What Is Case Law?

Case law, also known as judicial precedent or common law, is a fundamental aspect of the legal system in many countries, including Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and others with a common law tradition. It refers to the body of law that develops and evolves through judicial decisions made in specific legal cases.

Legal precedent: Case law consists of the legal principles, rules, and doctrines that emerge from the decisions and opinions of courts in previous cases. These decisions serve as legal precedents that guide and influence the resolution of similar legal issues in future cases. In essence, case law represents how the law is applied to specific factual situations.

Binding and persuasive authority: The authority of case law varies depending on the jurisdiction and the level of the court that issued the decision. Decisions from higher-level courts within the same jurisdiction, such as appellate courts or supreme courts, are considered binding precedent. Lower-level courts within that jurisdiction must adhere to and apply the legal principles established in these decisions. By contrast, decisions from other jurisdictions or lower-level courts within the same jurisdiction may be considered persuasive precedent. While they are not binding, they can be used to guide and influence a court's decision.

Interpretation and application of law: Case law plays a crucial role in interpreting and applying statutory law (laws enacted by legislatures) and other legal principles to specific cases. Judges and legal practitioners refer to relevant precedents when determining the outcome of a case, ensuring consistency and predictability in legal decisions.

Legal arguments and briefs: In legal practice, attorneys and litigants often cite and reference case law when presenting legal arguments and briefs to the court. They use relevant cases to support their positions and demonstrate how the law should be applied to the specific circumstances of the case at hand.

Development and evolution: Case law is not static; it evolves over time as courts encounter new legal issues and factual scenarios. Courts may distinguish, modify, or overturn previous decisions when presented with compelling reasons to do so. This adaptability allows the law to respond to changing societal values and circumstances.

Hierarchy of courts: The hierarchy of courts within a jurisdiction determines the precedential value of their decisions. Decisions from higher-level appellate courts have more significant precedential authority than those from lower-level trial courts.

Reporters and legal citations: Case law is typically published in legal reporters, which are organised collections of court decisions. Legal citations, such as R v Allen (1985) AC 1029, provide a standardised way to reference specific cases, facilitating the location and review of relevant precedents by legal professionals.

Interaction with statutory law: Case law interacts with statutory law. When statutory law is ambiguous or subject to interpretation, courts may turn to case law for guidance on how to interpret and apply the statute.

In summary, case law is the body of law developed through court decisions in specific legal cases. It serves as a critical source of legal authority, guiding the interpretation and application of the law in subsequent cases. Case law is a dynamic and evolving aspect of the legal system, ensuring both consistency and adaptability in legal decision-making.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.