Common law and statutory law are two integral components in many legal systems. The primary difference between the two resides in their origin and purpose. Common law, also known as case law or precedent, derives from the decisions of individual judicial bodies. It changes as judges interpret and apply the law, establishing precedents for future cases. Statutory law, however, is written and enacted by a legislative entity, such as Congress or Parliament. Typically, this form of law is written and codified in statutes, ordinances, and regulations.
Common law provides detailed and specific interpretations of laws and is primarily based on principles established through societal norms and historical cases. It allows adaptability and flexibility in unique circumstances, but it’s evolving nature makes it less predictable. Statutory law, on the other hand, is direct, concrete, and unchanging until officially modified by the legislative body. It leaves less room for interpretation and can be easier to implement. Common law is derived from judicial decisions and offers comprehensive interpretations, whereas statutory law is legislated and provides direct and specific rules. Both contribute to the formation of a comprehensive legal framework.
What is Common Law?
Common law, also called case law or judge-made law, is a set of laws that comes from court decisions instead of laws made by lawmakers. It started in England in the Middle Ages and is still an essential part of the law in most English-speaking countries. In a common law system, when a judge decides a case, they set a precedent, a legal principle or rule that other judges will follow in future cases with similar facts or issues. This method of past decisions, called “stare decisis,” makes the law predictable, stable, and fair.
Notably, a court’s ruling in one case can set a precedent, but a higher court can overturn that precedent and set a different one. In this way, common law can change and react to new societal situations and needs. Common law differs from statutory law because it gives a more detailed and nuanced understanding. This can provide people with more freedom. But because common law is open to interpretation, it can sometimes be less predictable than formal law. In short, common law is a flexible legal system that builds on past decisions. It is mainly made up of court decisions.
What is Statutory Law?
Statutory law, often called “statute,” is a type of law made and passed by a legislative body like Congress, Parliament, or another relevant governmental authority. Unlike common law, which comes from court decisions and past cases, statutory law is written down and enacted into law on purpose. These laws are often written down in books called “codes,” which make it easy for citizens, lawyers, and government officials to find and understand the written rules of the land. They talk about various things, from crimes and civil laws to business rules.
The most important thing about statutory law is its clarity and detail. It gives clear rules or standards that people and organisations must follow. This gives some predictability and stability since statutory laws stay the same until the legislative body amends or repeals them. But while statutory law has clear rules, it may not be as flexible as common law when it comes to adapting to the details of each case. Also, statutory law must often be interpreted when the statute’s language doesn’t cover a situation. This is a job for judges, who must understand the law based on the facts of the case.
Difference Between Common Law and Statutory Law
Both common law and statutory law are categories of law, but they are not interchangeable. Common law (also known as “case law”) is developed through judicial rulings and is mainly based on previous rulings. Because of this, laws can change and adapt as society does. On the other hand, statutory law is drafted and adopted by legislatures. It allows for consistent behaviour by providing precise and well-defined guidelines. The primary difference is that statutory law is legislated and provides fixed rules until amended by the legislature, whereas common law is judge-made and flexible. Below, we’ve summarised the key differences between the two.
In contrast to statutory law, which is produced by the passing of acts, common law is developed by judges via their judgements in particular cases.
In contrast to statutory law, which is based on written laws established by the legislative body, common law relies on precedent and the interpretation of existing laws.
In contrast to statutory law, which is more rigid and must be amended through legislative action, common law can adapt and evolve through time in response to shifting societal demands and ideals.
Statutory law is often more explicit and gives specific guidelines and standards, while common law relies on judges’ interpretation and application of legal principles in individual instances.
Different from common law, which can be less predictable due to its reliance on judicial interpretation and shifting precedents, statutory law is more predictable and certain because it is clearly stated and codified.
Decisions taken in previous instances are considered binding or persuasive in subsequent cases due to the weight given to precedent in the common law. Precedent may also be considered in statutory law, but its importance is diminished.
In general, statutory law focuses on specific areas that have been legislated. Still, common law may include various legal concerns, including those not explicitly addressed by legislation.
The authority of a statutory law comes from the legislative body that created it and the democratic process. In contrast, the authority of common law comes from judicial rulings and the acceptance of legal ideas.