History GCSE: Habeas Corpus and Slavery

A look at the use of habeus corpus to prevent the transportation of a slave out of the country in 1771, which effectively ended slavery in England.

It was used as a case by abolitionist Granville Sharp to challenge the legality of slavery.

Arthur Torrington, a slavery historian, explains the story of James Somerset.

The case was passed to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield.

Both abolitionists and slave traders were well represented.

Somerset was freed and the significance of the judgement of Lord Mansfield was that it marked the start of freedom for all the slaves in England.

This short film is from the BBC series, The Strange Case of the Law.

Teacher Notes

Students could identify key words while watching this short film.

They could categorise how Lord Mansfield might have seen the case from the questions posed in the clip. What does the law say? What did his heart say?

Curriculum Notes

This short film will be relevant for teaching GCSE history and social studies. This topic appears in OCR, AQA, Edexcel, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 in Scotland.

More from The Strange Case of the Law:

Henry II, Thomas Becket and the Church Courts
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John Lilburne and Habeas Corpus
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Saxon Law - Compensation
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Saxon Law - Courts
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Saxon Law - Punishments
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Star Chamber and the Rack
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The Bloody Code
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The Conventicle Act of 1664 and the Independence of the Jury
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The Founding of the Police Force
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The Jury
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The Petition of Right and Habeas Corpus
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Saxon Law - Trial by Ordeal
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