This report will compare and contrast the common law legal system used in the United States, England, and Canada with the civil law system that is used in most of continental Europe. Common law is described by Hall (1992) as the body of judge-made law that was administered in the royal courts of England (King's/Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, and Exchequer Chamber) in contrast with other bodies of English law administered indifferent courts such as equity, admiralty, canon law, and the customary law of the borough and manorial courts. The common law is the general customary law of the realm as interpreted by the royal judges who function as the living oracles of the law.
The common law was received in the American colonies and was adopted as the basis of American and Canadian legal systems during the colonial era and beyond. It is enshrined in state, provincial, and federal constitutions. As Hall (1992) has noted, the U.S. Supreme Court is a common law court.
Hall, Wiecek, and Finkelman (1996) have stated that an interplay between the inherited legal culture of England and the New World environment molded law in early North American colonial society. This was a combination of tradition and design out of which emerged a new synthesis in the case of the United States which represented a distinctly American legal culture. The early English settlers regarded themselves as English people who happened to live outside of the realm and as heirs to the English constitutional tradition in general and specifically to those parts of it that guaranteed individual liberty.
However, as Hall, et al (1996) have commented, the very act of creating new societies provided both the opportunity and the necessity for inventing or adapting legal institutions appropriate to the New World environment. For example, legal institutions that supported the established church in England such as canon law and its courts were unsuited to...