It might sound like common sense to define a phrase like “common law,” but legal terms can confuse anyone without a firm grasp of scope, connotation, or full meaning. And these terms are normally defined in confusing ways. For example, take Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of common-law: “1: Of, relating to, or based on the common law; 2: relating to or based on a common-law marriage.”
Don’t you love it when dictionaries use the word you’re trying to define in the definition for that word? It’s a wonderful cycle.
Merriam-Webster further defines common law as “the body of law developed in England primarily from judicial decisions based on custom and precedent, unwritten in statute or code, and constituting the basis of the English legal system and of the system in all of the U.S. except Louisiana.”
In other words, “common law” is literally the idea of practicing common sense and common decency in certain situations where legal precedent is understood even if unwritten. For example, let’s say we struck the laws on murder from the books today. You would still know murder is wrong, and authorities would still arrest you for committing a murder. But more importantly, common law is based on innumerable interpretations from the judicial branch and jury decisions throughout a country’s history.
But before we go any further, you need to understand that in certain countries those common laws are written down. The United States is one such country. We legalize everything, no matter how obvious a criminal act something is. We provide a set frame of consequence for anything a person might do to disrupt the fabric of our society. See? Common law can be confusing after all!
For something to be ascertained as common law, legislators and judicators usually have a long process of research and review to determine what is in a community’s best interest. This process can be done at the local or state level. If there are already statutes on the books and the law is under scrutiny for some reason, then formal review occurs and legal authorities set about finding information on the law in question.
One type of common law that is under scrutiny based on changing circumstances is a person’s liability for car accidents. Automation is advancing quickly, and it’s not crazy to think that we’ll be living in a driverless future soon enough. Who takes liability for car accidents in that future? The manufacturer? The seller? Or the person? And under which circumstances? There is not yet any legal basis for determining the answers to these questions — but there will be. And that’s the most likely time that the scrutiny will lead to changes in car-related common law. You can visit website here for more information.
Common law results in a complex — and controversial — system of law-making and legal decisions made by lower courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court in the United States. And many believe this system must change.