removed many barriers faced by women. The trial of William Henry Ayton, a man accused of petty theft, was the first time women were present in a British jury.
Who decides when a contract is formed between two people? What qualifies as an acceptance of an agreement, and what defines reneging on it? If Mrs. Carlill hadn’t chosen a solicitor as her husband, we might have had to wait longer before getting a solid definition.
Mrs. Cardill purchased a carbolic smoke ball in 1893. The ball’s manufacturer said that if someone used their product and got a cold or flu afterward, they would pay a hundred pounds. When Mrs. Cardill got the flu after using the smoke ball, the company failed to make payment. Because of this case, the courts solidified what constitutes a contract and the boundaries of fulfilling it.
Thanks to these landmark cases, untold numbers of cases and lawyers have brought people the justice they deserve.