Case Law Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Case Law, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Case Law?

(n) Case Law is the decisions, interpretations made by judges while deciding on the legal issues before them which are considered as the common law or as an aid for interpretation of a law in subsequent cases with similar conditions. Case laws are used by advocates to support their views to favor their clients and also it influence the decision of the judges

History and Meaning of Case Law

Case Law (also known as common law) refers to the collection of legal decisions made by judges in appellate courts. These decisions are based on the interpretation of laws and legal principles and can be used as precedents for future cases. Case law is a critical component of the legal system in many countries, including the United States, England, and Canada. Case law is an essential tool for lawyers, judges, and legal scholars as it provides guidance and clarity on the interpretation of laws and legal principles.

Historically, case law became an essential part of the legal system in England following the Norman Conquest in 1066. At the time, the legal system was decentralized, and there were no centralized courts to interpret laws or settle legal disputes. Different regions of the country had their own legal customs and laws, leading to confusion and inconsistency. Over time, a more centralized legal system emerged, with judges relying on previous decisions to guide their judgments. By the 18th century, case law had become a fundamental part of the English legal system and was widely viewed as a source of common law.

Examples of Case Law

  1. In the United States, the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education is an example of case law. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, overturning the previous precedent established by the Plessy v. Ferguson case.
  2. In Canada, the case R. v. Oakes established a test for determining the constitutionality of laws that infringe on individual rights and freedoms.
  3. In England, the case Donoghue v Stevenson established the principle of negligence in tort law. This case established that individuals have a duty of care to avoid causing harm to others.
  4. In Australia, the case Mabo v Queensland overturned the previous legal doctrine of terra nullius, recognizing the traditional land rights of Indigenous Australians.
  5. In New Zealand, the case R v. He Kawaka Te Hemara established the principle of Crown's fiduciary duty towards Maori cultural and intellectual property.

Legal Terms Similar to Case Law

  1. Precedent - a legal decision that serves as a rule or guide for future cases
  2. Stare decisis - the principle that courts should follow precedent and make decisions in a consistent and predictable manner
  3. Common law - the body of law derived from judicial decisions rather than from statutes or constitutions
  4. Appellate court - a court that has the power to review and overturn the decisions of lower courts
  5. Judicial review - the power of courts to invalidate laws or administrative actions that violate the constitution or other legal standards.