Christian Morality And The Common Law
From Common Law Methodology v Law Reform by LJM Cooray (1985)

The common law of England, developed by the judges, was developed in accordance with the moral principles contained in the Bible. These moral principles (the moral code of Christianity) is mirrored in the other great religions. There is a common core of conduct which comes out from all the great religions. The principles which formed the basis of the common law include honesty, keeping promises, the pursuit of truth, responsibility, duty, fairness in interpersonal relations, concern for one's neighbours, respect for poverty, loyalty and duty to one's spouse and children, the work ethic and keeping one's word. The emphasis is upon honesty, keeping promises and the duty and responsibility of the individual. No society can function efficiently or humanely and no civilisation can endure without these values. Modern law reform has undermined the basic principles of the common law. It is not suggested that the common law is to remain inviolate and unchanged. Modern conditions require change and action by legislation is essential. The problem with modern law reform is that it has not taken account of the basic underlying principles of the legal system and particularly the important principle of the common law that law must be based on fault. The individual is not responsible under the common law in any way unless there was some act of wrongdoing - that wrongdoing could be based on negligence, recklessness, or intentionally committed harm. Modern legislation has departed from that basic principle and there has been an explosion of law.

A dimension of modern law reform (explained below) is that it has moved away from the moral basis of law and is an attempt by fallen men to solve human problems — an attempt by man to play God.

Is the claim that law should be based on Christian morality maintainable in an era where Christianity is not influential?

This question is often raised.

There are contrary (and, it is submitted, convincing) counter arguments. First, that values which underlie the common law are derived from Christian morality, but that they constitute the principles which are common to all religions (as is apparent from an examination of the above description of morality).

Second, if law is not based on a moral value, or the whims and fancies of a dictator, on what can it be based? This question has been asked of many who express contrary views and no one has provided a direct answer to the question.

Liberals, Socialists and Marxists all have their own version of what is right and wrong which is at the bottom a statement of morality. Why is it unacceptable for Christians to claim that their morality should be the basis of law, but quite permissible for adherents to political ideologies (socialism, liberalism, marxism etc) or for homosexual, pro-abortion, peace, feminist, environmentalist groups to put forward their views of right and wrong (morality) as the basis of law?

If law is not based on morality, on what can it be based? There is no justification for any law which is not based on a moral or ethical value. Those who argue that traditional morality must be exorcised from law and society are at the same time arguing for new laws based on their preferred particular moral base. They are guilty of double standards. The opponents of traditional morality are committed to another brand of morality as explained above.

Many concerned people, including Christians, are drawn into the battle against traditional moral values without realising what is happening. The supporters of the new morality focus on particular human problems, hide their underlying philosophy and excite compassion.