England and Wales have a complex legal system, which has nonetheless proved influential in many other jurisdictions. It has been particularly important in the Commonwealth and the United States. An ancient system of Common Law is supplemented by a parallel system of Equity, and by the statues enacted by Parliament. The system is further complicated by the fact that the higher courts can create binding precedents (sometimes known as "judge-made law") which must be followed until or unless overruled by an even higher court. Juries are used in trials of serious crimes and in some civil trials, such as those involving libel.
This system has several advantages. First, it allows for a good deal of flexibility. Juries can acquit defendants they believe are morally innocent without affecting legal precedent. Judges can use Common Law principles or maxims of Equity to come to what they believe is the fairest conclusion where no statute exists. The system also promotes freedom, since anything not prohibited is permitted. Rights are not granted by the state, but are regarded as inherent, only to be limited for good legal reasons.
The disadvantages of the system include vagueness and difficulty of access. Because there is no written constitution, it can be difficult for those without legal training to understand the law in any given area and know how it affects them. The length and complexity of proceedings, together with high legal fees, also render litigation prohibitively expensive for many people. This forces them to settle matters out of court. In both criminal and civil proceedings, access to justice can often be directly linked to wealth.