Common law is the legal system that evolved in England and the Anglo-Saxon world, and is still in place in many countries. This legal code evolved from custom and began before written laws were created. Common law still applies in many courts, though some cases have been decided by civil courts. The Roman law system and “natural” law were also important influences. Once the Roman law system developed, the common law system followed it.
In common law countries, the judge is the referee for the case, listening to both sides to decide who is right and who is wrong. Although common law countries often don’t adhere to their constitution or code of laws, they are generally based on a code of laws. If you want to learn more about the differences between the common law and civil law systems, consider the following facts:
Unlike in civil law countries, common law opinions are longer and more detailed. Civil law countries tend to have short legal opinions and formal language. In France, for example, judges generally cite legislation and do not cite case law. In Germany, however, court opinions are as long as those in English, and they normally discuss prior cases and academic writing extensively. While the differences in civil law and common law systems are subtle, there is a fundamental difference in their functions.
The common law system relies on precedent. Judges interpret statutes and case decisions to determine whether a particular situation can be legally recognized or not. In this system, the judiciary interprets precedents, which serve as precedent for other courts. Common law courts also rely on the legislature to enact laws. Although courts do have their own power, common law systems still have legislatures and their role is to interpret laws.