In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent, judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions."The common law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky, but the articulate voice of some sovereign or quasi sovereign that can be identified," Southern Pacific Company v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 222 (1917) (Oliver Wendell Holmes, dissenting). By the early 20th century, legal professionals had come to reject any idea of a higher or natural law, or a law above the law. The law arises through the act of a sovereign, whether that sovereign speaks through a legislature, executive, or judicial officer.
The defining characteristic of common law is that it arises as precedent. Common law courts look to the past decisions of courts to synthesize the legal principles of past cases. Stare decisis, the principle that cases should be decided according to consistent principled rules so that similar facts will yield similar results, lies at the heart of all common law systems.Karl Llewellyn, The Common Law Tradition: Deciding Appeals at 77–87, Little, Brown, Boston MA (1960) If a court finds that a similar dispute as the present one has been resolved in the past, the court is generally bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision. If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases (a "matter of first impression"), and Statute are either silent or ambiguous on the question, judges have the authority and duty to resolve the issue. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803) ("It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.") The legal opinion that a common law judge gives agglomerates with past decisions as precedent to bind future judges and litigants.
The common law, so named because it was "common" to all the king's courts across England, originated in the practices of the courts of the English kings in the centuries following the Norman Conquest in 1066. The British Empire later spread the English legal system to its colonies, many of which retain the common law system today. These common law systems are legal systems that give great weight to judicial precedent, and to the style of reasoning inherited from the English legal system.Washington Probate, "Estate Planning & Probate Glossary", Washington (State) Probate, s.v. "common law" , 8 December 2008:, retrieved on 7 November 2009. "2. The system of law originated and developed in England and based on prior court decisions, on the doctrines implicit in those decisions, and on customs and usages rather than codified written law. Contrast: CIVIL LAW."Charles Arnold-Baker, The Companion to British History, s.v. "English Law" (London: Loncross Denholm Press, 2008), 484.
The term "common law", referring to the body of law made by the judiciary, (common law court "decisions are themselves law, or rather the rules which the courts lay down in making the decisions constitute law.") is often distinguished from statutory law and , which are laws adopted by the legislature and executive respectively. In legal systems that recognise the common law, judicial precedent stands in contrast to and on equal footing with statute law. The other major legal system used by countries is the civil law, which codifies its legal principles into legal codes and does not recognise judicial opinions as binding.
Today, one-third of the world's population lives in common law jurisdictions or in mixed legal systems that combine the common law with the civil law, includingJuriGlobe, Alphabetical Index of the 192 United Nations Member States and Corresponding Legal Systems Antigua and Barbuda, Australia,Liam Boyle, An Australian August Corpus: Why There is Only One Common Law in Australia, (2015) Bond Law Review, Volume 27. Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Burma, Cameroon, Canada (both the federal system and all its provinces except Quebec), Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom (including its overseas territories such as Gibraltar), the United States (both the federal system and 49 of its 50 states), and Zimbabwe.
By contrast, in civil law jurisdictions (the legal tradition that prevails, or is combined with common law, in Europe and most non-Islamic, non-common law countries), courts lack authority to act if there is no statute. Civil law judges tend to give less weight to judicial precedent, which means that a civil law judge deciding a given case has more freedom to interpret the text of a statute independently (compared to a common law judge in the same circumstances), and therefore less predictably. For example, the Napoleonic code expressly forbade French judges to pronounce general principles of law."5. The judges are forbidden to pronounce, by way of general and legislative determination, on the causes submitted to them." Code of Napoleon, Decree of March 5, 1803, Law 5 The role of providing overarching principles, which in common law jurisdictions is provided in judicial opinions, in civil law jurisdictions is filled by giving greater weight to scholarly literature, as explained below.
For most purposes, most jurisdictions, including the U.S. federal system and most states, have merged the two courts. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 2 ("There is one form of action—the civil action.") (1938) Additionally, even before the separate courts were merged, most courts were permitted to apply both law and equity, though under potentially different procedural law. Nonetheless, the historical distinction between "law" and "equity" remains important today when the case involves issues such as the following:
In one usage that is now archaic, but that gives insight into the history of the common law, "common law" referred to the pre-Christian system of law, imported by the Saxons to England, and dating to before the Norman conquest, and before there was any consistent law to be applied.One example of this usage is in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Thomas Cooper. Another example of this usage is in another letter of Jefferson, to John Cartright.
"Common law" as the term is used today in common law countries contrasts with ius commune. While historically the ius commune became a secure point of reference in continental European legal systems, in England it was not a point of reference at all.David John Ibbetson, Common Law and Ius Commune p. 20 (2001)
The English Court of Common Pleas dealt with lawsuits in which the Monarch had no interest, i.e., between commoners.
Black's Law Dictionary 10th Ed., definition 3 is "General law common to a country as a whole, as opposed to special law that has only local application." From at least the 11th century and continuing for several centuries after that, there were several different circuits in the royal court system, served by Circuit court who would travel from town to town dispensing the King's justice in "". The term "common law" was used to describe the law held in common between the circuits and the different stops in each circuit. The more widely a particular law was recognized, the more weight it held, whereas purely local customs were generally subordinate to law recognized in a plurality of jurisdictions.
Under the modern view, "common law" is not grounded in "custom" or "ancient usage", but rather acquires force of law instantly (without the delay implied by the term "custom" or "ancient") when pronounced by a higher court, because and to the extent the proposition is stated in judicial opinion. From the earliest times through the late 19th century, the dominant theory was that the common law was a pre-existent law or system of rules, a social standard of justice that existed in the habits, customs, and thoughts of the people. Under this older view, the legal profession considered it no part of a judge's duty to make new or change existing law, but only to expound and apply the old. By the early 20th century, largely at the urging of Oliver Wendell Holmes (as discussed throughout this article), this view had fallen into the minority view: Holmes pointed out that the older view worked undesirable and unjust results, and hampered a proper development of the law. In the century since Holmes, the dominant understanding has been that common law "decisions are themselves law, or rather the rules which the courts lay down in making the decisions constitute law". Holmes wrote in a 1917 opinion, "The common law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky, but the articulate voice of some sovereign or quasi sovereign that can be identified." Among legal professionals (lawyers and judges), the change in understanding occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (as explained later in this article), though lay (non-legal) dictionaries were decades behind in recognizing the change.For example, the 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary gives "2. The unwritten law of England, administered by the King's courts, which purports to be derived from ancient and universal usage, and is embodied in the older commentaries and the reports of adjudged cases."A minority of scholars argue that the traditional view is not wrong. Alan Beever, The Declaratory Theory of Law Brian Zamulinski, Rehabilitating the Declaratory Theory of the Common Law However, the arguments amount to no more than "it could be true." To get to this conclusion, both Beever and Zamulinski redefine fundamental terms such as "law," and such sleight of hand as using the term "common law" twice in a single sentence to mean remarkably different things.
The reality of the modern view, and implausibility of the old "ancient unwritten universal custom" view, can be seen in practical operation: under the pre-1870 view, (a) the "common law" should have been absolutely static over centuries (but it evolved), (b) jurisdictions could not logically diverge from each other (but nonetheless did and do today), (c) a new decision logically needed to operate retroactively (but did not), and (d) there was no standard to decide which English medieval customs should be "law" and which should not. All five tensions resolve under the modern view: (a) the common law evolved to meet the needs of the times ( e.g., trial by combat passed out of the law very early), (b) the common law in different jurisdictions may diverge, (c) new decisions may (but need not) have retroactive operation,The general rule is that judicial decisions operate retroactively. Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., 511 U.S. 298, 311–12 (1994) ("The principle that statutes operate only prospectively, while judicial decisions operate retrospectively, is familiar to every law student."). However, in some fields, they don't, for example, qualified immunity, the principle of "established rights" for habeas corpus, etc. These exceptions couldn't arise under the pre-1900 view. and (d) court decisions are effective immediately as they are issued, not years later, or after they become "custom", and questions of what "custom" might have been at some "ancient" time are simply irrelevant.
People using pseudolaw tactics and arguments have frequently claimed to base themselves on common law; notably, the radical anti-government sovereign citizens and freemen on the land movements, who deny the legitimacy of their countries' legal systems, base their beliefs on idiosyncratic interpretations of common law. "Common law" has also been used as an alibi by groups such as the far-right American Patriot movement for setting up in order to conduct vigilante actions or intimidate their opponents.
In practice, common law systems are considerably more complicated than the simplified system described above. The decisions of a court are binding only in a particular jurisdiction, and even within a given jurisdiction, some courts have more power than others. For example, in most jurisdictions, decisions by appellate courts are binding on lower courts in the same jurisdiction, and on future decisions of the same appellate court, but decisions of lower courts are only non-binding persuasive authority. Interactions between common law, constitutional law, statutory law and regulatory law also give rise to considerable complexity.
The common law is more malleable than statutory law. First, common law courts are not absolutely bound by precedent, but can (when extraordinarily good reason is shown) reinterpret and revise the law, without legislative intervention, to adapt to new trends in political, legal and social philosophy. Second, the common law evolves through a series of incrementalism, that gradually works out all the details, so that over a decade or more, the law can change substantially but without a sharp break, thereby reducing disruptive effects.The beneficial qualities of the common law's incrementalist evolution was most eloquently expressed by the future Lord Mansfield, then Solicitor General Murray, in the case of Omychund v. Barker, who contended that "a statute very seldom can take in all cases; therefore the common law, that works itself pure by rules drawn from the fountain of justice, is for that reason superior to an act of parliament." I Atk. 21, 33, 26 Eng. Rep. 15, 22–23 (Ch. 1744) In contrast to common law incrementalism, the legislative process is very difficult to get started, as legislatures tend to delay action until a situation is intolerable. For these reasons, legislative changes tend to be large, jarring and disruptive (sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, and sometimes with unintended consequences).
One example of the gradual change that typifies evolution of the common law is the gradual change in liability for negligence. The traditional common law rule through most of the 19th century was that a plaintiff could not recover for a defendant's negligent production or distribution of a harmful instrumentality unless the two were in privity of contract. Thus, only the immediate purchaser could recover for a product defect, and if a part was built up out of parts from parts manufacturers, the ultimate buyer could not recover for injury caused by a defect in the part. In an 1842 English case, Winterbottom v. Wright, Winterbottom v. Wright, 10 M&W 109, 152 Eng.Rep. 402, 1842 WL 5519 (Exchequer of pleas 1842) the postal service had contracted with Wright to maintain its coaches. Winterbottom was a driver for the post. When the coach failed and injured Winterbottom, he sued Wright. The Winterbottom court recognized that there would be "absurd and outrageous consequences" if an injured person could sue any person peripherally involved, and knew it had to draw a line somewhere, a limit on the causal connection between the negligent conduct and the injury. The court looked to the contractual relationships, and held that liability would only flow as far as the person in immediate contract ("privity") with the negligent party.
A first exception to this rule arose in 1852, in the case of Thomas v. Winchester, Thomas v. Winchester, 6 N.Y. 397 (N.Y. 1852) when New York's highest court held that mislabeling a poison as an innocuous herb, and then selling the mislabeled poison through a dealer who would be expected to resell it, put "human life in imminent danger". Thomas relied on this reason to create an exception to the "privity" rule. In 1909, New York held in Statler v. Ray Mfg. Co. Statler v. Ray Mfg. Co., 195 N.Y. 478, 480 (N.Y. 1909) that a coffee urn manufacturer was liable to a person injured when the urn exploded, because the urn "was of such a character inherently that, when applied to the purposes for which it was designed, it was liable to become a source of great danger to many people if not carefully and properly constructed".
Yet the privity rule survived. In Cadillac Motor Car Co. v. Johnson Cadillac Motor Car Co. v. Johnson, 221 F. 801 (2nd Cir. 1915) (decided in 1915 by the federal appeals court for New York and several neighboring states), the court held that a car owner could not recover for injuries from a defective wheel, when the automobile owner had a contract only with the automobile dealer and not with the manufacturer, even though there was "no question that the wheel was made of dead and 'dozy' wood, quite insufficient for its purposes." The Cadillac court was willing to acknowledge that the case law supported exceptions for "an article dangerous in its nature or likely to become so in the course of the ordinary usage to be contemplated by the vendor". However, held the Cadillac court, "one who manufactures articles dangerous only if defectively made, or installed, e.g., tables, chairs, pictures or mirrors hung on the walls, carriages, automobiles, and so on, is not liable to third parties for injuries caused by them, except in case of willful injury or fraud,"
Finally, in the famous case of MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050 (N.Y. 1916) in 1916, Benjamin Cardozo for New York's highest court pulled a broader principle out of these predecessor cases. The facts were almost identical to Cadillac a year earlier: a wheel from a wheel manufacturer was sold to Buick, to a dealer, to MacPherson, and the wheel failed, injuring MacPherson. Judge Cardozo held:
Cardozo's new "rule" exists in no prior case, but is inferrable as a synthesis of the "thing of danger" principle stated in them, merely extending it to "foreseeable danger" even if "the purposes for which it was designed" were not themselves "a source of great danger". MacPherson takes some care to present itself as foreseeable progression, not a wild departure. Cardozo continues to adhere to the original principle of Winterbottom, that "absurd and outrageous consequences" must be avoided, and he does so by drawing a new line in the last sentence quoted above: "There must be knowledge of a danger, not merely possible, but probable." But while adhering to the underlying principle that some boundary is necessary, MacPherson overruled the prior common law by rendering the formerly dominant factor in the boundary, that is, the privity formality arising out of a contractual relationship between persons, totally irrelevant. Rather, the most important factor in the boundary would be the nature of the thing sold and the foreseeable uses that downstream purchasers would make of the thing.
The example of the evolution of the law of negligence in the preceding paragraphs illustrates two crucial principles: (a) The common law evolves, this evolution is in the hands of judges, and judges have "made law" for hundreds of years. (b) The ratio decidendi are often more important in the long run than the outcome in a particular case. This is the reason that judicial opinions are usually quite long, and give rationales and policies that can be balanced with judgment in future cases, rather than the bright-line rules usually embodied in statutes.
After the American Revolution, Massachusetts became the first state to establish an official Reporter of Decisions. As newer states needed law, they often looked first to the Massachusetts Reports for authoritative precedents as a basis for their own common law.Social Law Library, Common Law or Civil Code?, Boston Mass. The United States federal courts relied on private publishers until after the Civil War, and only began publishing as a government function in 1874. West Publishing in Minnesota is the largest private-sector publisher of law reports in the United States. Government publishers typically issue only decisions "in the raw," while private sector publishers often add indexing, including references to the key principles of the common law involved, editorial analysis, and similar finding aids.
In almost all areas of the law (even those where there is a statutory framework, such as contracts for the sale of goods, E.g., Uniform Commercial Code, Article 2, on Contracts for the Sales of Goods or the criminal law),Model Penal Code as adopted in several states, for example, New York's Penal Law legislature-enacted statutes or agency-promulgated regulations generally give only terse statements of general principle, and the fine boundaries and definitions exist only in the interstitial common law. To find out what the precise law is that applies to a particular set of facts, one has to locate decisions on the topic, and reason from those decisions by analogy.
In common law jurisdictions (in the sense opposed to "civil law"), legislatures operate under the assumption that will be interpreted against the backdrop of the pre-existing common law. As the United States Supreme Court explained in United States v Texas, 507 U.S. 529 (1993):
For example, in most U.S. states, the criminal statutes are primarily codification of pre-existing common law. (Codification is the process of enacting a statute that collects and restates pre-existing law in a single document—when that pre-existing law is common law, the common law remains relevant to the interpretation of these statutes.) In reliance on this assumption, modern statutes often leave a number of terms and fine distinctions unstated—for example, a statute might be very brief, leaving the precise definition of terms unstated, under the assumption that these fine distinctions would be resolved in the future by the courts based upon what they then understand to be the pre-existing common law. (For this reason, many modern American law schools teach the common law of crime as it stood in England in 1789, because that centuries-old English common law is a necessary foundation to interpreting modern criminal statutes.)
With the transition from English law, which had common law crimes, to the new legal system under the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited ex post facto laws at both the federal and state level, the question was raised whether there could be common law crimes in the United States. It was settled in the case of United States v. Hudson, United States v. Hudson, which decided that federal courts had no jurisdiction to define new common law crimes, and that there must always be a (constitutional) statute defining the offense and the penalty for it.
Still, many states retain selected common law crimes. For example, in Virginia, the definition of the conduct that constitutes the crime of robbery exists only in the common law, and the robbery statute only sets the punishment. Johnson v. Commonwealth, 209 Va. 291, 293, 163 S.E.2d 570, ___ (1968) Virginia Code section 1-200 establishes the continued existence and vitality of common law principles and provides that "The common law of England, insofar as it is not repugnant to the principles of the Bill of Rights and Constitution of this Commonwealth, shall continue in full force within the same, and be the rule of decision, except as altered by the General Assembly."
By contrast to statutory codification of common law, some statutes displace common law, for example to create a new cause of action that did not exist in the common law, or to legislatively overrule the common law. An example is the tort of wrongful death, which allows certain persons, usually a spouse, child or estate, to sue for damages on behalf of the deceased. There is no such tort in English common law; thus, any jurisdiction that lacks a wrongful death statute will not allow a lawsuit for the wrongful death of a loved one. Where a wrongful death statute exists, the compensation or other remedy available is limited to the remedy specified in the statute (typically, an upper limit on the amount of damages). Courts generally interpret statutes that create new causes of action narrowly—that is, limited to their precise terms—because the courts generally recognize the legislature as being supreme in deciding the reach of judge-made law unless such statute should violate some "second order" constitutional law provision ( cf. judicial activism). This principle is applied more strongly in fields of commercial law (contracts and the like) where predictability is of relatively higher value, and less in torts, where courts recognize a greater responsibility to "do justice."William Lloyd Prosser, Prosser and Keaton on Torts.
Where a tort is rooted in common law, all traditionally recognized damages for that tort may be sued for, whether or not there is mention of those damages in the current statutory law. For instance, a person who sustains bodily injury through the negligence of another may sue for medical costs, pain, suffering, loss of earnings or earning capacity, mental and/or emotional distress, loss of quality of life, disfigurement and more. These damages need not be set forth in statute as they already exist in the tradition of common law. However, without a wrongful death statute, most of them are extinguished upon death.
In the United States, the power of the federal judiciary to review and invalidate unconstitutional acts of the federal executive branch is stated in the constitution, Article III sections 1 and 2: "The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. ... The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority..." The first landmark decision on "the judicial power" was Marbury v. Madison, . Later cases interpreted the "judicial power" of Article III to establish the power of federal courts to consider or overturn any action of Congress or of any state that conflicts with the Constitution.
The interactions between decisions of different courts is discussed further in the article on precedent. Further interactions between common law and either statute or regulation are discussed further in the articles on Skidmore deference, Chevron deference, and Auer deference.
Most of the U.S. federal courts of appeal have adopted a rule under which, in the event of any conflict in decisions of panels (most of the courts of appeal almost always sit in panels of three), the earlier panel decision is controlling, and a panel decision may only be overruled by the court of appeals sitting en banc (that is, all active judges of the court) or by a higher court. E.g., South Corp. v. United States, 690 F.2d 1368 (Fed. Cir. 1982) ( en banc in relevant part) (explaining order of precedent binding on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit); Bonner v. City of Prichard, Alabama, 661 F.2d 1206 (11th Cir. 1981) ( en banc) (after the Eleventh Circuit was split off from the Fifth Circuit, adopting precedent of Fifth Circuit as binding until overruled by the Eleventh Circuit en banc: "The pre-split Fifth followed the absolute rule that a prior decision of the circuit (panel or en banc) could not be overruled by a panel but only by the court sitting en banc. The Eleventh Circuit decides in this case that it chooses, and will follow, this rule."); Ex parte Holt, 19 USPQ2d 1211, 1214 (Bd. Patent App. & Interf. 1991) (explaining the hierarchy of precedent binding on tribunals of the United States Patent Office). In these courts, the older decision remains controlling when an issue comes up the third time.
Other courts, for example, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the Supreme Court, always sit en banc, and thus the later decision controls. These courts essentially overrule all previous cases in each new case, and older cases survive only to the extent they do not conflict with newer cases. The interpretations of these courts—for example, Supreme Court interpretations of the constitution or federal statutes—are stable only so long as the older interpretation maintains the support of a majority of the court. Older decisions persist through some combination of belief that the old decision is right, and that it is not sufficiently wrong to be overruled.
In the jurisdictions of England and Wales and of Northern Ireland, since 2009, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has the authority to overrule and unify criminal law decisions of lower courts; it is the final court of appeal for civil law cases in all three of the UK jurisdictions but not for criminal law cases in Scotland. From 1966 to 2009, this power lay with the House of Lords, granted by the Practice Statement of 1966.83 Cr App R 191, 73 Cr App R 266
Canada's federal system, described below, avoids regional variability of federal law by giving national jurisdiction to both layers of appellate courts.
In contrast, in jurisdictions with very weak respect for precedent,for example, the U.S. Patent Office issues very few of its decisions in precedential form, Kate Gaudry & Thomas Franklin, Only 1 in 20,631 ex parte appeals designated precedential by PTAB, IPWatchdog (27 September 2015), and various lower tribunals in the Patent Office give very weak respect to earlier superior decisions. fine questions of law are redetermined anew each time they arise, making consistency and prediction more difficult, and procedures far more protracted than necessary because parties cannot rely on written statements of law as reliable guides. In jurisdictions that do not have a strong allegiance to a large body of precedent, parties have less a priori guidance (unless the written law is very clear and kept updated) and must often leave a bigger "safety margin" of unexploited opportunities, and final determinations are reached only after far larger expenditures on legal fees by the parties.
This is the reason for the frequent choice of the law of the State of New York in commercial contracts, even when neither entity has extensive contacts with New York—and remarkably often even when neither party has contacts with the United States.Theodore Eisenberg & Geoffrey P. Miller, The Flight to New York: An Empirical Study of Choice of Law and Choice of Forum Clauses in Held Companies' Contracts (2008). New York University Law and Economics Working Papers. Paper 124, http://lsr.nellco.org/nyu_lewp/124 (based on a survey of 2882 contracts, "New York law plays a role for major corporate contracts similar to the role Delaware law plays in the limited setting of corporate governance disputes. ... New York's dominance is striking. It is the choice of law in approximately 46 percent of contracts," and if merger contracts excluded, over half) Commercial contracts almost always include a "choice of law clause" to reduce uncertainty. Somewhat surprisingly, contracts throughout the world (for example, contracts involving parties in Japan, France and Germany, and from most of the other states of the United States) often choose the law of New York, even where the relationship of the parties and transaction to New York is quite attenuated. Because of its history as the United States' commercial center, New York common law has a depth and predictability not (yet) available in any other jurisdictions of the United States. Similarly, American corporations are often formed under Delaware Corporations law, and American contracts relating to corporate law issues (merger and acquisitions of companies, rights of shareholders, and so on.) include a Delaware choice of law clause, because of the deep body of law in Delaware on these issues.Eisenberg & Miller at 19–20 (Delaware is chosen in about 15% of contracts, "Delaware dominates for one type of contract—merger trust agreements. ... The dominance of Delaware for this specialized type of contract is apparently due to the advantages and flexibility which Delaware's business trust statute.") On the other hand, some other jurisdictions have sufficiently developed bodies of law so that parties have no real motivation to choose the law of a foreign jurisdiction (for example, England and Wales, and the state of California), but not yet so fully developed that parties with no relationship to the jurisdiction choose that law.Eisenberg & Miller at 19, only about 5% of commercial contracts designate California choice of law, where nearly 50% designate New York. Outside the United States, parties that are in different jurisdictions from each other often choose the law of England and Wales, particularly when the parties are each in former British colonies and members of the Commonwealth. The common theme in all cases is that commercial parties seek predictability and simplicity in their contractual relations, and frequently choose the law of a common law jurisdiction with a well-developed body of common law to achieve that result.
Likewise, for litigation of commercial disputes arising out of unpredictable torts (as opposed to the prospective choice of law clauses in contracts discussed in the previous paragraph), certain jurisdictions attract an unusually high fraction of cases, because of the predictability afforded by the depth of decided cases. For example, London is considered the pre-eminent centre for litigation of Admiralty law cases.. London is also forum for many defamation cases, because UK law is more plaintiff-friendly—in the United States, the First Amendment protection for freedom of the press allows for statements concerning public figures of questionable veracity, where in the UK, those same statements support a judgment for libel.
The main sources for the history of the common law in the Middle Ages are the plea rolls and the Year Books. The plea rolls, which were the official court records for the Courts of Common Pleas and King's Bench, were written in Latin. The rolls were made up in bundles by law term: Hilary, Easter, Trinity, and Michaelmas, or winter, spring, summer, and autumn. They are currently deposited in the UK National Archives, by whose permission images of the rolls for the Courts of Common Pleas, King's Bench, and Exchequer of Pleas, from the 13th century to the 17th, can be viewed online at the Anglo-American Legal Tradition site (The O'Quinn Law Library of the University of Houston Law Center).Documents from Medieval and Early Modern England from the National Archives in London. Publications of the Selden Society include a Year Books series and other volumes transcribing and translating the original manuscripts of early common law cases and law reports, each volume having its editor's scholarly introduction. Publications of the Selden SocietyOne history of the law before the Norman Conquest is Pollock and Maitland, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, .
The doctrine of precedent developed during the 12th and 13th centuries, as the collective judicial decisions that were based in tradition, custom and precedent.Winston Churchill, A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Chapter 13, The English Common Law
The form of reasoning used in common law is known as casuistry or case-based reasoning. The common law, as applied in (as distinct from ), was devised as a means of damages someone for wrongful acts known as , including both and torts caused by negligence, and as developing the body of law recognizing and regulating . The type of legal procedure practiced in common law courts is known as the adversarial system; this is also a development of the common law.
At the time, royal government centered on the Curia regis (king's court), the body of aristocrats and prelates who assisted in the administration of the realm and the ancestor of Parliament, the Star Chamber, and Privy Council. Henry II developed the practice of sending judges (numbering around 20 to 30 in the 1180s) from his Curia Regis to hear the various disputes throughout the country, and return to the court thereafter.
The king's object was to preserve public order, but providing law and order was also extremely profitable–cases on forest use as well as fines and forfeitures can generate "great treasure" for the government. Croniques de London (Camden Soc., 1844), pp. 28–9. Eyres (a Norman French word for judicial circuit, originating from Latin iter) are more than just courts; they would supervise local government, raise revenue, investigate crimes, and enforce feudal rights of the king. There were complaints that the eyre of 1198 reducing the kingdom to poverty Chronica Rogeri de Houedene (RS, 1871), IV, p. 62. and Cornishmen fleeing to escape the eyre of 1233. Annales Monastici (RS, 1864–69), III, p. 135.
Henry II's creation of a powerful and unified court system, which curbed somewhat the power of canon law (church) courts, brought him (and England) into conflict with the church, most famously with Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The murder of the Archbishop gave rise to a wave of popular outrage against the King. International pressure on Henry grew, and in May 1172 he negotiated a settlement with the papacy in which the King swore to go on crusade as well as effectively overturned the more controversial clauses of the Constitutions of Clarendon. Henry nevertheless continued to exert influence in any ecclesiastical case which interested him and royal power was exercised more subtly with considerable success.
The English Court of Common Pleas was established after Magna Carta to try lawsuits between commoners in which the monarch had no interest. Its judges sat in open court in the Great Hall of the king's Palace of Westminster, permanently except in the vacations between the four terms of the Legal year.
Judge-made common law operated as the primary source of law for several hundred years, before Parliament acquired legislative powers to create statutory law. It is important to understand that common law is the older and more traditional source of law, and legislative power is simply a layer applied on top of the older common law foundation. Since the 12th century, courts have had parallel and co-equal authority to make lawWilliam Burnham, Introduction to the Law and Legal System of the United States, 4th ed. (St. Paul, Thomson West, 2006), 42.—"legislating from the bench" is a traditional and essential function of courts, which was carried over into the U.S. system as an essential component of the "judicial power" specified by Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. summarized centuries of history in 1917, "judges do and must legislate." Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 221 (1917) (Holmes, J., dissenting). In the United States, state courts continue to exercise full common law powers, and create both general common law and interstitial common law. In U.S. federal courts, after Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938), the general dividing line is that federal courts can only "interpret" to create interstitial common law not exercise general common law powers. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938) ("There is no federal general common law. Congress has no power to declare substantive rules of common law applicable in a state whether they be local in their nature or ‘general,’ be they commercial law or a part of the law of torts. And no clause in the Constitution purports to confer such a power upon the federal courts."). However, that authority to "interpret" can be an expansive power to "make law," especially on Constitutional issues where the Constitutional text is so terse. There are legitimate debates on how the powers of courts and legislatures should be balanced around "interpretation." However, the view that courts lack law-making power is historically inaccurate and constitutionally unsupportable.
In England, judges have devised a number of rules as to how to deal with precedent decisions. The early development of case-law in the thirteenth century has been traced to Bracton's On the Laws and Customs of England and led to the yearly compilations of court cases known as Year Books, of which the first extant was published in 1268, the same year that Bracton died.T. F. T. Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law, 5th edition, 1956, London and Boston, pp.260–261 The Year Books are known as the law reports of medieval England, and are a principal source for knowledge of the developing legal doctrines, concepts, and methods in the period from the 13th to the 16th centuries, when the common law developed into recognizable form.Cambridge History of English and American Literature The Year Books and their Value
By the time of the rediscovery of the Roman law in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, the common law had already developed far enough to prevent a Roman law reception as it occurred on the continent.E.g., R. C. van Caenegem, The Birth of the English Common Law 89–92 (1988). However, the first common law scholars, most notably Glanvill and Bracton, as well as the early royal common law judges, had been well accustomed with Roman law. Often, they were clerics trained in the Roman canon law.E.g., Peter Birks, Grant McLeod, Justinian's Institutes 7 (1987). One of the first and throughout its history one of the most significant treatises of the common law, Bracton's De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae (On the Laws and Customs of England), was heavily influenced by the division of the law in Justinian's Institutes.E.g., George E. Woodbine (ed.), Samuel E. Thorne (transl.), Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England, Vol. I (Introduction) 46 (1968); Carl Güterbock, Bracton and his Relation to the Roman Law 35–38 (1866). The impact of Roman law had decreased sharply after the age of Bracton, but the Roman divisions of actions into in rem (typically, actions against a thing or property for the purpose of gaining title to that property; must be filed in a court where the property is located) and in personam (typically, actions directed against a person; these can affect a person's rights and, since a person often owns things, his property too) used by Bracton had a lasting effect and laid the groundwork for a return of Roman law structural concepts in the 18th and 19th centuries. Signs of this can be found in Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England,Stephen P. Buhofer, Structuring the Law: The Common Law and the Roman Institutional System, Swiss Review of International and European Law (SZIER/RSDIE) 5/2007, 24. and Roman law ideas regained importance with the revival of academic law schools in the 19th century.Peter Stein, Continental Influences on English Legal thought, 1600–1900, in Peter Stein, The Character and Influence of the Roman Civil Law 223 et seq. (1988). As a result, today, the main systematic divisions of the law into property, contract, and tort (and to some extent unjust enrichment) can be found in the civil law as well as in the common law.See generally Stephen P. Buhofer, Structuring the Law: The Common Law and the Roman Institutional System, Swiss Review of International and European Law (SZIER/RSDIE) 5/2007.
The next definitive historical treatise on the common law is Commentaries on the Laws of England, written by Sir William Blackstone and first published in 1765–1769.
Other examples of reception statutes in the United States, the states of the U.S., Canada and its provinces, and Hong Kong, are discussed in the reception statute article.
Yet, adoption of the common law in the newly independent nation was not a foregone conclusion, and was controversial. Immediately after the American Revolution, there was widespread distrust and hostility to anything British, and the common law was no exception. Jeffersonians decried lawyers and their common law tradition as threats to the new republic. The Jeffersonians preferred a legislatively enacted civil law under the control of the political process, rather than the common law developed by judges that—by design—were insulated from the political process. The Federalists believed that the common law was the birthright of Independence: after all, the natural rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were the rights protected by common law. Even advocates for the common law approach noted that it was not an ideal fit for the newly independent colonies: judges and lawyers alike were severely hindered by a lack of printed legal materials. Before Independence, the most comprehensive law libraries had been maintained by Tory lawyers, and those libraries vanished with the loyalist expatriation, and the ability to print books was limited. Lawyer (later President) John Adams complained that he "suffered very much for the want of books". To bootstrap this most basic need of a common law system—knowable, written law—in 1803, lawyers in Massachusetts donated their books to found a law library. A Jeffersonian newspaper criticized the library, as it would carry forward "all the old authorities practiced in England for centuries back ... whereby a new system of jurisprudence will on the high monarchical system to become the Common Law of this Commonwealth... The may hereafter have a very unsocial purpose."
For several decades after independence, English law still exerted influence over American common law—for example, with Byrne v Boadle (1863), which first applied the res ipsa loquitur doctrine.
Reliance on old maxims and rigid adherence to precedent, no matter how old or ill-considered, came under critical discussion in the late 19th century, starting in the United States. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in his famous article, "The Path of the Law", commented, "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past." Justice Holmes noted that study of maxims might be sufficient for "the man of the present", but "the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics". In an 1880 lecture at Harvard, he wrote:The Common Law
In the early 20th century, Louis Brandeis, later appointed to the United States Supreme Court, became noted for his use of policy-driving facts and economics in Brandeis Brief, and extensive appendices presenting facts that lead a judge to the advocate's conclusion. By this time, briefs relied more on facts than on Latin maxims.
Reliance on old maxims is now deprecated. Acree v. Republic of Iraq, 370 F.3d 41 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (Roberts, J., concurring). Common law decisions today reflect both precedent and policy judgment drawn from economics, the social sciences, business, decisions of foreign courts, and the like.Foreign influence over American law is not new; only the controversy. For example, in The Western Maid, 257 U.S. 419, 432 (1922), Justice Holmes wrote "When a case is said to be governed by foreign law or by general maritime law that is only a short way of saying that for this purpose the sovereign power takes up a rule suggested from without and makes it part of its own rules," and adopted a rule from without to decide the case. The degree to which these external factors should influence adjudication is the subject of active debate, but it is indisputable that judges do draw on experience and learning from everyday life, from other fields, and from other jurisdictions.Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) (holding unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18, based on "evolving standards of decency", largely based on other nations' law)
In England, courts of law (as opposed to equity) were combined with courts of equity by the Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875, with equity prevailing in case of conflict.Lobban, Michael "Preparing for Fusion: Reforming the Nineteenth-Century Court of Chancery, Part II | year=2004 | work=Law and History Review, 2004 (University of Illinois Press) . .
In the United States, parallel systems of law (providing money damages, with cases heard by a jury upon either party's request) and equity (fashioning a remedy to fit the situation, including injunctive relief, heard by a judge) survived well into the 20th century. The United States federal courts procedurally separated law and equity: the same judges could hear either kind of case, but a given case could only pursue causes in law or in equity, and the two kinds of cases proceeded under different procedural rules. This became problematic when a given case required both money damages and injunctive relief. In 1937, the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure combined law and equity into one form of action, the "civil action". Fed.R.Civ.P. . The distinction survives to the extent that issues that were "common law (as opposed to equity)" as of 1791 (the date of adoption of the Seventh Amendment) are still subject to the right of either party to request a jury, and "equity" issues are decided by a judge.E.g., Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 376 (1996) ("We the have understood that the right of trial by jury thus preserved is the right which existed under the English common law (as opposed to equity) when the Amendment was adopted. In keeping with our longstanding adherence to this 'historical test', we ask, first, whether we are dealing with a cause of action that either was tried at law (as opposed to equity) at the time of the founding or is at least analogous to one that was. If the action in question belongs in the law category, we then ask whether the particular trial decision must fall to the jury in order to preserve the substance of the common-law right as it existed in 1791." (citations and quotations omitted, holding that interpretation of the scope of a patent had no analogy in 1790, and is thus a question to be decided by a judge, not a jury)
The states of Delaware, Illinois, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee continue to have divided courts of law and courts of chancery, for example, the Delaware Court of Chancery. In New Jersey, the appellate courts are unified, but the trial courts are organized into a Chancery Division and a Law Division.
One of the major reforms of the late 19th century and early 20th century was the abolition of common law pleading requirements.Note that the remainder of the "common law" discussed in the rest of the article remained intact; all that was abolished were the highly technical requirements for language of the paper provided by the plaintiff to the defendant to initiate a case. A plaintiff can initiate a case by giving the defendant "a short and plain statement" of facts that constitute an alleged wrong.E.g., Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 4, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief". This reform moved the attention of courts from technical scrutiny of words to a more rational consideration of the facts, and opened access to justice far more broadly.E.g., Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 1, civil procedure rules "should be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding".
In common law jurisdictions, nearly every case that presents a bona fide disagreement on the law is resolved in a written opinion. The legal reasoning for the decision, known as ratio decidendi, not only determines the court's judgment between the parties, but also stands as precedent for resolving future disputes. In contrast, civil law decisions typically do not include explanatory opinions, and thus no precedent flows from one decision to the next.Potter, H. Law, Liberty and the Constitution: A Brief History of the common Law (2018) In common law systems, a single decided case is binding common law (connotation 1) to the same extent as statute or regulation, under the principle of stare decisis. In contrast, in civil law systems, individual decisions have only advisory, not binding effect. In civil law systems, case law only acquires weight when a long series of cases use consistent reasoning, called jurisprudence constante. Civil law lawyers consult case law to obtain their best prediction of how a court will rule, but comparatively, civil law judges are less bound to follow it.
For that reason, statutes in civil law systems are more comprehensive, detailed, and continuously updated, covering all matters capable of being brought before a court. The Common Law and Civil Law Traditions, Robbins Collection, University of California at Berkeley.
Common law courts usually use an adversarial system, in which two sides present their cases to a neutral judge. In contrast, in civil law systems, criminal proceedings proceed under an inquisitorial system in which an examining magistrate serves two roles by developing the evidence and arguments for one side and then the other during the investigation phase.
The examining magistrate then presents the dossier detailing his or her findings to the president of the bench that will adjudicate on the case where it has been decided that a trial shall be conducted. Therefore, the president of the bench's view of the case is not neutral and may be biased while conducting the trial after the reading of the dossier. Unlike the common law proceedings, the president of the bench in the inquisitorial system is not merely an umpire and is entitled to directly interview the witnesses or express comments during the trial, as long as he or she does not express his or her view on the guilt of the accused.
The proceeding in the inquisitorial system is essentially by writing. Most of the witnesses would have given evidence in the investigation phase and such evidence will be contained in the dossier under the form of police reports. In the same way, the accused would have already put his or her case at the investigation phase but he or she will be free to change his or her evidence at trial. Whether the accused pleads guilty or not, a trial will be conducted. Unlike the adversarial system, the conviction and sentence to be served (if any) will be released by the trial jury together with the president of the trial bench, following their common deliberation.
In contrast, in an adversarial system, the onus of framing the case rests on the parties, and judges generally decide the case presented to them, rather than acting as active investigators, or actively reframing the issues presented. "In our adversary system, in both civil and criminal cases, in the first instance and on appeal, we follow the principle of party presentation. That is, we rely on the parties to frame the issues for decision and assign to courts the role of neutral arbiter of matters the parties present."United States v. Sineneng-Smith, No. 19–67 (7 May 2020) This principle applies with force in all issues in criminal matters, and to factual issues: courts seldom engage in fact gathering on their own initiative, but decide facts on the evidence presented (even here, there are exceptions, for "legislative facts" as opposed to "adjudicative facts"). On the other hand, on issues of law, courts regularly raise new issues (such as matters of jurisdiction or standing), perform independent research, and reformulate the legal grounds on which to analyze the facts presented to them. The United States Supreme Court regularly decides based on issues raised only in from non-parties. One of the most notable such cases was Erie Railroad v. Tompkins, a 1938 case in which neither party questioned the ruling from the 1842 case Swift v. Tyson that served as the foundation for their arguments, but which led the Supreme Court to overturn Swift during their deliberations. To avoid lack of notice, courts may invite briefing on an issue to ensure adequate notice.the appendix to the Sineneng-Smith opinion gives an extensive catalog of cases in which the Court permissibly sought outside briefing. However, there are limits—an appeals court may not introduce a theory that contradicts the party's own contentions.See Greenlaw v. United States and United States v. Sineneng-Smith
There are many exceptions in both directions. For example, most proceedings before U.S. federal and state agencies are inquisitorial in nature, at least the initial stages ( e.g., a patent examiner, a social security hearing officer, and so on), even though the law to be applied is developed through common law processes.
In common law jurisdictions, lawyers and judges tend to use these treatises as only "finding aids" to locate the relevant cases. In common law jurisdictions, scholarly work is seldom cited as authority for what the law is.At least in the U.S., practicing lawyers tend to use "law professor" or "law review article" as a pejorative to describe a person or work that is insufficiently grounded in reality or practicality—every young lawyer is admonished repeatedly by senior lawyers not to write "law review articles," but instead to focus on the facts of the case and the practical effects of a given outcome. Chief Justice Roberts noted the "great disconnect between the academy and the profession."A Conversation with Chief Justice Roberts, 11 June 2011  at 30:30. When common law courts rely on scholarly work, it is almost always only for factual findings, policy justification, or the Legal history, but the court's legal conclusion is reached through analysis of relevant statutes and common law, seldom scholarly commentary.
In contrast, in civil law jurisdictions, courts give the writings of law school significant weight, partly because civil law decisions traditionally were very brief, sometimes no more than a paragraph stating who wins and who loses. The rationale had to come from somewhere else: the academy often filled that role.
Examples of common law being replaced by statute or codified rule in the United States include criminal law (since 1812, U.S. federal courts and most but not all of the states have held that criminal law must be embodied in statute if the public is to have fair notice), commercial law (the Uniform Commercial Code in the early 1960s) and procedure (the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the 1930s and the Federal Rules of Evidence in the 1970s). But note that in each case, the statute sets the general principles, but the interstitial common law process determines the scope and application of the statute.
An example of convergence from the other direction is shown in the 1982 decision Srl CILFIT and Lanificio di Gavardo SpA v Ministry of Health (), in which the European Court of Justice held that questions it has already answered need not be resubmitted. This showed how a historically distinctly common law principle is used by a court composed of judges (at that time) of essentially civil law jurisdiction.
Many churches use a system of canon law. The canon law of the Catholic Church influenced the common law during the medieval periodFriedman, Lawrence M., American Law: An Introduction (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1984), pg. 70. through its preservation of Roman law doctrine such as the presumption of innocence.William Wirt Howe, Studies in the Civil Law, and its Relation to the Law of England and America (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1896), pg. 51.
"In one of his elaborate orations in the United States Senate Mr. Charles Sumner spoke of "the generous presumption of the common law in favor of the innocence of an accused person;" yet it must be admitted that such a presumption cannot be found in Anglo-Saxon law, where sometimes the presumption seems to have been the other way. And in a very recent case in the Supreme Court of the United States, the case of Coffin, 156 U. S. 432, it is pointed out that this presumption was fully established in the Roman law, and was preserved in the canon law."
and many other generally English-speaking countries or Commonwealth countries (except the UK's Scotland, which is bijuridicial law, and Malta). Essentially, every country that was colonised at some time by England, Great Britain, or the United Kingdom uses common law except those that were formerly colonised by other nations, such as Quebec (which follows the Napoleonic Code of France in part), South Africa and Sri Lanka (which follow Roman Dutch law), where the prior civil law system was retained to respect the civil rights of the local colonists. Guyana and Saint Lucia have mixed Common Law and Civil Law systems.
The remainder of this section discusses jurisdiction-specific variants, arranged chronologically.
Scotland shares the Supreme Court with England, Wales and Northern Ireland for civil cases; the court's decisions are binding on the jurisdiction from which a case arises but only influential on similar cases arising in Scotland. This has had the effect of converging the law in certain areas. For instance, the modern UK negligence is based on Donoghue v Stevenson, a case originating in Paisley, Scotland.
Scotland maintains a separate criminal law system from the rest of the UK, with the High Court of Justiciary being the final court for criminal appeals. The highest court of appeal in civil cases brought in Scotland is now the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (before October 2009, final appellate jurisdiction lay with the House of Lords).
Louisiana's criminal law largely rests on English common law. Louisiana's administrative law is generally similar to the administrative law of the U.S. federal government and other U.S. states. Louisiana's procedural law is generally in line with that of other U.S. states, which in turn is generally based on the U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Before 1938, the federal courts, like almost all other common law courts, decided the law on any issue where the relevant legislature (either the U.S. Congress or state legislature, depending on the issue), had not acted, by looking to courts in the same system, that is, other federal courts, even on issues of state law, and even where there was no express grant of authority from Congress or the Constitution.
In 1938, the U.S. Supreme Court in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938), overruled earlier precedent, Swift v. Tyson, 41 U.S. 1 (1842). In Swift, the United States Supreme Court had held that federal courts hearing cases brought under their diversity jurisdiction (allowing them to hear cases between parties from different states) had to apply the statutory law of the states, but not the common law developed by state courts. Instead, the Supreme Court permitted the federal courts to make their own common law based on general principles of law. Erie v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). Erie overruled Swift v. Tyson, and instead held that federal courts exercising diversity jurisdiction had to use all of the same substantive law as the courts of the states in which they were located. As the Erie Court put it, there is no "general federal common law", the key word here being general. This history is elaborated in federal common law. and held "There is no federal general common law," thus confining the federal courts to act only as interstitial interpreters of law originating elsewhere. E.g., Texas Industries v. Radcliff, (without an express grant of statutory authority, federal courts cannot create rules of intuitive justice, for example, a right to contribution from co-conspirators). Post-1938, federal courts deciding issues that arise under state law are required to defer to state court interpretations of state statutes, or reason what a state's highest court would rule if presented with the issue, or to certify the question to the state's highest court for resolution.
Later courts have limited Erie slightly, to create a few situations where United States federal courts are permitted to create federal common law rules without express statutory authority, for example, where a federal rule of decision is necessary to protect uniquely federal interests, such as foreign affairs, or financial instruments issued by the federal government. See, e.g., Clearfield Trust Co. v. United States, (giving federal courts the authority to fashion common law rules with respect to issues of federal power, in this case negotiable instruments backed by the federal government); see also International News Service v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215 (1918) (creating a cause of action for misappropriation of "hot news" that lacks any statutory grounding); but see National Basketball Association v. Motorola, Inc., 105 F.3d 841, 843–44, 853 (2d Cir. 1997) (noting continued vitality of INS "hot news" tort under New York state law, but leaving open the question of whether it survives under federal law). Except on Constitutional issues, Congress is free to legislatively overrule federal courts' common law. City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997) (invalidating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in which Congress had attempted to redefine the court's jurisdiction to decide constitutional issues); Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304 (1981)
For example, the National Labor Relations Board issues relatively few regulations, but instead promulgates most of its substantive rules through common law (connotation 1).
Ancient India represented a distinct tradition of law, and had an historically independent school of legal theory and practice. The Arthashastra, dating from 400 BCE and the Manusmriti, from 100 CE, were influential treatises in India, texts that were considered authoritative legal guidance. Manu's central philosophy was tolerance and pluralism, and was cited across Southeast Asia. Early in this period, which finally culminated in the creation of the Gupta Empire, relations with ancient Greece and Rome were not infrequent. The appearance of similar fundamental institutions of international law in various parts of the world show that they are inherent in international society, irrespective of culture and tradition. Inter-State relations in the pre-Islamic period resulted in clear-cut rules of warfare of a high humanitarian standard, in rules of neutrality, of treaty law, of customary law embodied in religious charters, in exchange of embassies of a temporary or semi-permanent character.Viswanatha, S.T., International Law in Ancient India, 1925
When India became part of the British Empire, there was a break in tradition, and Hindu and Islamic law were supplanted by the common law. After the failed rebellion against the British in 1857, the British Parliament took over control of India from the British East India Company, and British India came under the direct rule of the Crown. The British Parliament passed the Government of India Act 1858 to this effect, which set up the structure of British government in India. It established in Britain the office of the Secretary of State for India through whom the Parliament would exercise its rule, along with a Council of India to aid him. It also established the office of the Governor-General of India along with an Executive Council in India, which consisted of high officials of the British Government. As a result, the present judicial system of the country derives largely from the British system and has little correlation to the institutions of the pre-British era.
The exception to this rule is in the state of Goa, annexed in stages in the 1960s through 1980s. In Goa, a Portuguese uniform civil code is in place, in which all religions have a common law regarding marriages, divorces and adoption.
All but one of the provinces of Canada use a common law system for civil matters (the exception being Quebec, which uses a French-heritage civil law system for issues arising within provincial jurisdiction, such as property ownership and contracts).
Ghana, after independence, did not do away with the common law system inherited from the British, and today it has been enshrined in the 1992 Constitution of the country. Chapter four of Ghana's Constitution, entitled "The Laws of Ghana", has in Article 11(1) the list of laws applicable in the state. This comprises (a) the Constitution; (b) enactments made by or under the authority of the Parliament established by the Constitution; (c) any Orders, Rules and Regulations made by any person or authority under a power conferred by the Constitution; (d) the existing law; and (e) the common law.According to Article 11(2) of Ghana's Constitution, the common law of Ghana shall comprise the rule of law generally known as the common law, the rules generally known as the doctrine of equity and the rules of customary law, including those determined by the Superior Court of Judicature. Thus, the modern-day Constitution of Ghana, like those before it, embraced the English common law by entrenching it in its provisions. The doctrine of judicial precedence which is based on the principle of stare decisis as applied in England and other pure common law countries also applies in Ghana.
The next definitive historical treatise on the common law is Commentaries on the Laws of England, written by Sir William Blackstone and first published in 1765–1769. Since 1979, a facsimile edition of that first edition has been available in four paper-bound volumes. Today it has been superseded in the English part of the United Kingdom by Halsbury's Laws of England that covers both common and statutory English law.
While he was still on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and before being named to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. published a short volume called The Common Law, which remains a classic in the field. Unlike Blackstone and the Restatements, Holmes' book only briefly discusses what the law is; rather, Holmes describes the common law process. Law professor John Chipman Gray's The Nature and Sources of the Law, an examination and survey of the common law, is also still commonly read in U.S. law schools.
In the United States, Restatements of various subject matter areas (Contracts, Torts, Judgments, and so on.), edited by the American Law Institute, collect the common law for the area. The ALI Restatements are often cited by American courts and lawyers for propositions of uncodified common law, and are considered highly persuasive authority, just below binding precedential decisions. The Corpus Juris Secundum is an encyclopedia whose main content is a compendium of the common law and its variations throughout the various state jurisdictions.
Scots common law covers matters including murder and theft, and has sources in custom, in legal writings and previous court decisions. The legal writings used are called Institutional Texts and come mostly from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Examples include Craig, Jus Feudale (1655) and Stair, The Institutions of the Law of Scotland (1681).