What common law is not/Deutsche Wikipedia zu Common Law

The term common law is widely known outside England and Wales, to use the word known loosely, for sometimes the term is misunderstood.

Common law is not custom (Gewohnheitsrecht). Custom may play a role in English law, as it does in German law, but it isn’t called common law. Originally, common law was developed by the king’s courts for the whole of England, and some of what was incorporated in it was general custom, but not local custom. And it was sanctioned by the king’s courts. I therefore find it confusing to call it custom.

Here’s the Oxford Dictionary of Law
on custom as it’s understood in English law today:

bq. A practice that has been followed in a particular locality in such circumstance that it is to be accepted as part of the law of that locality. In order to be recognized as customary law it must be reasonable in nature and it must have been followed continuously, and as if it were a right, since the beginning of legal memory. Legal memory began in 1189, but proof that a practice has been followed within living memory raises a presumption that it began before that date.

Common law is not the French droit commun (Bridge translates droit commun as general law; ordinary or existing law – Council of Europe FR>EN Legal Dictionary, ISBN 92 871 2496 5)

Common law is not German gemeines Recht or ius commune; above all, its content is completely different.
The German Wikipedia defines gemeines Recht as the totality of customary law that is generally recognized as applicable in a particular territory.

Common law has several meanings, and it is usually wrong to take only one of those definitions as a basis. For example, to describe common law as judge-made law (Richterrecht) has some truth, but to say it is never contained in statutes is misleading: it depends which flavour of the term is being referred to whether that is true or not.

The German Wikipedia also defines Common law, but not well. I would alter it, but I don’t know where to start. Perhaps I should just alter the spelling of Präzedenz. And perhaps this is actually OK, as a definition of what Germans believe common law to be.

bq. Common Law
aus Wikipedia, der freien Enzyklopädie

bq. Das Common Law ist das in den anglophonen Ländern teilweise fortgeltende Gemeine Recht. Das Common Law wird als Gewohnheitsrecht größtenteils überliefert. Zumeist wird daher zur Urteilsfindung auf Präsedenzfälle (sog. case law) zurückgegriffen. Nur ein geringer Anteil ist kodifizert (sog. statutory law). Das Common Law umfasst alle Rechtsgebiete, also neben dem Zivilrecht (civil law) auch das Strafrecht und das Öffentliche Recht.

bq. Infolge der Angleichung des Rechts des Vereinigten Königreiches und Irlands an das EG-/EU-Recht besteht in diesen Ländern eine zunehmende Praxis der Kodifizierung bisheriger Rechtsgrundsätze (insbesondere im Strafrecht, um dem Bestimmtheitsgebot und dem Gesetzlichkeitsprinzip Rechnung zu tragen). Teile des Common Law gelten in ihrer ursprünglichen Fassung noch in zahlreichen Ländern, die früher Kolonien der englischen Krone waren, vor allem in den USA.

Wikipedia is a wonderful resource. But I have to say: the first sentence perhaps applies to US states, where the common law brought over from England does have the status of a kind of recognized custom in each state (most states). However, common law started as the king’s law in England and shouldn’t be called Gewohnheitsrecht. Next, if common law is contrasted with equity, it does not cover all fields of law. However, there’s no mention of equity here and it seems meaningless to use the term in a wider sense (as if I were to say, ‘German law includes all areas of law’). It’s news to me that the codification of criminal law, which has long been proceeding, relates to the EU: the requirement that the law be certain is not the sole province of EU law – but you never know.

I was moved to write this as I just read a German definition of common law as the common law of the Commonwealth. No, it isn’t that either. Watch this space for an entry on What common law is.

8 thoughts on “What common law is not/Deutsche Wikipedia zu Common Law

  1. A neat summary, Margaret. Do you have a copy of any edition of Granville Williams’ Learning the Law handy? My copy is back at my London place.

    In the opening chapters, he gives at least 5 different interpretations of common law i.e. of the Brit. Commonwealth, law of custom, vs. civil-law systems, equity & even criminal law.

  2. Yes, Adrian. I’m about to post my summary of the meanings of common law, which is based on Granville Williams plus an addition on US law. I agree with most of what he says, but not all. I used this material for teaching for many years, with illustrative sentences, and I will not enter into any discussions until I’ve posted that piece.

    By the way, Glanville Williams does not mention the Commonwealth. I don’t see the connection myself.

  3. What I was always taught (to use the word ‘taught’ about as loosely as ‘known’, as I have no legal background) was that ‘common law’ was to English-speaking jurisdictions what ‘civil law’ was elsewhere. In practical terms, in Canada (where ‘Property and Civil Rights’ fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments) all provinces use the common law traditions, except Quebec which follows a Napoleonic Code-inspired tradition.

  4. Hallo Margaret,
    danke für diesen interessanten Eintrag. Der Artikel Common Law in der deutschesprachigen Wikipedia bedarf sicherlich einer Überarbeitung (..oder gleich einer Ersetzung durch einen sinnigeren Text).

    Hast du einmal auf den englischsprachigen Text zu Common Law in der wikipedia geschaut? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law

    Wäre dieser Text ein besserer Startpunkt, um auch die Deutschsprachigen mit diesem Begriff vertraut zu machen?


  5. Danke, Mathias.
    Ich habe mich auch gefragt, was man in der deutschsprachigen Wikipedia machen könnte. Ich würde zwar auf deutsch sagen, “Im englischen Recht gilt das Common Law, nicht Equity-Recht, für Ansprüche auf Schadensersatz”. Common law und Equity würden aber zu weit gehen für einen deutschen Laien. Nicht mal Jurawiki enthält was zu Common Law.

    Wahrscheinlich müsste man schreiben, dass Common Law der englische Begriff für angloamerikanisches Recht ist. Zusätzlich könnte man beschreiben, wie sich das System ausgebreitet hat und in welchen Ländern es gilt.

    Der Text der englischen Wikipedia ist aber auch sehr merkwürdig. Der erste Teil, über “casuistry”, ist eigensinnig und überraschend. Der Teil über Equity am Ende ist nützlicher.
    Unter Common Law Legal Systems (auch nützlich) steht:

    “The main alternative to the common law system is the civil law system, which is used in Continental Europe, the former Soviet bloc, and most of the rest of the world.”

    Früher hat man das sozialistische System auch unterschieden, und hier wird muslimisches Recht völlig übergangen!

    Dann wird immer zwischen “common law” und “kodifiziert” unterschieden, aber das ist ein semantisches Problem, siehe meinen nächsten Eintrag. In England ist das meiste Strafrecht ebenfalls kodifiziert, aber der Inhalt basiert auf dem früheren Recht. Durch Kodifizierung wird ein “common law” system nicht zu einem “civil law” system, logischerweise. – Es steht auch viel zu niederländischem/holländischem Recht in New York, die Wikipedia ist wohl als ein amerikanisches Werk zu sehen.

    Man müsste eben überlegen, was in einem deutschen Text nützlich ist – wahrscheinlich nicht so viele Details.

  6. Weitere Anmerkungen zur englischen Wikipedia:

    die “disambiguation page” ist gut

    folgendes scheint mir auch semantisch verworren zu sein:

    “Today common law is generally thought of as applying only to civil disputes; originally it encompassed the criminal law before criminal codes were adopted in most common law jurisdictions in the late 19th century. The type of procedure practiced in common law courts is known as the adversarial system; this is also a development of the common law.”

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