In Australia, which has a very close legal history with the United Kingdom (diverging completely only as late as 1986), some Acts (or part thereof) of the UK Parliament (and its antecedents, the British and English Parliaments) remain in force in Australian jursidictions. Two examples are sections of the Magna Carta (1297) and the Bill of Rights (1688), which the Australian Capital Territory1 Parliament has republished to confirm their currency.

Are there any Acts of the British (or English Parliament) in force before American independence that remain in force either at a federal, state (or other) level in the United States?

1 - This jurisdiction is interesting in itself - laws in force in the State of New South Wales formed the basis for its laws until legislative authority was transferred to the federal (Commonwealth) Parliament in 1911, which was later delegated / devolved back to its own local government in stages throughout the late 20th century.

  • I think our legal system is mostly closely based on theirs, but that doesn't really count. Aug 8, 2019 at 13:20
  • 2
    A correction: the predecessor of the Parliament of the UK (1801-present) was the Parliament of Great Britain (1707-1800). It's the latter that was making the laws at the time that the US declared independence. Aug 8, 2019 at 14:19
  • 2
    The predecessors of that were the Parliament of England (1215-1707) and the Parliament of Scotland (c1235-1707). Aug 8, 2019 at 14:20
  • @SteveMelnikoff thanks for the correction. Question edited.
    – user27025
    Aug 8, 2019 at 23:34
  • 3
    I don't know about Acts of Parliament, but the Royal Charter that granted Lord Baltimore a colony that became Maryland has come up in US Supreme Court filings in disputes over the Potomac. (according to the charter, Maryland owns the Potomac River, as opposed to the more common idea of splitting a river boundary in the middle)
    – pboss3010
    Aug 12, 2019 at 12:35

3 Answers 3


Early in the history of the US, various states passed laws adopting the then extant common law and at least some of the statutory law of Great Britain (much of which was in origin the Law of England) as law in those states. Such laws would still be valid, unless later acts had amended or replaced particular provisions. Tracing which provisions had since been altered would be a massive task. Basic common law, particularly definitions of crimes such as fraud, theft, murder, and of torts such as conversion, slander, libel, and the like will probably be largely unchanged, with some modifications.

Blackstone's Commentaries remained a significant legal text used in training lawyers and in legal practice in the US through much of the nineteenth century.

  • 1
    It doesn't invalidate your answer, but "theft" is no longer a common law offence in England and Wales (since the Larceny Act 1916, replaced by the Theft Act 1968). Aug 9, 2019 at 8:53
  • 1
    And many US states have made statutory modifications to classic common law offenses as well, since the original adoption of common law rules. But much basic US law on such matters is ultimately derived from old English law, common-law or statute, with later modifications. Aug 9, 2019 at 13:22

This is more an elaboration of David Siegel's answer, but the term for this is "reception statute", which acts to receive an outside body of law, in whole or part.

Taking the example from Wikipedia's article on the matter, which is the New York Constitution of 1777:

"[S]uch parts of the common law of England, and of the statute law of England and Great Britain, and of the acts of the legislature of the colony of New York, as together did form the law of the said colony on the 19th day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, shall be and continue the law of this State, subject to such alterations and provisions as the legislature of this State shall, from time to time, make concerning the same."

So not only did New York import the common law, it imported all laws effecting the colony of New York until April 19, 1775. Similar laws would have been repeated throughout the other twelve ex-colonies, as well as other states* as they were formed. That also means that there are different common laws for each state, which have evolved similarly but not identically.

*The state of Louisiana is a bit of an outlier. As an ex-colony of France, it primarily uses civil law. Also, Texas and the states acquired from Mexico (although all operating common law), imported certain aspects and principles (e.g. community property) from Spanish and Mexican law.


I believe that the "Calendar (New Style) Act 1750" which received royal assent from James II, and which means that there is no 29th February in 1900 or 2100 is still good law in the USA.

The various states may have replaced it though.

  • Where did you get this wonderful idea from? Apr 6, 2022 at 8:40
  • @JosephP. Well it's certainly good law in England and Wales, and would have been good law in e.g. New York at the Declaration of Independence. Unless it has been repealed, either explicitly, or by a huge codification exercise which said "and this is the whole of the law", it will still be valid. (The latter seems more likely; there's no point writing a new law to say "New York uses the Gregorian calendar", but there is some point in codifying everything.) Apr 6, 2022 at 8:47

You must log in to answer this question.