One of the two major legal systems of the modern Western world (the other is civil law), it originated in the UK and is now followed in most English speaking countries. Initially, common
law was founded
on common sense as reflected in the social customs
. Over the centuries, it was supplanted by statute law
(rules enacted by a legislative body such as a Parliament) and clarified by the judgments of the higher courts (that set a precedent
for all courts to follow in similar cases). These precedents are recognized, affirmed, and enforced by subsequent court
decisions, thus continually expanding the common law.
In contrast to civil law
(which is based on a rigid code
of rules), common law is based on broad principles
. And whereas every defendant
who enters a criminal trial
under civil law is presumed guilty until proven innocent
, under common law he or she is presumed innocent until proven guilty.