Common law

What does Common law mean?

Common law or case law is the laws which have been developed through the courts and the judge's decisions rather than statutes approved by the federal or state legislators or through executive action.

Common law is not codified, which means there are no rules and statutes which are compiled, but rather there are simply precedents made through previous judicial rulings which are maintained and reviewed when another similar case needs to be decided.

Common Law vs. Civil Law

Common law differs from civil law, which is codified and can be updated through new legislative actions. Countries which use a civil law system have laws which determine whether an action is a civil or criminal offense and the appropriate penalty for each offense.

Which system is best?

There seems to be some disagreement about whether the civil or common law system is best. Proponents of the common law system argue it is flexible and does not have to rely on legislative action. Opponents of common law systems argue the laws may be more difficult to understand because they are not codified. Some countries have taken the best of both systems and use both types of law.

Today civil law systems are much more common than common law systems, and common law systems primarily exist in places which were previously colonies of the British Empire. In the United States, beginning in the mid 1800s, the common law system started to weaken as most jurisdictions moved away from common law systems and codified most of their laws.

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