Criminal Justice News

Monday, January 20, 2014

Common Law and Common Expectations

The United States is a common law country.  That is, we derive our system of criminal and civil justice from our former status as an English colony.  While the concept of common can be traced back as early the 800s, in England, it really got its start in 1154 with King Henry II.  Henry’s motive was likely unification of the country under a single rule of law, but the effect was long lasting. 
King Henry sent judges from his central court out into the countryside to hear cases.  These judges would ride a “circuit” from county to county, hearing both criminal and civil cases.   Imagine the judge came into your county to hear the case of someone stealing your pig.  Several months later, when the judge returned and heard a new case of someone stealing a different pig there was community expectation on how the judge would rule, how evidence would be heard and what the penalty would be.  This growing expectation of consistency led to growing community confidence in the legal system.

Moreover, the judge would return to the central court and discuss his cases with the other judges.  They would write down the various decisions being made around the country thereby developing a legal history and the concept of “stare decisis” or precedence.  As the system grew so did judicial consistency throughout Henry’s realm.  Later, England would not only colonize with people, but with concepts like common law.

Indeed, you can look at an English Solicitors website and would find it very familiar.  As an Example, James Murray Law, has many terms, functions and concepts that would be familiar to any American or any former English colony.

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