Introduction to the English law

English law relating to certain subjects was selectively applied because of the existence of Roman-Dutch law and Communal Personal Laws. English law was incorporated by Statutes and Judicial Activism

Reception of English Law by Statutes

I.               Copies of Statutes Enacted in the UK

A statute passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom was copied and enacted by the local legislature. E.g. Sale of Goods Ordinance 1896, Bills of Exchange Ordinance 1927, Insolvency Ordinance 1853

II.                Codification of English Case Law Principles

The local legislature codified and adopted the principles underlying the decisions of the English Courts. E.g. The Penal Code 1883, The Code of Criminal Procedure Act 1978, and The Evidence Ordinance. The above enactments are copied from statutes in India, reproduced with slight modifications and were codifications based on underlying principles of English Law.

III.               Incorporation of English Law by Reference

The English Law on a particular subject was extended by the local legislature to the island without further elaboration of the substance of the law.
E.g. The introduction of the Laws of England Ordinance 1852 enacts that the law of England is to be observed in maritime matters and in respect to all contracts and questions relating to bills of exchange, promissory notes and cheques.

IV.             Casus Omissus in a Local Statute

Provision was made for the application of English Law where statute is 01 or 02 above was silent. Here, English law directly applies, and English decisions are binding. E.g. the Sale of Goods Ordinance 1896 provides for the application of English Law where the ordinance is not complete. These enactments contained no statement of the substance of the law and were directly incorporated by reference to the law in force in England.

V.                   The Extention of Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament before 1948

Certain Acts of Parliament were extended to British Colonies in general, and became a part of the law of the colony during the British period. E.g. Laws relating to Copyrights, Air Navigation, and appeals to the Privy Council

VI.      Assumption of British Sovereignty (Prerogative Power of British Monarchy)

English Law became applicable as a consequence of the assumption of British sovereignty. Accordingly,

  • Sri Lanka became one of the possessions of the British Crown.
  • All persons born on the island became British Subjects owing allegiance to the Crown.
  • All public officers became servants of the Crown.
  • All government property became the property of the Crown.

All English rules on these matters became part of the law of Sri Lanka, superseding the Roman-Dutch Law.

Prerogative powers derived from English Law became part of the law through annexation, but since there was considerable doubt on the matter, most of the prerogative rights and powers were enshrined in legislation.

However, The Republican Constitution of 1972 severed the connection that Sri Lanka had with the crown in England. 

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