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words of law legal terms

Words of Law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s phrase is common law.

common law, n. [fr. Law French commen ley “common law”] (14c)  1.The body of law derived from judicial decisions, rather than from statutes or constitutions.  2. The body of law based on the English legal system, as distinct from a civil-law system; the general Anglo-American system of legal concepts, together with the techniques of applying them, that form the bases of the law in jurisdictions where the system applies <All states except Louisiana have the common law as their legal system>.

–  Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

“English common law evolved from necessity, rooted in the centralized administration of William, conqueror at Hastings. A single event, the 1066 Norman Conquest, was the progenitor of this tradition. Its legacy was a unique, ‘unwritten’ constitution and the orally rendered, and ultimately recorded, decisions of an extraordinarily gifted and respected judiciary. The harmony of a homogeneous society, tested by internal stresses but free of successful foreign invasions for nearly a millennium, aided an orderly development of legal institutions. Focusing on the pragmatic resolution of specific, current issues, English law developed largely insulated from the continental reception of Roman law, and the later emphasis on codification. As Pollock said, English laws ‘grew in rugged exclusiveness, disdaining fellowship with the more polished learning of the civilians.’”

–  Comparative Legal Traditions in a Nutshell, 4th ed., Mary Ann Glendon et al., West Academic Publishing, [2016].

“Having operated largely under common law before the Revolution, the newly-created states received it into their private law to the extent than it was not inconsistent with statutes and newly created state constitutions. In the course of the following century, the common law was ‘Americanized,’ that is to say the same dynamic processes of legal reasoning that was employed to create, and then to elaborate upon, the common law in England continued. . . the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of a nascent regulatory state; legislatures began to enact statutes, which could and did vary from state to state. It was not until the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries that a movement began to rationalize and make uniform the private law of the American states, a goal which has yet to be achieved. . . Much common law has been reduced to statutes, and they are drafted with reasonable specificity, though perhaps not quite like a code. ..multifarious concerns render the study of American law a very complicated, but a very interesting intellectual exercise.”

–  American Law and the American Legal System in a Nutshell, Lloyd Bonfield, Thomson/West, [2006].

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