Case law vs statute law


Before I begin the actual blog post: I’ve posted some of my old notes from first and second year, which you can find at the bottom of the page. But, if you’re curious as to what I have to say about the difference between case law and statute law and what that has to do with revision, then read on, my friend!


This one’s for all you first years out there who are still confused (or didn’t even know you were confused) about the difference between case law and statute law. Don’t worry if you’re not in first year anymore and you still need this blog post – it took me two and a half years to have my epiphanic moment. But, maybe I’m just really slow…


The most obvious difference between the two is that one is written into Acts of Parliament, and the other we get from case judgements. Super confusing, right?? This isn’t even the hard part yet!


The main difference, and this goes for almost all laws, is that statute law dictates what the law is, whilst case law defines the limitations of the particular law and therefore gives it meaning. Sometimes, there are situations in which common practices haven’t been adopted by statute, so judges will turn to the set precedent to determine how to apply the common law to the case before them. Some examples of this would be fiduciary duties in Trust Law, or assault and battery in Criminal Law; you won’t find fiduciary duties, assault, or battery in any statutes – they exist solely in case law. (Unless I am very wrong! Then someone needs to stop me from spreading this misinformation to the world!!)


My rule of thumb for revision is to start with statute law to find out what the law says, and then look at relevant judgements (i.e. all the cases they teach us in lectures) to determine what the scope of the law is, which circumstances do and/or do not apply, and what the courts do in response to the verdict of the dispute (i.e. money accounted for, damages recovered, giving out a criminal sentence, contract made void, etc.).


Usually this is a good way to revise for any module. So, I’ll give you an example using my Non-Fatal Offences notes from Criminal Law revision that I did last year.


I separated each offence into its own heading:

  • Technical assault
  • Battery
  • Actual bodily harm (ABH): Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) s.47
  • Malicious wounding/grievous bodily harm (GBH): OAPA s.20
  • Causing GBH with intent: OAPA s.18


Then, I divided each heading into what the actus reus and mens rea are for each offence. See below, because this is confusing to explain with just words.


Actus reus of technical assault


Mens rea of technical assault



It’s also important to identify certain contentious points judges have discussed in their judgement or obiter dicta. For technical assault, specifically, the word ‘immediacy’ was discussed in a few cases.


From there, I identified the relevant cases and made notes on the case facts and the outcome. The case facts are important for when you’re comparing your problem question facts to the material facts in the case, then you can either apply the case or distinguish it. The outcome of the case is important to apply to the case in your problem question, depending on whether you apply or distinguish the case law, and it’s important for understanding how the courts are interpreting the statute law. This sets the precedent for later cases in this realm of the law…unless at some point the courts decide to change their mind or broaden or narrow the scope in which the law is applied. It’s all very up-in-the-air, really, but welcome to your law degree!


I’ve posted some of my notes from first and second year below. These have gotten me solid 2:1s, so if you’re looking for a 1st, go the extra mile and read more about the discussion of the law in the textbooks. I hope this all makes sense – I’m more than happy to answer any questions about my notes, revision, law school, or life in general!


Criminal Law: Non-Fatal Offences notes

Land Law: Leases & licenses chart

Contract Law: Misrepresentation mind map

Contract Law: Misrepresentation cases


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About Lucie

Hello! My name is Lucie and I’m a final year Law student. I’m from Canada, so the goal is to give you some insight on what it’s like to live and study in Leicester from an international perspective. Alongside my studies, I am an Equality and Diversity Champion for the uni, and I do yoga regularly.

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