Our Common Legal Heritage: Fragmentation and Renewal

The Law Librarian, Vol. 30, No. 1, Pp. 3-12, March 1999

Posted: 21 Aug 1999

See all articles by Brian R. Cheffins

Brian R. Cheffins

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)


The United States, Canada and Australia are members of the "common law family", which means that they share legal traditions which can be traced back to eleventh-century England. While English legal traditions have been highly influential in the past, the common law heritage is diminishing in importance. In both Australia and Canada, lawmakers and judges do not rely on English legal materials as heavily as they once did. In the United States, the divergence from the English legal heritage has become sufficiently substantial for doubts to be raised as to whether any sort of unified "Anglo-American" vision of the law continues to prevail. Also, Britain?s membership in the European Union has isolated England in some measure from the rest of the common law world.

Though the common law heritage which originated in England has diminished in importance, trends in legal scholarship are beginning to strengthen links between the legal cultures influenced by the common law. In the United States, much legal research is now interdisciplinary and theoretical in nature. This pattern has been slower to develop in England, Australia and Canada but theoretical paradigms that have proved to be influential in the US are now having a substantial impact in these three countries. The upshot is that the interdisciplinary movement in legal thought has fostered new connections between countries that are part of the common law family.

The diminished significance of the common law tradition and the growing importance of legal theory are two factors law libraries should take into account when determining their collection policies. The fact that there has been a drift away from England?s legal heritage suggests that law libraries located outside the UK need not assign as high a priority to acquiring English legal materials as they might have done in the past. On the other hand, the emergence of the interdisciplinary movement in legal thought indicates that law librarians in England, Australia and Canada should take steps to ensure that theoretical legal scholarship from the US is readily available. Similarly, since there may well be an audience in the US for interdisciplinary work carried out by English, Australian and Canadian academics, American law school libraries should ideally strive to make such literature as accessible as possible.

Suggested Citation

Cheffins, Brian R., Our Common Legal Heritage: Fragmentation and Renewal. The Law Librarian, Vol. 30, No. 1, Pp. 3-12, March 1999. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=173213

Brian R. Cheffins (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom
+44 1223 330084 (Phone)
+44 1223 330055 (Fax)

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

B-1050 Brussels

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