Sources of Laws and Structure of the English Legal System

Section 1 Sources of laws and Structure of the English Legal System


The United Kingdom is a constitutional Monarchy; as such the Head of State is a Monarch by virtue of the prescriptions of the law of the land.

Doctrine of Separation of powers

The British Government operates within the spectrum of the doctrine of separation of powers. This doctrine creates three distinct arms of government that are meant to operate independent of each other for the benefit of the British citizens. These arms include; Executive,  Legislature and Judiciary.  Darbyshire (5)

The executive arm constitutes of the Prime Minister, cabiner, Government Departments and Civil service, parliament is the legislative arm and the courts are Judiciary.

England and Wales subscribe to the common law legal system.  It should be noted that English laws are unwritten and depends on Judges interpreting and applying the relevant statutes, thereby creating Judicial  precedents.

Classification of Laws

Criminal Law  

These are laws that specifically address offences against the society.  These crimes are prosecuted by the state. Punishment under criminal law is designed to deter an occurrence of the same offence either by the accused person or by other members of the society. Darbyshire(7)

Civil Law

Deals with disputes between private parties.  Judges are tasked with hearing and determining the plaintiff’s (aggrieved party ) case and awarding damages if need be. Darbyshire(8)


Sources of Law in England

Common Law, statutes and Law from the European union are the principal sources of Law in England.


These are legislations stemming from the UK parliament and Devolved parliaments.

Common Law

Common law constitutes majorly of precedents set by British Courts.  The use of common law can be traced back to the early middle ages published in ‘ The History of English Law before the time of Edward. Common law is a child of Englands Court of Common pleas and other lower courts. Precedents ( stare Decisis)Precedents are defined to mean a legal authority or principle stemming out of an earlier legal case or question and have a binding effect on courts to apply the same principles while deciding subsequent cases that are of a similar nature.  Gillespie, Alisdair A, and Siobhan Weare(8)


A statute is defined to mean a formal written enactment that posses legislative authority and is designed to govern a state city or country. Statutes rank first in the hierarchy of laws in England. This is as set out by the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignity with regards to law. Statutory law is specifically designed to issue a states, city or a country’s policy or issue a command or outlaw a specific act or omission. Gillespie, Alisdair A, and Siobhan Weare(10)

In England the role of developing statutory Law is delegated to Parliament. Parliament is constituted of elected members by England’s electrorate. As such the laws designed by parliament are meant to outline the will of the people. Further, Parliament may through a primary act of parliament delegate specific legislation powers to a minister or Local Authority to make laws.


Equity as a source of law in England developed from the legal principles of the Court of Chancery.  The court of Chancery was created by the Monarch to address the issues and grievances of people who could not access the common law courts. Gillespie, Alisdair A, and Siobhan Weare(12)

International Law ( Treaties)

These constitute of general rules that are accepted and have abinding effect on all nations. These laws are designed to guarantee smooth relations between states  and nations. International law applies to states and not to individual citizens.

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