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case law vs common law

Case Law vs Common Law: Understanding Legal Systems

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Did you know that the United States and the United Kingdom share a common law system? This legal approach comes from the British tradition. It influences many nations worldwide. Exploring case law and common law helps us see how they operate in our societies.

Key Takeaways

  • Common law is a body of unwritten laws based on legal precedents established by the courts.
  • The U.S. common-law system evolved from a British tradition that spread to North America during the 17th- and 18th-century colonial period.
  • Common law influences the decision-making process in unusual cases where the outcome cannot be determined based on existing statutes or written rules of law.
  • Common law is practiced in various countries, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
  • Understanding the nuances between case law and common law is crucial for navigating the complex legal landscape in the United States and beyond.

Defining Common Law and Case Law

To understand law fully, we need to know the differences between common law and case law. Both play big parts in many countries’ legal systems, like the United States.

What Is Common Law?

Common law is not written down in one place. It’s based on past court decisions. These past cases help judges decide on new cases. This is called stare decisis.

Unlike civil law with its codes, common law uses previous cases and principles. It started in England after 1066 and has spread worldwide. Today, a third of the world follows this tradition.

Understanding Case Law

Case law is law from court decisions, not from written laws. It deals with real situations and facts. In contrast, laws and rules are more general.

In America, case law is vital. It makes sure decisions from higher courts are followed. This keeps the law consistent in the common law system.

common law vs case law

Both common law and case law are linked. Case law is key to common law. Knowing these systems is important, especially in business law. For expert help, visit // and learn from the Super Attorneys of Irvine.

Case Law vs Common Law: Key Differences

People often use the terms “case law” and “common law” together. But they are not the same thing. It’s important to understand the differences. This is key for anyone dealing with the law.

Case law comes from the decisions of judges. They explain the law in specific cases. These decisions set rules for future similar cases. On the other hand, common law is not written down somewhere. It comes from the courts’ decisions over time.

Common law relies on earlier decisions. Once a rule is made in a case, it often has to be followed. This makes the law change gradually, adapting to new situations.

Case Law Common Law
Law based on judicial decisions Body of unwritten laws developed through court decisions
Relies on interpretation of statutes and precedents Relies on legal precedents and the principle of stare decisis
Provides binding authority for future cases Allows for flexibility and adaptation to changing circumstances
Primarily found in countries like the United States and India Primarily found in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia

Civil law contrasts with case and common law. It’s more common in Europe and Latin America. Civil law is based on very detailed legal codes. Judges in civil law have less freedom to interpret the law.

Choosing between case law and common law is a big deal. It affects how courts use the law, the role of past cases, and the system’s ability to change. Knowing these differences is vital for anyone involved in the legal world, like lawyers, business owners, or just people who care.

case law vs common law

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The Role of Precedents and Stare Decisis

Precedents and Stare Decisis

In the world of case law, precedents and the doctrine of stare decisis are key. They shape the results of legal cases. Precedents are past court decisions. They are used to judge and decide on new cases. Stare decisis means “to stand by things decided.” It tells courts to follow these past decisions. This keeps the law consistent and stable.

The US especially values precedents and stare decisis because it follows common law. This tradition came from English law in the 1700s. It’s now a core aspect of the US legal system. Courts use it to keep decisions consistent, whether they’re following their own past rulings or those of higher courts.

The goal of stare decisis is to make the law predictable and fair. It helps the law develop in a steady way. This builds trust in the legal system. Even with its benefits, some people criticize stare decisis. They worry that bad decisions might be kept. They also say it can slow down the law’s growth by not keeping up with how society changes. Yet, stare decisis is crucial. It makes sure legal decisions are reliable and fair, helping the law stay strong and applicable.

Characteristic Common Law Civil Law
Stare Decisis Precedents and stare decisis are central to the judicial process, with courts bound to follow their own prior decisions and those of higher courts. Civil law jurisdictions do not formally adopt the stare decisis principle, but case law can still have persuasive force through the concept of jurisprudence constante.
Dissenting Opinions Dissenting opinions from judges are attached to the majority opinion, providing alternative legal perspectives. Dissenting judges in Civil law jurisdictions do not attach dissent to the majority opinion.
Legal Evolution The common law system allows for gradual evolution of legal rules and principles through case-by-case adjudication. In Civil law systems, legal rules granting rights and legal protection may evolve and consolidate over time, or experience gradual corrosion and abandonment.

In many legal cases, the importance of precedents and stare decisis is clear. Judges refer to these principles often. They state that courts should usually follow their past decisions, unless there’s a strong reason not to. When thinking about changing an old decision, they look at several things. They consider if the old decision was bad, any new events, what people were expecting, and if it could hurt trust in the law.

Using stare decisis keeps the law stable, but it’s not always a must. Courts can choose not to follow old decisions if they’re really wrong or if things have changed a lot. To change an old decision, someone must have a good reason. Stare decisis is important for the law’s order. But, it’s not an unbendable rule and doesn’t have to be followed if the old decision was poorly made.


In conclusion, case law and common law are closely linked but different legal systems. Case law uses past court rulings as its base, while common law grows from unwritten rules over time.

Their main differences are how they use courtroom decisions and the force of rules. In common law places like the U.S., the UK, and Canada, laws are more flexible. Judges’ decisions strongly influence the law.

On the other hand, in civil law areas like Europe and South America, laws are written down more. Here, judges focus more on the law as it’s written and their role is different.

Both case law and common law are very important in shaping laws. They form the backbone of our legal systems. Knowing about both can help people understand the law better.

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What is the difference between case law and common law?

Case law comes from court decisions, while common law is a set of unwritten rules. Common law is built on past legal judgments, making it a part of the broader system.

What is common law?

Common law consists of traditions without official laws. It affects cases where ordinary laws can’t clearly guide a decision. This creates a flexible legal approach.

What is case law?

Case law is made through court decisions, not by written laws. It is focused on the specifics of a unique case. This process refines legal standards over time.

What is a precedent, and how does it relate to common law and case law?

Precedents are past court rulings used to decide new cases, a Latin principle called stare decisis. They are crucial in both common and case law. They guide judges when there are no clear laws to follow.

How are common law and case law related?

Common and case law work together within the legal system. Case law builds on individual decisions, while common law relies on these and older judgments. Both make up the body of laws we use today.

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