Common Law and Civil Law: Cases Discussion

Subject: Law
Pages: 9
Words: 2780
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: College

In each and every court case, a different type of law is applied depending on the country, type and class of court, facts of the case among other reasons. Among the many types of laws applied are common and civil laws. This paper explains the two types of laws discussing their origin and what they entail. It goes further to summarise examples of cases that were solved using common law and civil laws. In a nutshell, civil law began in Rome and can be defined as a body of law that deals with the private wrongs against an individual in their own private capacity. Civil law ensures that individuals get their rights as stated by the laws without deprivation or interfering with one’s rights. The discussed example of a case solved under civil law is a lawsuit of Elizabeth Lopez and penny Jones versus Three Rivers Electric Cooperative. This is classified as a general civil law case since it involved an accidental helicopter crash on an unmarked power line belonging to an electricity company that lead to the death of two people. On the other hand, common law has its origin in England and it entails using the ruling made on preceding similar cases to make a verdict on a case. The ruling made under common law depends on the judgment made on preceding cases of similar facts. An example of a common law case is the case between Catherine Peter versus William Beblow. This was a family law case as it involved the divorce of a couple that had cohabited for twelve years. In both cases, there are the verdicts of the judges as well as my own opinion on both cases.


It is important that each and every community maintains law and order in their day-to-day activities. Laws have therefore been put in place and enforced by the courts so as to ensure that the citizens can be aware whenever they commit an offense. In a bid to the execution of this duty, two main legal traditions whose origin is from the West were adopted (Morrison, 2006, p.1). These were the common and civil laws. The common law was characterized by an unspecialized way of making rules under the powers of the judiciary branch of the government. On the other hand in civil law, the power of rule-making was reserved for the legislative branch of the government (Arrunada, 2009, p.1). All this was during the ancient regime, however; there has been a great evolution in both the civil and common laws (Miller, 2009, p.567). Despite the fact that common law and civil law are similar in a number of ways, they differ in many important particulars. This paper critically analyses both laws in order to establish their involvement and importance in society.

Common Law

Common law has its origin in England although it forms the legal systems of other countries such as Canada, Hong Kong, United States of America among other countries colonized by the British (Morrison, 2006, p.2). Nevertheless, there are some of the British colonized countries, for example, South Africa and Quebec whose legal systems are not based on common law. In England, common law was formulated by three major courts namely, The Court of Common Pleas, Exchequer and the King’s Bench. The three courts used the jurisdiction over disputes that were antecedent and decided by the existing local or forest courts at that time. The main aim of its invention was to establish a system of law that had the mandate of replacing the ruling of the local courts. It was also used to make compensations to victims under the law of torts, property and contract. The ancient procedure of common law required that the complainant in a case meet all the specifications of a writ so that they could have access to common law courts (Miller, 2009, p.589). This system was known as pleading which was later replaced by code-pleading that entailed factual statements being given in the case of a dispute to be solved under common law.

Just like the name suggests, common law means a law that is obvious and usual. Common law, therefore, entails using the ruling made on preceding similar cases to make a verdict on a case (Arrunada, 2009, p.1). However, the precedents are not binding to higher rank courts because the common law courts have the ability to reinterpret and make revisions on the precedent. This is usually done without the legislature coming in. The main aim is for the court to adopt novel political and legal trends. It is thus done for a good reason and only in certain circumstances. In some incidents, however, the court may decide to overturn the precedent but only on seldom occasions. It is because of the aforementioned reasons that common law is described as more flexible as compared to civil law and other statutes. This flexibility allows common law courts to be able to handle cases whose arguments are unanticipated.

In the current regime, common law is used by judges to make verdicts on cases that cannot be solved using the existing statutes. Common law addresses the day-to-day situations as they occur therefore prone to inventions, discoveries and other changes in society (Zuber, 1999, p.76). This, therefore, requires that the judges go the extra miles outside the precedents to get steering on a case of first impression. The setting of a common-law court is different from other courts as it entails a judge or jury who listens to the presented case and from the facts and previous rulings on a case with similar facts makes a ruling in favor of either of the party. The most interesting thing about common law is that all citizens irrespective of rank in the government are subject to a similar circle of laws (Canter, 1997, p.32). It is therefore the responsibility of the judges to establish common law through writing sentiments on cases of courts that have lower jurisdictions. It is because of this that each nation is entirely responsible for its common law (Arrunada, 2009, p.1). The main reason is due to the fact that common law keeps on evolving with time. The evolution comes about as a result of globalization, new inventions just to mention but a few.

A case on common law

Peter v. Beblow [1993] 1 S.C.R. 980

This was a common law case under family law that was heard in the Supreme Court of Canada. In this case, the plaintiff was Catherine Peter while the defendant was William Beblow. It was based on family law and constructive trust. The plaintiff (Catherine) had lived with the defendant (Beblow) for twelve years in a common-law relationship. During this period of time, she raised children, did domestic and household chores with no compensation. At the same time, the defendant had bought the family house while the plaintiff had established a number of projects. All these were done to keep the relationship as well as maintain the family. On separation, some of the property such as the house was left vacant. The plaintiff, therefore, sued the defendant in a bid to get compensation (William, 2006, p 42).

Judges opinion on the case

Such cases are not new in society and so common law was applied using the jurisdiction made on preceding similar cases. The judge during the trial concluded that the defendant had been made rich through the hard work of the plaintiff yet she had not been compensated. The judge, therefore, granted the property to the plaintiff. This was on the basis that the twelve years they had lived together in common law was adequate to create a link in the property. This property link is the requirement for remedy of a constructive trust. It was therefore held that Catherine Peter is accorded the property. In determining the amount of property to be awarded to the plaintiff, the court looked at the value with which the defendant’s property had gone up.

My opinion on the case

According to my, the judge’s ruling was fair and just. This was because the period of cohabiting between the couple was long enough to establish projects worth benefiting the both of them (Zuber, 1999, p.78). The fact that only one partner wanted to selfishly benefit was not right as per the law. This, therefore, gave the plaintiff the strength to complain so as to get her dues. It was right for her to be compensated as she had invested so much in the relationship to be left without anything.

Civil Law

Civil law is a body of law that deals with the private wrongs against an individual in their own private capacity. This law stem has its origin from the Roman law in the Corpus Juris Civilis of the Justinian Empire (Epstein, 2008, p1). In this type of case, the parties involved are the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff is the party whose rights have been infringed and issued while the defendant is the wrongdoer being accused of having committed an offense against the plaintiff. The plaintiff and defendant may either be individual persons or institutions. In a civil case since it is a private wrong, any action brought about by both the plaintiff and defendants are free to comprise (William, 2006, p 42). The plaintiff is at any time according to his or her will allowed to withdraw the charges against the defendant. In a civil case naming of the case starts with the plaintiff’s name versus the defendant’s name. For instance, in a case where John is the plaintiff and Peter is the defendant the case will be said as a case of John versus Peter.

In a civil case for the defendant to be found guilty, the plaintiff is required to prove their case on a balance of probability. It does not have to be beyond reasonable doubt (Epstein, 2008, p1). This implies that the plaintiff is required to produce evidence that is only slightly above the defendant’s evidence. For instance, if a plaintiff proves his case and the jury considers that the evidence provided before them is greater than fifty percent then the defendant is said to be guilty. In the event that the plaintiff is declared the winner of the case in a court ruling then the defendant has to compensate the plaintiff. The compensation is the punishment in civil cases whereas other available remedies may include injunction, damages and specific performance.

A case on Civil Law

Elizabeth Lopez and Penny Jones V Three Rivers Electric Cooperative

An example of a civil case from the internet is a lawsuit of Elizabeth Lopez and penny Jones versus Three Rivers Electric Cooperative (Simpson, 1997, p.299). It is classified as a general civil law case. The two plaintiffs filed a case accusing the Three Rivers Electric Cooperative of two wrongful deaths, a helicopter crash, and an unmarked power line over a river. This was a retrial after the first trial given a verdict on May 7 1998 in which the verdict given was the plaintiffs to be paid five million two hundred and fifty million dollars as the actual damages less allotment of fault to decedents for the net actual damages of $4,475,000 and one million dollars as legal injury (Holmes, 2010, p.176). The plaintiffs had lost their husbands who were the United States Army military personnel, Kenny Jones a chief warrant officer and staff sergeant George Lopez who were both about thirty-six years old at the time of their fateful demise on May 31.

The two plaintiffs‘husbands were on a routine military training mission in a Chinook helicopter when it was struck by an overhead 7200-volt power line suspended nearly 100 feet above Osage River and about 1000 feet across the river (Simpson, 1997, p.299). The crash saw the death of the two Jones and Lopez and two other army soldiers. The unmarked power line was no visibility due to the fact that it was brown/green and 3/8 inches thick. According to the plaintiff, they claimed that the area in context was flight frequently used zones. It was also reported that aircrafts using the area were low flying and in 1975 in the exact position along the wire, a similar tragic event had taken place resulting in the death of three innocent lives. Evidence by the plaintiff indicated how several pilots had reported near-misses in the previous years prior to the event in hand. The plaintiffs also accused the defendant of their prior knowledge of the fatal consequences of the power line but neglected to rectify the situation by the installation of cheap orange marker balls along the power line.

On the contrary, the defendant denied the allegations pressed against them of any defective condition and instead accused the cause of the death of the pilot’s negligence and error. They claimed that the pilot did not follow standard flight procedures by flying the helicopter below 500 feet without authorization. The defendants had Federated Rural Electric Cooperative Insurance Company and AEGIS as their insurers.


The plaintiffs alleged that they had suffered damages such as wrongful death to two men who happen to be their husbands. Loss of service to families as Jones claimed $360,000 for household services, $1,050,000 for lifetime loss while Lopez claimed $360,000 and $1,250,000 million respectively for household service and lifetime loss (Simpson, 1997, p.299).

The Verdict of the Judge

The court made a ruling that the Three Rivers Electric Cooperative’s insurers that are Federated Rural Electric Cooperative Insurance Company and AEGIS should compensate the plaintiffs for the damages they had suffered (Holmes, 2010, p.177). They were to compensate Elizabeth Lopez $11,000,000 for the wrongful death of her husband George Lopez and Penny Jones $10,000,000 for the death of her husband Kenny Jones.

My opinion on the civil law case

As for the above-mentioned case of Elizabeth Lopez and penny Jones versus Three Rivers, Electric Cooperative agrees with the court’s ruling to some point. On the plaintiff’s side, the judgment was fair as the two were well compensated for their damages. The electric company should also be advised to ensure that they take the necessary action to rectify the problem caused by the power line along the river to avoid future tragedies. The court should make a follow-up and know if after a specified period of time the power line has been rectified. If not the electric company is sued for negligence for not solving a problem that can lead to the death of innocent lives. In general, the court’s verdict was fair as it dealt with the matter in the best way possible.


From the above discussion, it can be clearly noted that there is a great difference between the two laws. Under the common law, the ruling depends on the judgment made on preceding cases of similar facts (Canter, 1997, p.32). On the other hand, Civil law deals with cases that arise between individuals in a bid to help resolve differences or pay for damages. Civil law ensures that individuals get their rights as stated by the laws without deprivation or interfering with one’s rights. It has also been seen that civil law has its origin in Rome while Common law originated from England (Baker, 2002, p.102). This is an indication that both have different settings. Common law is superior to civil law because of its principles of law practices. These principles are responsible for the certainty accorded to common law cases in terms of their rights and obligations.

In addition to this, there is also a difference in the administrative principles of common law and civil law. The procedure followed is different as in the common law the judge is only meant to listen to the two parties and makes a judgment not on his own conscience but based on a precedent. The judges are not given the freedom to make decisions on their own unless under special cases (Baker, 2002, p.98). This is contrary to the civil law courts where the judge listens to the plaintiff, defendant and any witnesses available, after which based on the given facts of the case and his own opinion but guided by the law the judge makes a verdict. In this type of law, the judge is given the freedom to make his or her own discretion on the case. Different countries adopt either or both the common law and civil law in the system of the jurisdiction (Arrunada, 2009, p.1). The choice depends on a number of factors including the colonizers as mentioned above although there are other reasons. All in all, both are systems of law that are meant to be used in court rulings.

Reference List

Arrunada, B. (2009). Common Law and Civil Law as Pro-market Adaptations. Web.

Baker, J. An Introduction to English Legal History (London: Butterworths LexisNexis, 2002)

Cantor, N. Imagining the Law: Common Law and the Foundations of the American Legal System. 1997-New York: HarperCollins.

Epstein, R. (2008). Federal Pre-emption and Federal Common Law in Nuisance Cases. Web.

Holmes, O. The Common Law, Part 2. American Bar Association, 2010

Miller, R. Fundamentals of Business Law: Excerpted cases. Cengage Learning, 2009

Morrison, w. (2006). Civil Law and Common Law. Web.

Simpson, B. Leading Cases in the Common Law. Oxford University Press, 1997

William, B. Introduction to the Law and Legal System of the United States, 4th ed. (St. Paul, Thomson West, 2006)

Zuber, H. Canadian Law. Fifth edition. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1999.