There are two general types of legal systems: the common-law tradition and the civil-law tradition. Most European states belong to the latter, which originated within the Continental tradition of ‘Roman’ law that has since been transformed into a comprehensive system of legal codes. Within Europe, only Britain, Ireland and Malta are classifiable as common-law systems. Gallagher et al. (1992: 60) notes that ‘the fundamental difference between the two is that common law systems rely much less on “laws”, seen as acts of parliament, and much more on “the law”, seen as the accumulated weight of precedent set by the decisions, definitions, and interpretations made by judges’. In common-law systems, then, judges do not only apply the law as it is set out by parliamentary legislation and other legal documents, they also play a part in making the law by virtue of the fact that their judgements and pronouncements may themselves later be used as precedents for other cases.
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