An Introduction to Common Law and Why its Worked Across the World
C ommon law (also known as case law or precedent) is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals that decide individual cases, as opposed to statutes adopted through the legislative process or regulations issued by the executive branch.[1]


A "common law system" is a legal system that gives precedence to common law,[2] so that consistent principles applied to similar facts yield similar outcomes.[3]

One-third of the world's population (approximately 2.3 billion people) live in common law jurisdictions or in systems mixed with civil law. Common law originated during the Middle Ages in England,[6] and from there was propagated to the colonies of the British Empire.

  • In a common law jurisdiction several stages of research and analysis are required to determine the following "what the law is" in a given situation
  • Ascertain the facts
  • Locate any relevant statutes and cases
  • Extract the principles, analogies and statements by various courts
  • What they consider important to determine how the next court is likely to rule on the facts of the present case
  • Common law systems are considerably more complicated than the simplified system described

The decisions of a court are binding only in a particular jurisdiction, and even within a given jurisdiction, some courts have more power than others

  • Decisions of lower courts are only non-binding persuasive authority
  • Common Law evolves to meet the changing social needs of the people and improved understanding
  • It is said that “common law does not work from pre-established truths of universal and inflexible validity
  • To conclusions derived from them deductively
  • Method is inductive
  • Draws its generalisations from particulars
  • Common law is more malleable than statutory law
  • Common law courts are not absolutely bound by precedent
  • Can (when extraordinarily good reason is shown)
  • Reinterpret and revise the law
  • Without legislative intervention
  • Common law evolves
  • A series of gradual steps
  • Works out all the details
  • Over a decade or more
  • The law can change substantially
  • Without a sharp break
  • Reducing disruptive effects

Foundation for commercial economies:

  • The reliance on judicial opinion is a strength of common law systems
  • Significant contributor to the robust commercial systems
  • There is reasonably precise guidance on almost every issue,
  • Parties (especially commercial parties)
  • Can predict whether a proposed course of action is likely to be lawful or unlawful
  • Assures consistency
  • This ability to predict gives more freedom to come close to the boundaries of the law.
  • Many commercial contracts are more economically efficient
  • Create greater wealth
  • The parties know ahead of time that the proposed arrangement
  • Though perhaps close to the line
  • Is almost certainly legal

Newspapers, taxpayer-funded entities with some religious affiliation, and political parties can obtain fairly clear guidance on the boundaries within which their freedom of expression rights apply.


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Disclaimer: This article is meant to serve as an introduction of the complex subject that is common law. It is not intended to serve as a basis for any legal argument. Lay persons should seek the advice of qualified practitioners of law in the relevant specialism required.

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