Common Law Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Common Law?

Most of the law of the country is based on the rules and regulations, old practises by the lawyers or judges which have no written record but which had been accepted by the society as the basis of the making future judgements. It was the unwritten laws of England which were formed from the ongoing day to day judgement and basis and which has still been used as common law in many countries.

History and Meaning of Common Law

Common Law is a type of law that evolved over time through court decisions rather than through codified statutes. The development of Common Law in England started after the Norman Conquest in 1066 when a unified legal system was needed to replace the many different laws used by English citizens. Judges based their decisions and legal principles on customary practices, previous court decisions, and societal norms. By the 17th century, Common Law had become an established tradition in English law that has had widespread influence around the world.

Examples of Common Law

  1. In a Common Law system, judges may interpret the law and make legal decisions based on prior case law or legal precedents rather than strict adherence to written statutes.
  2. Common Law is often used in tort cases where judges determine compensation based on prior cases with similar facts and circumstances.
  3. The United States, Australia, Canada, and many other countries use Common Law as the basis for their legal systems, although they may have variations and differences depending on their unique histories.

Legal Terms Similar to Common Law

  1. Precedent - a legal case that establishes principles or rules that judges use when deciding similar cases in the future.
  2. Stare Decisis - Latin for "let the decision stand," the principle that once a court decision has been made, it should be followed by lower courts in future cases.
  3. Case Law - the body of prior legal decisions, usually from appellate courts, that forms the basis for Common Law principles.