common law | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

Common law is a legal system that is used in many countries around the world, including the United States, England, and Canada. It is based on the idea that the law is derived from the customs, practices, and judicial decisions of society, rather than from written laws or statutes.

In a common law system, judges play a central role in the development of the law. When a case is heard in court, the judge will consider the legal principles and precedent that have been established in similar cases, as well as the specific facts of the case at hand. The judge will then make a decision and issue a ruling, which will be recorded and may be cited as precedent in future cases.

Over time, the rulings of judges in common law systems can help to establish patterns of law and can be used as a basis for future decisions. This process of legal precedent, also known as stare decisis, is an important feature of common law systems and helps to ensure consistency and predictability in the law.

Common law is distinct from civil law, which is a legal system that is based on a comprehensive written code of laws.

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Last Modified: 01/08/2023


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