What is Common Law?

Definition: A legal framework that is established through judicial decisions of courts and tribunals. It is mostly based on precedents and rulings that are issued by combining common sense and legal principles.

What Does Common Law Mean?

Different from statute law, which is the legal framework established by legislative authorities, such as the laws enacted by the U.S. Congress., common law is a system that is based on the rulings of different judges, to set precedents that can be applied to similar situations presented in other cases.

These laws have the same judiciary weight of statutory laws, and they should be considered whenever a similar case is being attended. On the other hand, common law is different from civil law to the extent that the latter is more rigid and originates in statutory laws. The origins of common law can be traced back to the 12th century in England, where secular tribunals were established.

In modern times it has evolved to be complemented by statute laws but it still operates in cases where a clear interpretation of the law is required to be issued by certain judge.


Marcus and Lorrain have a legal dispute over a potential trespassing situation. Their houses are next to each other and it seems that a tree located in Lorrain’s property has grown and it has bend towards Marcus property, occupying part of his backyard’s aerospace. Marcus is annoyed by this situation because during the autumn season the tree’s leafs start to fall and he has to be constantly cleaning his backyard because of the tree.

The judge was a little bit concerned with the fact that no housing law specifically applied to such situation and in order to issue a ruling he has to go through similar past cases to gather some precedents for his upcoming decision. He found that in 1939 a similar claim was filed within a municipal court and the judge ruled back then that the property that possessed the tree had to cut the branches that trespassed the other person’s property. By using this precedent, the judge could issue the same ruling, according to common law.

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