Edward Coke : biography

01 February 1552 - 03 September 1634

Outside England and Wales, Coke was particularly influential in the United States, both before and after the American War of Independence. During the legal and public campaigns against the writs of assistance and Stamp Act 1765, Bonham's Case was given as a justification for nullifying the legislation, and in the income tax case of 1895, Joseph Hodges Choate used Coke's argument that a tax upon the income of property is a tax on the property itself to have the Supreme Court of the United States declare the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act unconstitutional, leading to the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. The Castle doctrine originates from Coke's statement in the Third Institutes that "A man's home is his castle – for where shall he be safe if it not be in his house?", which also profoundly influenced the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution; the Third Amendment, on the other hand, was influenced by the Petition of Right. Coke was also a strong influence on (and mentor of) Roger Williams, an English theologian who founded the Rhode Island colony in North America and was an early proponent of the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Judicial work

Coke's first judicial postings came under Elizabeth; in 1585, he was made Recorder of Coventry, in 1587 Norwich, and in 1592 Recorder of London, a position he resigned upon his appointment as Solicitor General.

Common Pleas

On 20 June 1606, Coke was made a Serjeant-at-Law, a requirement for his elevation to Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, which occurred on 30 June. His conduct was noted by Johnson as "from the first, excellent; ever perfectly upright and fearlessly independent", although the convention of the day was that the judges held their positions only at the pleasure of the monarch. A biographer of Francis Bacon noted that "[t]he most offensive of Attorney Generals[sic] transformed into the most admired and venerated of Judges". Some assert that Coke became Chief Justice due to his prosecutions of Raleigh and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, but there is no evidence to support this; instead, it was traditional at the time that a retiring Chief Justice would be replaced with the Attorney General.

Court of High Commission

Coke's changed position from Attorney General to Chief Justice allowed him to openly attack organisations he had previously supported. His first target was the Court of High Commission, an ecclesiastical court established by the monarch with near unlimited power; it administered a mandatory ex officio oath that deliberately trapped people. The High Commission was vastly unpopular among both common lawyers and Members of Parliament, as the idea of "prerogative law" challenged both authorities. The appointment of Richard Bancroft as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604 caused the issue to grow in importance; according to P.B. Waite, a Canadian historian, Bancroft's zeal and strictness "could hardly fail to produce an atmosphere in which principles and issues would crystallize, in which logic would supplant reasonableness". The judges, particularly Coke, began to unite with Parliament in challenging the High Commission. In 1607 Parliament openly asked for Coke's opinion on the High Commission's practices; he replied that "No man ecclesiastical or temporal shall be examined upon secret thoughts of his heart or of his secret opinion".

During this period a "notorious suit" ran through the courts, known as Fuller's Case after the defendant, Nicholas Fuller. A barrister, Fuller had several clients fined by the High Commission for non-conformity, and stated that the High Commission's procedure was "popish, under jurisdiction not of Christ but of anti-Christ". For this, Fuller was held in custody for contempt of court. The Court of King's Bench argued that this was a lay matter, while the High Commission claimed it fell under their jurisdiction. Coke had no official role, other than acting as a mediator between the two, but in the end Fuller was convicted by the High Commission. This was a defeat for the common law, and in response Coke spent the summer issuing writs of prohibition to again challenge Bancroft and the High Commission. On 6 November 1608, the common law judges and members of the High Commission were summoned before the king and told that they would argue and allow him to decide. Finding themselves unable to even argue coherently, instead "[standing] sullen, merely denying each others' statements", the group was dismissed and reconvened a week later. Coke, speaking for the judges, argued that ecclesiastical courts only had jurisdiction as long as no temporal matters were involved; once this happened, it became a matter for the common law courts.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine