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Abstract:

Theoretical Economics Paper
Statute Law or Case Law?
Luca Anderlini, Leonardo Felli and Alessandro Riboni
August 2008
Paper No' TE/2008/528:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: C79; D74; D89; K40; L14


Tags: statute law; case law; flexibility; rigidity; time-inconsistency; precedents.

In a Case Law regime Courts have more flexibility than in a Statute Law regime. Since Statutes are inevitably incomplete, this confers an advantage to the Statute Law regime over the Case Law one. However, all Courts rule ex-post, after most economic decisions are already taken. Therefore, the advantage of flexibility for Case Law is unavoidably paired with the potential for time-inconsistency. Under Case Law, Courts may be tempted to behave myopically and neglect ex-ante welfare because, ex-post, this may afford extra gains from trade for the parties currently in Court. The temptation to behave myopically is traded off against the effect of a Court's ruling, as a precedent, on the rulings of future Courts. When Case Law matures this temptation prevails and Case Law Courts succumb to the time-inconsistency problem. Statute Law, on the other hand pairs the lack of flexibility with the ability to commit in advance to a given (forward looking) rule. This solves the time-inconsistency problem afflicting the Case Law Courts. We conclude that when the nature of the legal environment is sufficiently heterogeneous and/or changes sufficiently often, the Case Law regime is superior: flexibility is the prevailing concern. By the same token, when the legal environment is sufficiently homogeneous and/or does not change very often, the Statute Law regime dominates: the ability to overcome the time-inconsistency problem is the dominant consideration.