Texas Wesleyan Law Review

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This paper considers the issues of villeinage and slavery in England and the British colonies; the decision in Somerset v. Stewart' and other cases in English common law courts; the application of English common law in the colonies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with particular reference to the British colonies of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice (formerly British Guiana, now Guyana); the Magna Carta 1215 to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833; the factors which led to the introduction of human rights provisions in English law in the Human Rights Act 1998; and the decision of the House of Lords in A & Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department2 in 2005, relating to the question of admissibility of evidence procured by torture. The thesis of the paper is that English common law was found wanting in connection with the application of fundamental principles of human rights in the United Kingdom and colonies. Lord Mansfield and the other judges who heard the case of Somerset were provided with an excellent opportunity to apply fundamental common law principles of personal security and liberty of the individual to rule that slavery and the slave trade were in breach of the common law and to set a precedent by declaring the liberty of each and every slave who arrived on English shores. Sadly, the judgment failed to live up to the expectations of many of those who had followed the case with avid interest, and it was not until 228 years after that judgment that fundamental principles of human rights became part and parcel of English domestic law, with the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 on 2 October 2000.



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