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Common law v. Statutory Law

Common law v. Statutory Law

The common
law differs from statutory law because it is mainly based on precedent.
Statutory law is a more formal body of the legal system that consists of
written legislation. This legislation will mainly be based on rules and
regulations either mandating or prohibiting certain behaviors of the general
public. Common law, on the other hand, will allow judges to decide cases based
on the rulings of prior cases with similar circumstances.

Many times
statutory law can be interpreted differently by different people. This is why
making rulings based on precedent in common law systems can be beneficial when
the meaning of a law is disputed. When the facts of a case are unique and there
is no binding precedent, these are called cases of first impression. In this
case, a judge’s decision will essentially form law and subsequent cases will be
ruled in a similar way.

The main differentiation between common law and
statutory law is the way in which the laws are created. As stated above, common
law comes from precedent. Statutory law is made by the Government. It is
designed to keep citizens safe as well as ensure that citizens are able to
function in everyday life. If there is an issue before the court that
absolutely cannot be decided by precedent or a judge’s decision, the court may
turn to statutory law to decide the case. When a statutory law is broken by a
citizen, the Government will have a predetermined punishment that is in
proportion to the nature of the crime.

There are
many different types of Government agencies that are able to issue statutory
law. Many times, a judge’s decision will be based on a combination of statutory
law and common law. This means judges will incorporate both written statutes
and case precedent when issuing a ruling. It is important for both judges and
attorneys to be aware of recent changes in statutory law and relevant court
decisions that will affect common law.

Most of the time, the areas of contract law, tort
law, and property law exist within common law, not statutory law. Although
there may be some written statutes in these areas, most of the time a judge’s
decision will be based on precedent. Statutory law will give only a rigid,
formal interpretation of the law. It does not always apply easily to all
situations. This is why it is beneficial for judges to refer to prior cases,
rather than legislation. Many times, a precedent will be identified and then
applied to the case at hand through analogy.