Home Principles of Common Law

Principles of Common Law

Discover How Common Law Interacts with Statutory Law

Discover How Common Law Interacts with Statutory Law

Common law systems are based on precedence. This means that judicial decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. A case that shares similar circumstances to a previous court ruling will be decided in the same manner. This allows for consistency and predictability by judges. It will also attempt to eliminate any bias or other interpretation of the law by judges.
Statutory law is a more formal collection of written rules and regulations that are enforceable by law. Statutory law will mainly consist of laws that either mandate or prohibit specific information. Statutory law will interact with the common law when judges are making decisions. The main distinction between common law systems and statutory law is the way in which laws are created. While the common law is developed through judge’s decisions, statutory law will be created from a legislative process that codifies new laws.
Judges will use a combination of precedent and statutory law when ruling on cases. For the most part, contract law, tort law, and property law do not exist in statutory law, but are rooted in the common law. However, there are certain issues, such as the international sale of goods in contract law, that will be ruled by statutory law. In this case, the judges must research past precedence, as well as statutory law, in order to make a decision about a specific case. Basically, decisions will be made based on precedence while adhering to statutory law.
Statutory law gives general, broad statements of policy, while the common law will put this policy into practice and define its limits. This means that the common law is absolutely necessary to interpreting statutory law. Many times a law can be vague or it can fail to define important terms. This is where common law will expand on the exact definition of statutory law and exactly define terms. For example, tort law may not list in statute all of the damages that a plaintiff can obtain from a defendant.
Common law will allow the wronged party to sue medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. Even though this is not explicitly stated in statutory law, common law sets out damages the plaintiff can obtain through precedent. By making decisions based on precedent, courts are able to stay consistent. This ensures that the fact of a case will not be treated differently under different situations. In civil law systems that rely primarily on statutory law, judges’ bias can sometimes become an issue.

2 Components of Stare Decisis

2 Components of Stare Decisis

Common law is a type of legal system in which judicial decisions are made primarily based on precedent. Precedent refers to prior court case decisions that will set a standard for how similar subsequent cases should be judged. Basically, cases with similar circumstances to prior cases will be ruled in the same way. The main basis for this type of legal system is stare decisis. This is a Latin phrase that means “stand by decisions”. This phrase holds judges to prior court decisions and will not allow for change unless a judge has reasonable grounds for doing so.  
Stare decisis is only applied in common law systems. In contrast, a civil law system is based on formal, written legislation rather than a case-by-case process. Civil law systems allow for a wider interpretation of statutes by judges. However, this can sometimes lead to bias. This is why common law systems rely on precedent to form judicial opinion. For the most part, stare decisis allows for judgments to be slightly more predictable in common law systems than civil law systems. 
There are two important components within the concept of stare decisis. There is a procedure of authority that must be followed in all common law systems. Any decisions that are made in a higher court are binding over lower courts. This means that any decision made in an appellate court is binding and cannot be overturned in an inferior court. 
The judicial system in common law jurisdictions is divided in descending order into supreme courts, appellate courts, and trial courts. Supreme court judicial decisions are absolutely binding over all other courts, meaning they must be obeyed. This is sometimes called vertical stare decisis because of the ranking authority of the courts. However, this process can sometimes be complicated because there are also judicial decisions that are based on horizontal stare decisis. State courts are generally divided into circuits. Each circuit must also obey the decisions of other circuit courts in their jurisdiction.
The term super stare decisis, or super-precedent, has also been used in common law systems. This term is used to describe a judicial decision that is very difficult to overrule. Super stare decisis is a controversial issue because many people believe that a precedent should not be so concrete, especially if it is not considered to be the correct decision. 
In discussing super-precedent, many people have cited the abortion issue that was decided in Roe v. Wade. Some people believe that abortion, being such a controversial issue, should not be set in stone by a court case where one side was able to convince the court. However, generally precedents will be able to be overturned when the view of society has changed. Super stare decisis is considered to be an extreme type of precedent.

Principles Common Law Explained Quick and Easy

Principles Common Law Explained Quick and Easy

Interaction with
Constitutional Law

   
Common law is formed on the basis that courts will
make decisions based on past judgments. Cases with similar circumstances will
be ruled in the same way. Oftentimes
, the common law will combine with statutory
and
Constitutional
law in order to make decisions.

The U.S. Constitution is a broad outline of rules and
regulations governing how the courts should operate. Common law is an
interaction between these two systems that will interpret the laws of the
Constitution in order to make decisions. Although the Constitution does not
allow
State
courts to declare things unconstitutional, it does allow judges to create new
laws to a certain exten
t. When ruling on a case of first impression,
a judge’s decision will form law and become the new precedent. 


Interaction w/ Statutory Law

Civil
Law vs. Common Law
 Precedents/Stare
Decisis

   
The basis of common law systems is that court
cases will be ruled primarily based on precedent. This is referred to as stare
decisis, which is a Latin phrase meaning “stand by decisions”. Civil
law systems do not rule based on stare decisis, but instead focus mainly on
legislatures to make decisions. In common law systems, judges are bound to rule
cases of similar circumstances in the same way.

There
is a vertical and horizontal system to stare decisis. This means that, in the
vertical system, courts are held in a hierarchy of binding precedent. The
Supreme Court will hold precedence over appellate courts, and appellate courts
are binding over trial courts. Precedents that are set in trial court will not
be binding over higher courts.

The
horizontal component to stare decisis means that State courts will obey the
precedents set within circuit courts. The term super stare decisis refers to
precedent that is very difficult to change.