Common Law Rights

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Common law rights refer to statutory rights and regulations derived from historic laws of the UK and former territories, like the US and Australia. In addition, these rights rely on judicial decisions and lawful precedents rather than documented laws or regulations.

Unlike statutory law, which is written and legislated by an administrative body, common law rights are not specified in written laws or statutes. Instead, they rely on legal precedents and judicial decisions established through the court system. It means that the scope and interpretation of common law rights can change over time as new cases get legislated, and new precedents are written.

Importance of Common Law Rights

The common law system has numerous advantages based solely on documented laws and statutes. One benefit is that it allows for greater flexibility and adaptability, as common law rights can evolve and change over time to reflect transforming economic, social, and political conditions.

Additionally, common law rights depend on a long history of judicial decisions and legal precedents, which can offer a solid foundation for legal decision-making and stability. Below are some primary advantages of common law rights.

  • Flexibility and Adaptability

    One of the key benefits of common law rights is their ability to grow and adapt over time. It is because common law rights take judicial decisions as a basis, and legal precedents can be updated and refined after enacting new legislation. It allows the legal system to respond to changing social, economic, and political conditions and provides greater flexibility in addressing new and complex legal issues.

  • Fair and Consistent

    Common law rights follow the principles of righteousness and consistency, which helps to ensure that individuals are treated justly and equally under the law. It is because common law rights seek through a judicial decision-making process, which considers each case's specific facts and circumstances.

  • Strong Foundation

    The common law system is based on a long history of judicial decisions and legal precedents, which can provide a substantial foundation for legal decision-making and stability. It helps to ensure that the legal system is grounded in a deep and established body of law and offers a stable framework for safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.

Disadvantages of Common Law Rights

While there are numerous advantages of common law rights, there are some drawbacks. One disadvantage is that it can be challenging for individuals to understand their rights and responsibilities, as common law rights are not always clearly described or written down. Also, the common law system can be slow to change and adapt to new circumstances, as changes in the law generally need a new judicial decision or a change in legal precedent. Here are some drawbacks of common law rights.

  • Potential for Bias

    The common law system is based on judicial decision-making, which means that individual judges' personal beliefs and opinions can influence the interpretation and application of common law rights. It can lead to bias and inconsistencies in applying the law, undermining the legal system's fairness and consistency.

  • Lack of Clarity

    Common law rights can be challenging for people to understand, as common law rights are not always clearly defined or written down. It can make it difficult for individuals to understand their rights and obligations, leading to chaos and uncertainty in the legal system.

  • Slow Pace of Change

    Another drawback of common law rights is that they can be slow to change and adapt to new circumstances. It is because changes in the law generally need a new judicial decision or a change in legal precedent, which can take time and may not always reflect the requirements and desires of the broader society.

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Essentials of Common Law Rights

Below are some particulars included in common law rights.

  • Right to personal security and safety

    It includes the right to be free from assault, physical harm, and battery. This right also extends to security from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

  • Right to due process of law and a fair trial

    This comprises the right to a fair and unbiased trial, the right to remain informed of the accusations against one, the right to confront witnesses, the right to counsel, and the right to a jury of one's peers.

  • Right to own and enjoy property

    It is the right to use, own, and dispose of the property as one sees fit, as long as it does not intrude on the rights of others. This right also includes security from having one's property taken without just compensation.

  • Right to freedom of expression and speech

    This comprises the right to express one's ideas and thoughts freely, without fear of state censorship or retribution. This right also includes the right to collect and transmit information to others.

  • Right to the protection of personal information

    This includes the right to keep one's personal information private and to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This right also includes the right to control one's body and make decisions about medical treatment.

  • Right to marry and start a family

    This includes the right to marry the person of one's choice and to start a family through procreation or adoption.

  • Right to equality before the law

    This includes the right to be treated equally under the law, regardless of race, gender, religion, or other personal characteristics.

  • Right to earn a living and engage in business activities

    The right to engage in lawful employment and start and operate a business free from undue government regulation or interference.

  • Right to receive compensation for wrongs suffered

    This includes the right to compensate for harm suffered due to another's negligence or intentional wrongs.

  • Right to protect one's reputation

    This includes protecting one's reputation from false or defamatory statements made by others.

Key Terms

  • Precedent: A judicial decision that acts as an authority for prospective cases. Common law systems depend on precedents to guide decision-making in comparable cases.
  • Common Law Marriage: A type of informal marriage identified in some states, where a couple lives together and considers themselves married, but without obtaining a legal marriage license.
  • Stare Decisis: A Latin phrase meaning "to stand by decided cases." It refers to the regulation that judges should follow prior judicial decisions to maintain consistency and righteousness in the legal system.
  • Jury Trial: A trial in which a panel of residents, rather than a magistrate, decides the case's outcome. Jury trials are a vital part of the common law system.
  • Equitable Remedies: Remedies, such as injunctions or specific performance, that a court grants in cases where monetary damages are inadequate. They are a key aspect of common law.


Common law rights play a crucial role in shaping many countries' legal systems and protecting individual rights and liberties. They are flexible, adaptable, and respond to changing social and economic conditions, making them an important part of modern legal systems around the world.

And in addition to protecting individual rights, common law rights also help to establish and maintain social order. For example, the common law of contract establishes the rules for entering into and enforcing agreements between individuals, which is essential for the functioning of the economy.

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