Distinguishing Common Law & Equity

Common Law vs Equity

The terms Common Law and Equity refer to two branches of law not created by legislation. While Common Law is often understood as precedent or law created by decisions of the courts, Equity is associated with principles of fairness and equality. Despite the inclination to use the terms interchangeably, there are differences between the two that are further elaborated below.

What is Common Law?

Common Law, also known as case law, precedent law, or judge-made law, is a set of rules developed by courts through their decisions. The origins of Common Law can be traced back to rules developed by the royal courts after the Norman Conquest in 1066. These rules were recorded and subsequently used as authority or guidance for future cases or disputes. Today, countries such as the United States, Canada, and India base their legal systems on Common Law rules derived from the English Common Law system. Unlike statutes or legislation, Common Law rules are developed on a case-by-case basis, allowing it to adapt to changing trends in society.

What is Equity?

Equity is often considered the second branch of English law, originating after the introduction of Common Law. In medieval England, parties aggrieved by a court decision would petition the King for justice regarding the harsh judgment. The King, in turn, relied on the advice of the Lord Chancellor, who sought to deliver a fair outcome against the rigid principles of Common Law. The Lord Chancellor’s role in administering equity was later transferred to a separate court called the Court of Chancery. Equity was developed to alleviate the harshness and inflexibility of Common Law rules or the rigid interpretations given to such rules by the courts. A body of general principles, known as maxims of equity, was developed, and it was accepted that the rules of equity prevailed when there was a conflict with Common Law.

Key Takeaways

  • Common Law is a body of law based on precedent or court decisions, while Equity constitutes general principles and serves as a supplement to Common Law.
  • Equity provides legal relief when such relief cannot be found in the rules of common law.
  • Equity is based on a judicial evaluation of fairness, reason, good faith, and justice, while Common Law entails applying the rules of common law to the issue before the court.
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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