Natural Law versus Common Law

Natural Law is loosely defined as the set of laws of the universe, god-given laws, and/or our knowledge of good and evil, which exist within us and which are, at the same time, exterior to humans’ minds or consciousness. Animals as well as humans often act subconsciously according to the principles of Natural Law.

Many of us believe that we all have an innate sense of right and wrong, from birth, but that one’s experiences, culture and societal influences may alter our views as we grow up.

The Common Law, or Common Law, are those principles of Natural Law which we have agreed over time to form the basis of our human interactions and in many cases, they have influenced the practice of law and law making. Examples of Common Law principles codified into law include rules that we shouldn’t: murder another human being, commit harm to them, steal from them, or deceive others especially for self-gain.

Common Law often forms the basis of precedent court cases, especially where no precedent exists; Common Law is sometimes the lawful and legal interpretation of ideas and actions according to ‘common sense’.

Interestingly, Common Law is not acknowledged as legal precedent or underpinning laws in all countries. According to Wikipedia:

Today, one-third of the world’s population lives in common law jurisdictions or in systems mixed with civil law, including Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Burma, Cameroon, Canada (both the federal system and all its provinces except Quebec), Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom (including its overseas territories such as Gibraltar), the United States (both the federal system and 49 of its 50 states), and Zimbabwe. Some of these countries have variants on common law systems. In these countries, common law is considered synonymous with case law.

Source: [accessed 14/08/2022].

Further reading:

Common Law – Investopedia: [updated 20/05/2022, accessed 14/08/2022].

They make the following key points:

Common law, also known as case law, is a body of unwritten laws based on legal precedents established by the courts.
Common law draws from institutionalized opinions and interpretations from judicial authorities and public juries.
Common laws sometimes prove the inspiration for new legislation to be enacted

Natural Law – Britannica: [accessed 14/08/2022].

They define Natural Law as “… in philosophy, [a] system of right or justice held to be common to all humans and derived from nature rather than from the rules of society, or positive law“.

The English Legal System – Incorporated Council of Law Reporting [ICLR]: [accessed 14/08/2022].

They note that “The common law is the law declared by judges, derived from custom and precedent“, and “The common law includes both substantive rules, such as the offence of murder, and procedural ones, such as court procedure rules derived from the inherent jurisdiction of the court“.

The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: [updated 26/05/2019, accessed 14/08/2022].

Some key points on Natural Law from the above article:

  • Natural Law is “eternal law… that rational plan by which all creation is ordered“, or “the basic principles of practical rationality for human beings“,
  • Natural Law can be defined through “… two theses – that from the God’s-eye point of view, it is law through its place in the scheme of divine providence, and from the human’s-eye point of view, it constitutes a set of naturally binding and knowable precepts of practical reason“.
  • In summary, according to Thomas Aquinas [c. 1224/25–1274], “the fundamental principle of the natural law is that good is to be done and evil avoided“.