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We all know that justice delayed is equivalent to justice denied. I have recently read an article which brilliantly dealt with the topic of unbearable delay in the disposal of cases. That reminded me about a case which was dragged for centuries. It happened in England. I shall briefly tell you about the background of the case in The Crown v The City of London.


Some of you might have heard about the famous Smithfield meat market in London. Smithfield (also sometimes known as West Smithfield) is an area of the city of London, in the ward of Farringdon Without. It is located in the north-west part of the City of London and is mostly known for its centuries-old meat market, today the last surviving historical wholesale market in Central London. The history of the market goes back to 10th century AD. In 1174 the site was described by William Fitzstephen, who was a clerk to Thomas  Becket as "a smooth field where every Friday there is a celebrated rendezvous of fine horses to be sold, and in another quarter are placed vendibles of the peasant, swine with their deep flanks, and cows and oxen of immense bulk."

The City of London gained market rights under a charter granted by Edward III in 1327. Later in 1444,  the lands occupied by the market was given to the city of London by Henry VI which was later confirmed by Henry VII in 1505.You may be aware that in medieval Europe, royal charters were used to create cities (ie, localities with recognized legal rights and privileges). Charters were the only way to incorporate companies in those days (Eg  East India Company was formed by a royal charter).


It was during the reign of James I (1603-1625) that the litigation commenced. It may be noted that James I was a king who would go to any extent to  uphold the divine rights of the king to rule his country. He wrote in his work “  The true law of free monarchies” that for biblical reasons kings are above the ordinary human beings. So he would fight for anything which would protect the rights vested with the crown.


At this point of time some people of the city of London told James I that the Smithfield market do not belong to him and it belonged to the citizens of London.  No wonder, James I was very much disturbed by the news. Thus to establish the right of the crown over the market, an action was brought before the court by James I in 1613. The Royal crown commissioners on behalf of James I produced before the court some evidences to establish that the market was part of the royal demesne (Demesne means rights over lands retained by feudal lords as against lands given to others as freehold tenants. On the other hand City of London relied on the royal charters granted by the kings etc about which I have already made a reference above. But it seems that James I was advised to go slow on the matter and thus the proceedings were stayed by consent in 1614.


Nothing happened till 1992!!. James I died in 1625 and the successor kings or queens did not take up the matter. But in 1992 Justice Hoffman (later Lord Hoffman) . He pronounced the judgment in favor of the city of London and against the crown putting an end to perhaps the longest dragged legal action in the world. It took 379 years to settle the matter!!!!!!!... Thanks to Justice Hoffman.







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sivadas chettoor
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