Common Law as a Legal System

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Common Law and Civil Law

When defined in this way the term ¡§common law¡¨ is used to refer to a type of legal system called the common law legal system. The legal systems of various countries are modeled on the English legal system and these countries are said to have a ¡§common law legal system¡¨. This includes most of the British Commonwealth and the United States. The common law legal system involves such matters as trial by jury, presumption of innocence etc. The term also denotes the fact that these said countries would have ¡§received¡¨ the English common law when they were colonized or otherwise conquered by the British Empire.

The term civil law in this context also refers to a type of legal system. Civil law countries are those countries which have legal systems or procedures modeled on the Continental European system of law. Certain Caribbean countries have a mixed common law and civil law system because of their histories. Two of these are St. Lucia which has aspects of the French Civil Code and Guyana which has remnants of Roman Dutch law. COMMON LAW AS A SOURCE OF LAW

Common Law and Statute Law
Common law as a source of law refers to the body substantive law developed by the court over time in the decisions of various cases. This definition is based on a system of precedent which will be discussed later. Before discussing the system of precedent, it is necessary to look at the development of the English Court system. Precedent or common law in this context is also referred to case law i. e. law that developed from actual court cases.

In its early history, the English Court system involved a number of courts. These were the Curia Regis, the Court of Exchequer, the Court of King¡¦s Bench, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Court of Chancery (discussed earlier).

The Curia Regis
The development of the English Common law court system began with the Curia Regis, the king's feudal council to which he summoned his tenants in chief (persons who rented lands directly from the King), the great barons, and the great prelates (bishops). The Curia Regis was introduced into England by William the Conqueror. The Curia Regis, more commonly called the great council, had only quasi-legislative powers but was primarily a judicial and executive body. Originally, the King was the fount of all justice but gradually, the power to adjudicate in disputes including those in which the king had an interest were delegated to members of the Curia Regis, particularly those schooled in the law. From that delegated authority, certain specialized courts developed.

Court of King¡¦s Bench
The Court of King¡¦s Bench was the highest court of law in England in the middle Ages. It grew directly out of the Curia Regis. Originally, it was the principal court for criminal cases, and the place to hear disputes between the citizens and the King. It gradually became a civil court also, serving as an appellate court that had the jurisdiction to uphold or overturn judgments made in the Court of Common Pleas.

The Court of Common Pleas
This was a royal court applying Common Law to judge civil disputes. It was called "common pleas" to denote suits not involving the King. It sat in Westminster Hall from the early thirteenth century onwards. Nearly all civil suits were within its jurisdiction, and it also had jurisdiction over local courts. The Court of Common Pleas was the chief creator of Common Law precedents. The appellate court for its decisions was the Court of King's Bench. The Court of Common Pleas was merged into the High Court by the Supreme Court of Judicature Acts 1873-75.

The Court of Exchequer
This court originated after the Norman Conquest as a financial committee of the Curia Regis. Within a hundred years it had a separate organization and was responsible for the collection of the king's revenue as well as for exercising jurisdiction in cases affecting the revenue.

Over time,...
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