The Anglo-Saxon Legal System: Description, History and Interesting Facts

Interest in the system of Anglo-American law is not accidental. Today it is considered the most flexible and versatile, despite the difficulties of mastering: not every lawyer is able to quickly figure it out. However, any person would like to consider his dispute precisely in the court of England, known for its broad historically established powers, great international possibilities and absolute integrity.

Basic legal families

The device of any state combines the traditions of national legislation and legal practice. These criteria may be similar to other countries and vary.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

The brilliant German scientist of the 17th century, Leibniz, who sought to systematize in all the sciences in which he was engaged, proposed to classify national systems of state law into families, based on common key features. There are several parameters that affect the systematization:

  • historical development;
  • territorial factors of distribution;
  • characteristics of the system (source of law, the role of the court);
  • national characteristics, ideology, religion.

According to these factors, five families of law can be considered:

No. p / p

Legal family

Incoming countries

Source of law



England, Australia, Canada, USA, other former colonies of Britain



Continental (Roman-German)

Continental countries of the Romance and German groups, Latin American countries, Russia, Ukraine

Law, written in the era of bourgeois revolutions Constitution


Religious law (countries preaching Islam, Judaism, Buddhism)

Islam - Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia and other Arab countries

Buddhism - communities in India, African countries, Southeast Asia

Judaism - Israel

Religious sources in the form of a written statement of the sermons of the prophets, additional interpretations



Socialist countries - China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam

Socialist Constitution and Law



The countries of the Far East, the island of Madagascar, the equatorial part of Africa

Customs, foundations, traditions

Despite the territorial proximity, as we see, the Roman-Germanic and Anglo-Saxon legal systems are fundamentally different.

History of development

At the turn of the first and second millennia, Europe shook from wars. After almost century-old feudal strife, England was conquered by the Norman Duke William I and seriously changed her polity.

William I the Conqueror (1028-1087)

There are several historical stages of development of law in England:

  1. XI century. - The appearance of a traveling royal court with the participation of local jurors. He formed a common low (common law), creating precedents fixed and used later on at the local procedural level.
  2. XIII century - statutory law appears on the basis of royal and parliamentary acts in areas with a small number of precedents. Judges get more rights to interpret and update statutes.
  3. XIV - XV centuries. - the emergence of bourgeois society demanded new norms for the consideration of cases, - not on the basis of precedent. This formed a separate Equity Low judicial system.
  4. XIX century. - the union of common law and Equity Low. There is also the streamlining of rule-making on family issues, partnerships, and trade.
  5. XX century - the development of delegated legislation in some areas (insurance, health, education). Acts are created by ministries and government.

The Anglo-Saxon legal system has never been economically dependent on the state, being a relatively autonomous and collegial guild interested in the development of trade relations. This is how it is now, continuing to evolve in step with progress.

The reasons for the evolution of English law

The flexibility of the legal system of England is demonstrated by its good adaptability to changing civilizational requirements:

  • Until the X century, judicial practice was based mostly on the customs inherent in a particular area, which is typical of the communal system.
  • The emergence of the concept of precedent as a court decision in some case is evidence of the formation of feudal relations. Democracy was added to the process by the participation of local jurors in the royal mobile courts, which contributed to the establishment of a common low. The introduction of statutes with the broad powers of judges only strengthened the faith of society in the judicial system.
  • At the stage of the birth of capitalist relations, the need arose to resolve disputes that were previously unknown to common law and have no precedent (trade and financial). Thus arose the "right of justice."
  • With the further development of English society, it became possible to merge common low and Equity Low due to the accumulation of a sufficient base of precedents to successfully use them in judicial practice within the same system.
  • After the end of the colonial era, England changed its development paradigm, becoming a global financial player. It took the transfer of legislative powers to a number of ministries.

For hundreds of years, the features of the legal system have not changed radically. They just evolved.

The spread of English law in the world

The British Empire introduced the rules of its legislation on all conquered lands. Despite the statements of Australia, the USA and Canada about legal sovereignty, and the adoption of their own constitutions, their laws are developing within the framework of the characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon legal system.

By acquiring independence, former colonies rarely changed the basis of an established legal scheme, due to its high flexibility in areas that stimulate trade and business.Some changes related to the replacement of outdated standards with more modern or better reflecting national customs.

The countries of the Anglo-Saxon legal system are divided into English and American groups. The first is attributed, besides England, about 40 more states. To the second - the United States.

The determining value of the use case

The British judicial system is based on combining rights:

  • general;
  • statutory;
  • justice

The main is considered common, since it is based on precedent, while the other two are of a regulatory and clarifying nature. The influence of the delegated legislation of recent decades has not had a significant impact on legal practice, because the norms adopted by parliament and ministries are subject to detailed interpretation in court.

The main source of the Anglo-Saxon legal system is precedent. However, there are other sources, such as:

  • laws or statutes;
  • legal doctrine;
  • existing customs;
  • judicial intelligence.

The accepted precedent has legislative force and is obligatory for execution by the authority that created it and all its subordinates.

Justice is a symbolic image

Creating use cases

The specificity of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence lies in the absence of codification of law by branches and the division of justice into private and public. The same judge may consider cases of completely different specializations.

However, precedents are created only by the courts of higher state institutions:

  • Parliamentary;
  • Privy Council;
  • Appeal;
  • Higher.

Territorial courts work according to the formula: “do as it has already been done.” Before accepting the case for consideration, the judge selects precedents. In case of their absence, the dispute may be referred to a higher authority.

A separate creative process of the court is the interpretation of laws that may be outdated and require updating or a broader understanding.

For example, so far in England there are a large number of curious statutes that have existed since time immemorial:

  1. In York, it is possible on the streets on weekdays to shoot Scots from the bow.
  2. In Beaconsfield it is forbidden to paint at home in more than two colors.
  3. In London, you can not beat your wife later than 21-00, so as not to disturb the citizens.

The judicial system in the Anglo-Saxon legal system is so distinctive,that, until recently, to become a leading figure in jurisprudence was possible only in the process of practice, which was in no way associated with university education.

Court procedure

The English court itself selects cases to be dealt with. The dispute may be refused and the claimant is notified about it.

In the event of the final adoption of a lawsuit, a preliminary hearing is scheduled with the mandatory presence of the prosecution.

Especially carefully selected are jurors, which can be assigned to both the plaintiff and the defendant.

The court itself takes place in an environment that is able to fully convey the essence of the dispute. You can use all sources of evidence - plans, graphs, tables, films, audio recordings, other visual explanations of the position being defended.

Jurors in english court

Several stages are considered in any process:

  1. Representation of the parties and the announcement of the essence of the case.
  2. The statement of the plaintiff.
  3. Speech by the defendant.
  4. Debate of the parties.
  5. The final speech of lawyers.
  6. Making a jury verdict.
  7. Announcement of the decision by the court.

The legal system in the Anglo-Saxon legal field attaches great importance to the procedure for examining the details of the case.Therefore, the court can last for years.

Structural features

The identity of the legal system of the Anglo-Saxon legal family is revealed in its comparison with the continental one and differs in:

  • the source;
  • large judicial powers and the ability to influence legislation, the lack of administrative justice and the prosecutor's office;
  • giving importance to compliance with procedural rules and procedures, in view of the main task of the court - the protection of the rights of a citizen;
  • the casuistic nature of the rules - each case is selected its own;
  • the peculiarity of the structure, which includes three legal fields - general, justice and statutory;
  • the lack of separation of the right to industries, as well as private and public;
  • participation in jury trials;
  • the hierarchy of judicial decisions - a precedent must be respected in all lower instances.

Advantages and disadvantages of the Anglo-American legislation

The roots of the system of the Anglo-Saxon legal family were laid in ancient times. They always ensured the stability of government and did it quite successfully.

English judges

The reason for stability is in the initial democratic nature of the institution of law, which is an undoubted advantage. Disadvantages lie in the bulkiness of previous experience and the uncertainty of the use of norms.

Structural parameter




Equalizes citizens by the criterion of "have already done so"

The bulkiness of the database, the complexity of mastering the specifics

Role of the court

Broad judicial powers accelerate lawmaking

The law takes effect only from the moment it is applied in court.

Casuistic regulatory nature

Respect for civil rights is the primary task of the system

Preservation of clearly outdated statutes of the Middle Ages

Codification of the right

Expanding the applicability of sources to any area

The long process of proceedings in complex cases


Jurors democratize procedure to the maximum

The required procedure for the approval of the jury delays the process

US legal base

Based initially on the case law of England, the judicial practice in the New World has seriously changed since the states acquired independence.

Characteristics of the US Anglo-Saxon legal system:

  1. The constitution is the main act.
  2. Equilibrium application of common law and legislation.
  3. State courts are independent in their decision making.
  4. Higher legal bodies do not have their own precedents, so they quickly respond to the need for changes in legislation.
  5. Codification of law by industry exists and is regulated by Congress.
  6. There is a federal judicial control over the observance of federal and regional legislation.
Adoption of the American Constitution

In the USA, as well as in England, it is full of prescriptions, devoid of common sense:

  1. In Iowa, it is forbidden to hire pianists without one hand.
  2. In Alaska, an attempt to wake a bear with a view to taking a photo is considered a violation of the law.
  3. In Baltimore, from the second floor you can not throw haystacks.
  4. In Wisconsin, the law punishes for cutting women's hair.


In fact, until 1960, an English form of jurisprudence remained in Australia. The law of law-making was not implemented sufficiently - in the territory of all states, the norms of the colonial period were applied. The features of the Anglo-Saxon legal system were also traced later, including the precedents of the times of traveling royal courts. In Australia, there is a Constitution, and legislation - centralized and by state.

The opening of the first Parliament of the Union of Australia in 1901.

The laws of the Commonwealth of Australia govern:

  • formalization of the work of the courts;
  • employment and dismissal;
  • pension system;
  • divorce proceedings;
  • financial flows;
  • Copyright;
  • corporate development.

Norm-setting states is limited to specific articles of a more narrow focus.

Curiosities of the law: in Australia, according to the federal statute, it is prohibited to engage in divination and horoscopes. The law of the state of Victoria is punished by walking in pink trousers in the afternoon.

Canadian version

Since the state gained complete autonomy only in 1982, it continues to comply primarily with the Anglo-Saxon legal system, with the exception of the province of Quebec (it is governed by continental law).

Canadian judges

Canada does not have a Constitution, and it is replaced by several regulations. The original sources of law are traditional:

  • laws of Parliament;
  • Equity Low;
  • common low.

The state has a federal system of government, and lawmaking is divided between the Parliament, which controls 27 major areas, and provincial territories.

Ridiculous cases in Canadian law: a federal statute prohibits you from paying 1 cent in a trifle if the purchase price exceeds 50 cents.In the province of Ontario, you cannot carry a dead mare on Yong Street, in the city of Toronto. And cyclists are given the right of overtaking on all highways.

The future of Anglo-Saxon law

England was almost the only country to avoid revolutionary upheavals with the displacement of the king that shook Europe in the XVIII-XX centuries. Karl Marx spoke negatively about the cumbersome system of Anglo-Saxon law. Most likely, in view of the hopelessness of the impact of his work “Capital” on the minds of the leaders of the British trade unions. After all, a series of legislative acts of the Parliament allowed to transfer dissatisfaction of the masses to the courts, and this showed the extraordinary flexibility of English law.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Corporations are currently lobbying for legislation in various countries. This forces the Anglo-Saxon system to balance between the interests of various political and economic circles of society for more than 50 years, successfully regulating the growth of transnational companies.

The presence of the UK in the EU also did not significantly change its system, but diversified judicial practice in international affairs.

All these examples speak of good prospects for the Anglo-Saxon system, which, if necessary, is able to maneuver, quickly respond to changes in legislative norms, adapt to the requirements of the time, but not reconsider its basis and structure of the societies in which it is represented.

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