At Sotheby’s auction house this July, a single medieval manuscript sold for £541,250, or about $879,000. At over $8,700 per page, the price strikes me as a bargain, if not a steal. Why? The reason has to do with the extraordinary history of the country my wife and I saw as we walked along Offa’s Dyke and looked to the west, across the River Wye and into the distant green hills. It also has to do with the number three.
Although it’s part of the United Kingdom, Wales has a long, proud history of legal independence. Even after the country was united with England under Henry VIII, the Welsh administered English law in their own court, the Court of Great Sessions, for almost three hundred years, until 1830. Today, guided by the evocative expression “Legal Wales,” the country is developing a range of autonomous legal institutions and practices as part of devolution.
The stakes of this process are high. If in time it leads to a fully independent Welsh nation, for which an independent system of law would be a prerequisite, the politics of Britain and Europe would be profoundly changed. Read the rest of this entry »