April 19, 2024
Common Law What It Is, How It's Used, and How It Differs From Civil Law

Understanding the Foundation of Common Law

Common law is a legal system that has its roots in medieval England. It originated from the customary practices and decisions made by judges over centuries. Unlike civil law, which is based on written codes, common law relies on precedent and the interpretation of statutes by judges.

One of the key aspects of common law is the concept of stare decisis, which means “to stand by things decided.” This principle requires judges to follow the rulings of higher courts and apply them to similar cases. It ensures consistency and predictability in the legal system.

The Role of Judges in Common Law

Unlike in civil law systems where judges are seen as mere interpreters of the law, judges in common law jurisdictions play a crucial role in shaping the law. Through their decisions, they establish legal principles that guide future cases.

These judicial decisions, known as precedents, serve as binding authority for lower courts to follow. Precedents are based on the principle of fairness and the application of legal reasoning to specific facts of a case.

The Evolution of Common Law

Over time, common law has evolved and adapted to meet the changing needs of society. Courts have expanded and clarified legal principles to accommodate new technologies, societal values, and emerging issues.

For example, the development of the internet and digital commerce has raised novel legal questions that common law courts have addressed. The principles established in these cases serve as a foundation for future rulings.

Common Law vs. Civil Law

Common law and civil law systems differ in their approach to legal interpretation and the sources of law. Civil law relies on written codes and statutes, while common law places greater emphasis on judicial decisions and precedents.

Another key distinction is the role of juries. In common law jurisdictions, juries play a significant role in deciding matters of fact, while in civil law systems, judges hold more authority in this regard.

Benefits and Limitations of Common Law

Common law offers several benefits, including flexibility and adaptability. Its reliance on judicial decisions allows the law to evolve and respond to changing circumstances.

However, common law can also be seen as a limitation due to its reliance on precedents. Critics argue that this approach may stifle innovation and prevent the law from keeping pace with societal changes.


Common law is a legal system that relies on judicial decisions and precedents. It offers flexibility and adaptability, ensuring consistency and predictability in the legal system. While it has its limitations, common law continues to evolve and shape the legal landscape.