What is the Difference Between Case Law and Statutory Law?
There are many different types of laws. That is no surprise. Further, the laws are outlined in different forms as well. For instance, some laws are based on prior case decisions, while others are dictated in specific statutes. Thus, it is important to understand specific terminology and what one means when he or she refers to “case law” and/or “statutory law.”
Simply put, case law, also referred to as “common law,” is established in court rulings as opposed to specific regulations. Specifically, case law “refers to the collection of precedents and authority set by previous judicial decisions on a particular issue or topic.” Also, it is important to understand that case law, as well as other forms of law, can vary depending on the state. Different states may have different outlooks on particular issues; therefore, one state’s case law may be different from another state.
It is also paramount to understand that when a judge is listening or reading an argument, the judge is also considering prior case law on the same or fairly similar issue. This is often referred to as “precedent.” Indeed, precedent is “a court decision that is considered as authority for deciding subsequent cases involving identical or similar facts, or similar legal issues.” As one can likely understand, precedent often plays a crucial role in developing new case law.
Switching over to statutory laws, statutory laws are laws that are prescribed in specific statutes. These specific types of laws are passed by the legislature. The process of creating statutory law is different from case law. For instance, statutory law must be passed on different levels of government, such as local, state and/or federal levels of government, and the specific process of enacting statutory law in states may vary depending on the jurisdiction. Also, bear in mind, statutes can be overturned later under specific circumstances, like finding the statutory law is unconstitutional.
As one can tell, there is a clear difference between “case law” and “statutory law.” With that said, both bodies of law are crucial to the legal system. It is important that you understand the various types of laws and how the laws may apply to you.