Last updated on August 22, 2017 by Surbhi S

Common law vs statutory law

Law can be understood as the body of rules, established by the appropriate authority and adopted by the country as rules and principles that govern the actions of its members, that can be put into practice by the imposition of penalties. There are two types of laws, that are adopted in many countries, namely common law and statutory law. The common law implies the law that emerges from new decisions made by the judges, courts and tribunals.

On the other hand, the statutory law means a formal written law, that the legislature adopts as a statute. The basic difference between common and statutory law lies in the way the two legal systems are created, the authority who set down the acts and their relevance.

Content: Common Law Vs Statutory Law

Comparison Chart

Basis for ComparisonCommon lawStatutory law
MeaningThe law that emerges out of judicial decisions is called common law. Statutory law is the system of principles and rules of law put forth by the statute.
Alternately known asCase lawLegislation
Based onRecorded judicial precedent.Statutes enforced by legislature.
Operational levelProceduralSubstantive
AmendmentAmended by statutory lawAmended by a separate statute

Definition of Common Law

The law that has been evolved from the decisions made in appellate courts and judicial precedent, is known as common law or sometimes as case law. The common law system gives pre-eminence to the common law, as it considers unfair to treat the same facts in a different manner in different situations.

The judges refer to the cases that took place in the past to arrive at a decision, called as the precedent which is recognized and enforced in future judgements rendered by the court. Therefore, when the similar case is reported in the future, the court has to give the same judgement, that is followed in the previous case.

Sometimes, the judgement made by court comes out as a new law, that is considered in subsequent court decisions.

Definition of Statutory Law

Statutory law can be defined as a system of principles and rules of law, that is available in written form and laid down by the legislative body to govern the conduct of the citizens of the country. When a bill passed by both the house of parliament through enactment, it becomes a statutory law. In finer terms, legislation is the statutory law, which is the fundamental structure of the legal system, based on the statutes.

A statute is nothing but the formally written act that expresses the will of the legislature. It is the declaration or command made by the law which must be followed or prohibits a course of action or governs the behavior of members. The statutory law encompasses the rules for regulating the society and is made considering the future cases.

Key Differences Between Common Law and Statutory Law

The difference between common law and statutory law can be drawn clearly on the following premises:

  1. Common law or otherwise known as case law is a legal system in which decision made by the judges in the past forms as a basis for similar cases in future. On the other hand, statutory law is a formally written law established by legislative body and regulates the behavior of the members.
  2. The common law instructs, what decision should be rendered in a particular case. In contrast, the statutory law prescribes the best governing rules of the society.
  3. Common law relies on the recorded judicial precedent, meaning that the judges will take into account the relevant facts and evidences of the case but also look for prior decisions made by the court in similar cases in the past. As against, statutory law is based on the statutes enacted and imposed by the legislative body of the country.
  4. Common law is a procedural law, such that it comprises the set of rules that regulates the court proceedings in various lawsuit. On the contrary, statutory law is substantive in nature, in the sense that it states the rights and duties of the citizens, along with punishment for non-compliance of rules.
  5. Common law can be amended by statutory law, whereas to amend the statutory law, a separate statute must be established.


To sum up the discussion, statutory law is more powerful than the common law, as the former can overrule or modify the latter. Therefore, in case of any contradiction between the two, statutory law may prevail. Statutory law is nothing but the legislation made by the government bodies or parliament. Conversely, common law is the one that arises out of the decisions made by the judges in the court of justice.