The Common Law Restrictions On Liberty
From Common Law Methodology v Law Reform by LJM Cooray (1985)

The common law restrictions on liberty are expressed in the form of criminal offences, civil wrongs and liabilities arising out of the sanctity of contract. When these restrictions are examined it is not difficult to see their relationship to the public morality and in particular to the religious beliefs and values of the community. For example, criminal offences such as murder, rape, theft and fraud are acts universally condemned by the ethical systems of all major religions. Such offences constitute the core of the restrictions on human conduct recognised by civilised societies. Even in the absence of major religious influence, civilised communities consider such acts reprehensible and impermissible as they jeopardise human survival and well-being. However, the religious basis of the common law is undeniable as religion and public morality were co-extensive, particularly in early times. As Lord Denning says of the common law theory of crime:

"In order that an act should be punishable, it must be morally blameworthy. It must be a sin" The Changing Law, (London, 1963) p 112.

Each common law crime thus protected an institution or value which was considered to be of fundamental importance. Offences such as murder, rape and assault protected personal physical integrity. Crimes such as larceny, fraud and cheating protected private property. Freedom of speech was restricted to protect reputations (libel and slander), religious sensibilities (blasphemy), public morals (obscenity), the independence of the judiciary (contempt) and the lawfully established system of government (sedition).

Apart from crimes which were considered as prejudicial to the community as a whole, the common law developed other restraints against causing harm to person, property and reputations by recognising numerous torts or civil wrongs. These as well as actions based on contract enabled individuals to sue for damages. Together they formed a corpus of rules determining the boundaries of permissible and impermissible conduct. The development of the common law or torts in more recent times demonstrates the dynamism of the system to accommodate the needs of changing social and economic conditions. Employers' liability to provide working conditions and adequate training for the safety of workers is one example. The application of the law of nuisance to owners of property which through neglect causes harm to others is another example.