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The English Law of Sanctuary

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2008

J. H. Baker
Professor of English Legal History, Cambridge
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Although the protection of churches and holy places was embodied froman early date in Canon law, the law of sanctuary as it applied in England was necessarily part of the secular common law. The Church never had the physical power to resist the secular authorities in the administration of justice, and although those who violated sanctuary were liable to excommunication the Church could not in cases of conflict prevent the removal from sanctuary of someone to whom the privilege was not allowed by the law of the land. The control of the common law judges was, indeed, tighter than in the case of benefit of clergy. The question whether an accused person was or was not a clerk in Holy Orders was ultimately a question for the ordinary, however much pressure might be put upon him by the judges; but the question of sanctuary or no sanctuary was always a question for the royal courts to decide, upon the application of a person who claimed to have been wrongly arrested in a privileged place. The present summary is confined to the position under English law.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 1990



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