In England, the judicial system operates according to the principles of common law. In essence, common law dictates that the rulings made by the highest courts must adhere to the “common custom of the realm.” Unlike civil law systems, which allow local courts to establish legal precedence and let judicial officials codify the law in a systematic manner, common law systems treat judicial rulings as binding and use them to form the basis of the country’s legal system.
The common law system in England is most often thought to have begun in 1189, when Richard I ascended to the throne. During the early years of the common law system, English rulers found it difficult to guarantee a predictable, smoothly operating court system. Many judges earned their positions merely by their social standing or family history, which resulted in a number of incompetent and highly biased judges. Today, English common law enjoys a rich history of precedents and relies on the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom for universally binding judicial rulings.