Common Law And Statute
The commonl law, based originally on custom, is still a major basis for the law in England, and in Australia and other countries whose law derives from England. Important areas of law relating to such matters as property, contract, personal injuries and crime have been developed over centuries by the judges in deciding particular cases in the courts.
The judges pay a great deal of respect to the law as stated in earlier decisions. These are called 'precedents'. And judges regard themselves as bound to apply precedents from courts which are higher up in the same system of courts.
Sometimes cases come before a court which raise issues of law which are simply not covered by earlier decisions. When this happens, the court is able to develop the law so as best to deal with the new situation. In doing so, it may look to decisions of courts in other countries. It may also take account of international law. The High Court in the Mabo decision did both of these things.
The other major source of law is Statute - Acts of Parliament. Today, parliaments are very active in making and changing law. And statute law can change the common law. But large areas of law are still left to development by the judges. When the High Court of Australia decided the Mabo case in 1992, it did so on the basis of the common law.
Keywords: British law, Common Law, custom, property
Author: Nettheim, Garth