The roots of our law lie deep in English history and so, to understand our law, it is sometimes necessary to understand our history. Today, the 29th May 2022, is the 322nd anniversary of the return of King Charles II to his kingdom. For 195 years, from 1662 until 1857, the event was celebrated annually with a specially prescribed service in churches throughout the country. Today many people think that Charles II’s reign began on his return to his kingdom in 1660 but of course it did not. As the law still recognises, his reign began on 30th January 1649, the day on which his father, Charles I, was beheaded.
What is the present significance of this old history? Statutes enacted many years ago remain partly or wholly in force. Statutes enacted before 1963 are identified by the regnal year of the monarch in which they were passed and by the chapter of that year’s legislation in which the statute concerned appears. In order to accurately identify a statute enacted before 1963, therefore, one needs to know the date, according to the law, of the beginning of the reign of the Monarch in which the statute was enacted. For example the Act of Uniformity, which was enacted in 1662 and a part of which continues to have legislative effect, is referred to as ‘Regnal 14, Charles II, Chapter 2’ having been enacted in the fourteenth year of Charles II’s reign counting from 30th January 1649 and appearing in the second chapter of the legislation of that year.
Isn’t there something particularly pleasing in the historical continuity of our law?