Define: Secundum Legem Communem

Secundum Legem Communem
Secundum Legem Communem
What is the dictionary definition of Secundum Legem Communem?
Dictionary Definition of Secundum Legem Communem

In accordance with the common law, historically, this term was used to refer to something that was in accordance with the common law.

Full Definition Of Secundum Legem Communem

The phrase “Secundum Legem Communem” is Latin for “according to the common law.” Common law, a body of unwritten laws based on legal precedents established by the courts, plays a foundational role in many legal systems around the world, particularly those that were part of the British Empire. This legal overview aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of Secundum Legem Communem by exploring its historical roots, principles, application, and contemporary significance.

Historical Roots of Common Law


The common law system originated in England during the Middle Ages. It developed as a response to the need for a unified legal framework that could be applied uniformly across the country. Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, England’s legal landscape was fragmented, with various regions following different customary laws. The establishment of common law aimed to centralise and standardise legal principles and procedures.


The development of common law was significantly influenced by the creation of royal courts. The decisions made by these courts, especially those of the King’s Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer, formed the basis of common law. Judges played a crucial role in this process, as their rulings set precedents that would guide future cases.

Key Milestones

  1. Magna Carta (1215): Often considered a cornerstone of common law, the Magna Carta established principles such as the rule of law and the right to a fair trial.
  2. Provisions of Oxford (1258): These provisions formalised the appointment of justices in eyre, who travelled to different regions to administer justice, further unifying the legal system.
  3. Year Books (13th-16th centuries): These were annual records of legal cases and judgments that served as references for legal principles and precedents.

Principles of Common Law

Precedent (Stare Decisis)

A fundamental principle of common law is the doctrine of precedent, also known as stare decisis. This doctrine mandates that courts must follow the legal precedents established by higher courts in previous cases. Precedent ensures consistency and predictability in the law, as similar cases are expected to be decided in similar ways.

Case Law

Common law is primarily based on case law, which consists of judicial decisions from individual court cases. Unlike civil law systems, which rely heavily on codified statutes, common law evolves through the interpretation and application of these judicial decisions.


Equity is an essential component of the common law system. It developed to address the rigidity and inadequacies of common law by providing remedies that were more flexible and just. The Court of Chancery was established to administer equity, focusing on principles such as fairness, justice, and conscience.

Application of Common Law

Criminal Law

In the realm of criminal law, common law principles are applied to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals accused of committing crimes. Key aspects include:

  • Burden of Proof: The prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
  • Rights of the Accused: Common law safeguards the rights of the accused, including the right to a fair trial and legal representation.

Civil Law

Common law also governs civil disputes, such as contract disputes, tort claims, and property issues. Important principles include:

  • Contract Law: Common law establishes the rules for the formation, performance, and enforcement of contracts.
  • Tort Law: This area of law addresses civil wrongs, including negligence, defamation, and personal injury.
  • Property Law: Common law governs the ownership and transfer of property, including real estate and personal property.

Common Law in the Modern Era

Adaptation and Evolution

One of the strengths of common law is its ability to adapt and evolve over time. As society changes, so too does the common law, through new judicial interpretations and decisions. This adaptability ensures that the legal system remains relevant and responsive to contemporary issues.

Influence on Legal Systems Worldwide

The common law system has had a profound influence on legal systems around the world, particularly in former British colonies. Countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and India have legal systems based on common law principles. Even in jurisdictions that do not follow common law, its principles and precedents are often cited as persuasive authority.

Significant Cases and Judicial Decisions

Landmark Cases

Several landmark cases have shaped the common law and established important legal principles. These include:

  • Donoghue v Stevenson (1932): This case established the modern law of negligence, introducing the principle that one must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which could foreseeably harm others.
  • R v Brown (1993): This case dealt with the legality of consensual sadomasochistic activities, setting important precedents regarding consent and bodily harm.
  • Entick v Carrington (1765): This case established the principle that the state cannot interfere with private property without legal authority, laying the foundation for modern human rights law.

Judicial Interpretation

Judges play a critical role in interpreting statutes and applying common law principles. Their decisions can significantly impact the development of the law. For instance, the interpretation of statutory provisions by higher courts can set binding precedents for lower courts, influencing future legal interpretations and applications.

Common Law and Statutory Law

Interaction and Integration

While common law is based on judicial decisions, statutory law consists of laws enacted by legislative bodies. In many legal systems, common law and statutory law interact and integrate to form a comprehensive legal framework. Courts often interpret statutes in light of common law principles, and statutory reforms may codify or modify existing common law rules.

Challenges and Conflicts

Conflicts can arise between common law principles and statutory provisions. In such cases, courts must navigate these conflicts, often prioritising statutory law due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. However, common law principles continue to play a vital role in filling gaps and providing interpretative guidance.

Criticisms and Challenges

Inflexibility and Complexity

One criticism of common law is its perceived inflexibility and complexity. The reliance on precedent can sometimes lead to rigid and outdated rules that may not reflect contemporary values or societal changes. Additionally, the sheer volume of case law can make the legal system difficult to navigate for both legal professionals and the public.

Judicial Discretion

Another challenge is the significant discretion vested in judges, which can lead to inconsistencies in legal outcomes. While precedent aims to ensure consistency, individual judges’ interpretations and decisions can vary, potentially resulting in unequal application of the law.

Reforms and Future Directions

Modernisation Efforts

To address the criticisms and challenges associated with common law, various reforms have been proposed and implemented. These include:

  • Codification: Some jurisdictions have undertaken efforts to codify common law principles into statutory law to provide greater clarity and accessibility.
  • Judicial Training: Enhancing the training and education of judges to ensure consistent and informed decision-making.
  • Legal Technology: Leveraging technology to streamline legal research and improve access to case law and legal resources.

Future Trends

The future of common law will likely be shaped by ongoing societal changes, technological advancements, and globalisation. Key trends to watch include:

  • Digital Transformation: The impact of digital technology on legal practice and the development of new legal principles to address emerging issues such as cybercrime and data privacy.
  • Internationalisation: The increasing influence of international legal principles and human rights law on domestic common law systems.
  • Sustainability and Ethics: The incorporation of ethical considerations and sustainability principles into legal decision-making and common law development.


Secundum Legem Communem, or according to the common law, is a foundational principle that underpins many legal systems around the world. It has historical roots, fundamental principles, and applications across various areas of law, demonstrating its enduring significance. Despite facing criticisms and challenges, common law remains a dynamic and adaptable system that continues to evolve in response to societal changes. Looking to the future, ongoing reforms and emerging trends will shape the development of common law, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness in addressing contemporary legal issues.

Secundum Legem Communem FAQ'S

“Secundum Legem Communem” is a Latin phrase that translates to “according to common law.” It refers to the legal principle that decisions should be made based on established legal precedents and customs rather than specific statutes or legislation.

“Secundum Legem Communem” focuses on the application of common law principles, while “Lex Scripta” refers to laws that are explicitly written and enacted by legislative bodies.

While “Secundum Legem Communem” is primarily associated with common law systems, some civil law jurisdictions may also consider common law principles in their decision-making process, especially in cases where there is a lack of specific legislation.

“Secundum Legem Communem” empowers judges to interpret and apply legal principles based on established precedents and customs. It allows judges to exercise discretion and make decisions that align with the principles of fairness and justice.

While “Secundum Legem Communem” is an important legal principle, it is not absolute. In some cases, statutes or legislation may take precedence over common law principles, especially if they are more specific or relevant to the situation at hand.

Lawyers can use “Secundum Legem Communem” to support their arguments by citing relevant legal precedents and customs that align with their client’s position. It helps establish a persuasive case based on established legal principles.

Yes, if new legislation is enacted that directly contradicts or modifies existing common law principles, it can override the application of “Secundum Legem Communem.” However, courts may still consider the historical context and intent behind the legislation when interpreting its application.

“Secundum Legem Communem” provides a level of legal certainty as it allows individuals to anticipate how courts will interpret and apply legal principles based on established precedents. It promotes consistency and predictability in the legal system.

“Secundum Legem Communem” can be challenged or modified through legal reforms or changes in societal norms. However, any changes would require a comprehensive review of existing legal precedents and customs to ensure a smooth transition.

“Secundum Legem Communem” is applicable in various areas of law, including contract law, tort law, and property law. However, its application may vary depending on the specific legal system and jurisdiction.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 8th June 2024.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Secundum Legem Communem. DLS Solicitors. June 12 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Secundum Legem Communem. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 12 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Secundum Legem Communem. Retrieved June 12 2024, from website:
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts