A respected user writes in another answer:

Long-standing precedents whose origins are lost in the mists of time

What are these long standing precedents, how are they known, and how can they be authoritatively understood, litigated, and ruled on, when they have been "lost in the mists of time"?

What are some examples of these precedents?

  • 1
    The fact there was a precedent that subsequent cases call upon is how the precedent is known - the courts keep repeating it.
    – Lag
    Jul 8, 2022 at 13:24
  • This comment is both more clear and more concise and incisive than DaleM's answer. Thanks Jul 8, 2022 at 13:50
  • @Lag How did the earliest citable/written precedent decisions refer to/cite/call upon the earlier unwritten ones if they were in fact unwritten? Jul 8, 2022 at 13:51
  • 1
    Oral tradition / customary rules.
    – Lag
    Jul 8, 2022 at 14:57
  • 1
    Okay but then they weren't refutable. Perhaps I am unfairly trying to apply modern standards of precision to more primitive times while lacking a good historical perspective. Jul 8, 2022 at 16:13

1 Answer 1


Time immemorial is 1189 CE

Do you know how many documents survive from 1189 CE? F#*k all, that’s how many.

We don’t have the original case law because, quite simply, we don’t have the original case law. In any event, “time immemorial” is simply a legal fiction stating the date to which you had to be able to trace land ownership before you had indefeasibility of title. Common law goes back way beyond that and even way beyond the Norman conquest in 1066.

At a certain point, it doesn’t matter. Things are done that way because things are done that way. For example, Pythagoras’ Rule (the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides) was not discovered by Pythagoras. It was known to both the Babylonians and Egyptians 1,000 years before Pythagoras was born yet it will likely be Pythagoras’ Rule for as long as the human race endures.

  • 1
    Pythagorean Theorem was also known in India, but I am not sure about the dating. Probably in China, too. Jul 11, 2022 at 6:59
  • @AndrewLazarus My high school geometry book had images of the most ancient available proofs of it by mathematicians in Greek, one of the languages of India, Chinese, Coptic, Arabic, or one of the ancient languages of Mesopotamia (don't recall if it was Sumerian or Akkadian), as window dressing.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 11, 2022 at 9:41
  • @ohwilleke the Greeks loved proofs, everyone else just knew it worked
    – Dale M
    Aug 11, 2022 at 9:43
  • Was 1189 plucked from a hat or does that particular year have significance?
    – Michael
    Aug 12, 2022 at 1:16
  • 2
    @Michael it was the beginning of the reign of Richard I the 🦁❤️
    – Dale M
    Aug 12, 2022 at 1:41

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