In the Beginning of Law
The earliest writings of law were destroyed during the Dark Ages, so the concept of crime and punishment and where it all began starts in the year 500 AD. It was governed mostly by superstition and local laws and stayed pretty much the same up thru the year 1000 AD. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, common law started to develop and helped standardize law and justice. Until then the legal system among the early English or Anglo-Saxons and everywhere else in Europe during that time, was decentralized. Each county was known as a shire and was divided into units called hundreds, which entailed groups of 100 families, each of those were further divided into groups of 10 families called tithings. The reeve was the head of all law enforcement officials in the shire, (This is how the word sheriff got it's name, shire + reeve = shirereeve aka sheriff), but within these smaller groups, the tithings were responsible for maintaining order among themselves and dealing with minor disturbances such as fires, wild animals, etc. The earliest law enforcement organized along the lines of the tithing, hundred, and the shire.
To an extent, criminal law was considered to provide reasonable solutions to what were previously considered private disputes. Before the Norman Conquest, crime was viewed as a violation of the victim's personal rights and therefore was compensated for such wrongs by the people who committed the crimes. If some type of payment could not be made or agreed upon, the victim's family would try to collect damages by force or seek revenge, and the families would start a blood feud. The crimes committed that would cause such an action were basically the same as today. Treason, homicide, rape, property theft, assault, and battery were all crimes, and the punishments were very harsh. If one committed treason, then he or she could be put to death. A thief would be made into slavery and depending what was stolen, his whole family could be brought down with him, or her. A scale of compensation was made for lesser criminal acts, like the loss of an arm or an eye. If you happened to be of some importance, such as a churchman or a nun, and someone wronged you then your compensation would be much higher than the lowly peasant. However, if you were of some importance and you committed a crime, you also had to pay a much higher price.
The Norman Conquest happened in 1066 because when the King of England, whose name was Edward Confessor, died, there was not an heir to take his place. The kingship was taken over by Harold Godwinson, a son of one of England's great noble families. William, Duke of Normandy disputed this kingship so he and his followers invaded and defeated Harold's forces, this in known as the famous Battle of Hastings. After William concurred England, he proclaimed himself king and declared all the land, and all land based rights, including the administration of justice, were now vested in the king. King William did not change the laws right away, letting the church handle the acts that were considered sinful, and hundreds now called manorial courts dealt with most secular violations. William did however, secure control of the countryside and to ensure military supremacy established the royal courts, who dealt with the more serious breaches of peace.
Because of these long histories of criminal justice and how crime has been dealt with thru the centuries, we now have one of the best criminal justice and legal system in the world. Criminal law undergoes constant reform. Some acts are being trimmed out and their penalties are being reduced, while other laws are being revised to make penalties for other acts more severe. The law must accommodate social and technological change.
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