Common Law vs. Statutory Law—What’s the Difference?

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Common Law vs. Statutory Law—What’s the Difference?


At Coolidge Law Firm (criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert), we hold a high regard for how law is formed and upheld. The laws governing a nation are some of the most important aspects of its existence. By them, a standard of acceptable behavior and justice is set for both its citizens and its government. Looking at the laws of a nation can inform you as to what they value and how their society will function. Many nations around the world have a legal system where they follow both common law and statutory law. In this post, we’ll explain how both work.

Common Law

America can trace its common law tradition and development back to England during the Middle Ages. Common law is uncodified, meaning that it is not compiled into rules and statutes, but rather it relies on precedent. Precedent looks back at previous court rulings—whether they be federal, state, or local—and determines a decision about current cases in the light of historical judicial rulings. In an effort to promote stability, the precedents set by higher courts are legally binding on lower courts. But if a lower court feels the precedent is outdated or not related closely enough to the case at hand, they can choose to deviate or modify the precedent.

Common law is also known as case law, which entails all the documented collections of previous case precedent. So if you’ve ever heard a lawyer argue in court that a ruling has precedent or does not have precedent according to such-and-such a case, they are making their argument based upon common law.

Statutory Law

Unlike common law, statutory law is codified and encompasses compiled legislation that has been passed on a local, state or federal level. It is strict in its application, which means it is not subject to the same interpretation as common law—i.e. it means what it says. However, statutes are subject to being overturned or changed if a later legislative body finds them unconstitutional. And some statutes are actually set to expire every few years and require renewal if the law is still needed. In this way, statutory law is flexible in order for the law to remain relevant and reasonable to the people it was designed to protect or regulate.

A Criminal Defense Attorney in Phoenix You Can Trust

Todd Coolidge, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, is well-versed in statutory law and knows how to research case law to find precedent on behalf of his clients. If you’re in need of a criminal law specialist to handle your case, then look no further: schedule your consultation today!


Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash (9/28/2018)