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Equity before ‘equity’

Humphreys, Stephen (2022) Equity before ‘equity’. Modern Law Review. ISSN 0026-7961 (In Press)

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The notion of ‘equity’ is undergoing some conceptual repositioning in international law today, embracing individuals as well as states and gaining an association with human rights and the politics of protest. These developments provide context for the present paper, an inquiry into the premodern roots of this ancient and rich term, undertaken through three historical vignettes. I look first at the emergence of aequitas in Roman law—as source and method, anchored in analogy and empathy—and in particular its relevance to the ambiguous status of slaves. Second I examine the importance of ‘natural equity’ to the consolidation of ‘natural rights’ during the Franciscan poverty debate in 14th Century Europe. Lastly, I review ‘common equity’ in the rights-based constitutional order proposed by the Levellers in 1640s England. In its root sense, I conclude, what we might call ‘radical equity’ has historically lent itself to trenchant critique of the law, centred on the individual as subject of right.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Modern Law Review Limited
Divisions: Law
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2022 12:21
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2022 13:57

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