Lana is an HR guru who live in Ontario. She was wondering how useful it is to have general legal information. Specifically she asked
"Why would I read anything that is not related to Canadian law? If something says U.S. law I will ignore it. It is not relevant to me."Lana has a very common perception about the law. However Lana may not be giving enough credit to the basic concepts of law that are nearly universal in the Common Law world. The major Common Law jurisdictions include, Australia, Canada, Ireland, England, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, United States and Wales. Scotland, Quebec and Louisiana have mixed civil/common law rules. Most Caribbean nations, Belize, and south pacific nations also use common law systems.
Countries with significant colonial influence such as Botswana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Namibia,South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, all use Common Law to some significant extent in their judicial system.
Common Law, as we know it in the western world, is law that originated in England. Courts had been set up, and through trials, and hearings, different rules came to be. Judges created laws when there was no written law. This concept still applies today. Where a law needs interpretation, or needs to be applied, the courts will interpret the law. Often they will create a list of criteria that must be met for a provision in a law to be enforced.
When looking at a comment of law, and wondering if it applies in you area, think to yourself. "is this a general principle or specific". General principles of law are very similar between Common Law countries. Specific laws can be very different. The more technical, the more local, sometimes even down to the city level! The more general, the more wide spread.
Here are some examples from different legal categories.
Contract Law. It is generally accepted that a contract occurs when parties agree to exchange something of value. It is also generally accepted that contracts for property must be in writing. Specific local rules that vary from place to place, such as all contracts for electrical work must be submitted to city hall. Obviously that is a city rule and very local, to the city that enacted it.
Criminal Law. Defending property with lethal force is against the law virtually everywhere. Conceptually a crime consists of two parts. Intent, and Action. If you did not intend to do something, it may not be a crime. If you intended but did not act, it is not a crime. More specifically many places have Criminal Negligence, there was no intent, but it was obviously dangerous. Some locations have strange crimes, like drinking on Sunday. That is a very specific local crime.
Wills, Trusts and Estate Law. To ensure your wishes are honoured at death you need a will, that must be witnessed. That is a general accepted rule. Now the specifics are very important. Some places require two witnesses, others need three. Some say you need to have them sign together, others say within a week of each other. So the general principle applies, but the specifics depend on the location.
Evidence Law. In general anything you say, can be used against you. Some locations allow police reports as evidence, others don't and consider them hearsay and not trust worthy.
Liability Law. If someone is injured you are liable if you had a duty to protect them, or warn them. That applies universally. The level of liability, and duty depends on the location.
Insurance Law. You have a duty to disclose to your insurance company anything that may impact their underwriting. You can not do a "you did not ask if I was busted for DUI". It is universally accepted that failure to disclose a material fact can cause serious insurance issues. On a more detailed level some locations are required by law to give you an insurance quote. Others are not.
Family Law. What is best for the children is the priority for custody and visitation arrangements. This is universal. (although many courts assume the best is with the mother, even in 2009). What is not universal is the amount of support required. Some locations have formulas and guidelines, others are more case by case.
So when you are reading an article about law or about a legal issue, don't be afraid if it focuses on one country, or state or province. Look at the general concepts. Its those general concepts that most people don't know and give the best benefit. You will always take something away that will help, even if it may not be 100% applicable.
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Copyright © 2009 Peter MacSweeney. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author is forbidden. Contact the author through the comment form for all inquiries, including media.