By Sandra Petersson
Statute of Elizabeth 1571
Statute of Frauds 1677
Distress for Rent Act 1689
Statute of Anne 1709
Real Property Amendment Act 1845
These are among the more common examples of English statutes that are still applied in Alberta today. They are also among the more recent examples as the body of English statutes received in Alberta contains some examples that are more than 700 years old.
There are many reasons why Alberta ended up with English statutes such as the Hudson’s Bay Charter, the North-West Territories Act, the Alberta Act, as well as historical (and questioned) concepts of colonization and settlement. The reasons are well-documented elsewhere. (See JE Côté “The Introduction of English Law into Alberta” (1964) 3 Alberta Law Review 262.)
Fortunately, Her Majesty’s (ie Queen Victoria’s) Stationery Office had prepared a comprehensive list of the statutes believed to be in force in England in early 1870. This greatly simplified the starting point for determining what statutes may have been received in Alberta on July 15, 1870 – the formal date set for reception of English statutory and common law.
Nearly 150 years later, it is easier than ever to locate the text of received English statutes. Google and Wikipedia can do in seconds what would have taken nineteenth and twentieth century lawyers hours or possibly days to do if the text was even available locally. However, while the text is easily accessed, the substance of the law is not. On one hand, there are language barriers as this extract from the Statute of Frauds illustrates:
All Leases Estates Interests of Freehold or Termes of yeares or any uncertaine Interest of in to or out of any Messuages Mannours Lands Tenements or Hereditaments made or created by Livery and Seisin onely or by Parole and not putt in Writeing and signed by the parties soe makeing or creating the same or their Agents thereunto lawfully authorized by Writeing, shall have the force and effect of Leases or Estates at Will onely and shall not either in Law or Equity be deemed or taken to have any other or greater force or effect.
On the other hand, it is increasingly harder to trace which statutes, parts of statutes, or even parts of sections might still be applicable and in force in Alberta today. These problems are exacerbated as English statutes are most likely to still apply in areas of private civil law as with fraud, fraudulent conveyances, and landlord and tenant.
It would be nice if the English statute would simply cease to have relevance with the passage of time. And some have. But Alberta court decisions from 2018 show that a variety of them are still applicable and applied.
ALRI is looking to prepare a list of English statutes potentially in force in Alberta. As the first part of that work, we would like to highlight the English statutes that are in regular use. We would appreciate hearing from you about which English statutes still come up in your area of practice. You can let us know by answering our one question survey available at bit.ly/OldLawAB. Having a shorter list of what is known to be in force and regularly applied is likely to be more useful than a long list of everything that might be in force. Identifying what’s on that longer list will be the focus of a later part of our work.