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.
Read also: English Common Law