"Common Laws" were the original set of "laws" enforced by the first police departments and sheriffs on the worlds of the Unified Republic of Stars. These laws differed from the traditional English definition and history of the phrase.
Within the colonies, the term "Common Laws" came to represent acts which had almost always been illegal and therefore enforceable without any objection by a higher form of government.
Because the UN and later the UUHA would not allow the worlds of the Colonial Star Cluster to form their own governments and pass laws, many of the worlds existed in a lawless state. While some balance was usually found, some things such as assault, theft, and damage to property remained virtually unenforceable. Firstly, there was no neutral third party to adjudicate and, secondly, when the perpetrator could be found, private sanctions tended to be violent and overreactive to the original situation.
To bring some order to these situations, cities and towns, notably Rainer on Troy, began to institute small police forces charged with enforcing these a set of "common laws" or laws which had always been held to be illegal by every culture that had settled a given world.
It was hoped that if what was being enforced was already illegal everywhere on Earth, there was no way the UN could complain about the colonial worlds attempting to govern themselves.
Examples of Common Laws
- Assault on One's Person
- Theft of Property
- Damage to Property
The long term result of these early Common Laws was that in many places, even after independence was gained in 2169 and proper governments were installed in 2173, was that many people didn't see it as government's province to regulate more.
Common Laws As Applies To Property Claims
In the pre-2169 era of the Colonial Star Cluster, claimed property was generally considered to be yours if (a) in a city or town the property has been improved upon and used or (b) in a rural environment such as a farm or ranch, the claimed property has been fenced in, the fence is in good order and the majority of the land is used.
For rural claims, the provision about the fence remains an important one given that ranches can often claim wide stretches of property and then call it all grazing pasture. It is believed that if a fence around the claimed area can't be kept in good condition then the person, family, etc, who claimed the land claimed more than they can adequately maintain. "Good condition" usually meant functional and if breached, then fixed within a day or two.
In the case of city property claims, the improved upon and used condition was often contentious, with some neighbors claiming that a yard was not being used while others claiming that it was not improved upon. Thus, in places like Galileo City and New Chicago, few buildings had yards and if they did, they were usually paved. This also applied to Athena City where land was at a premium.
On worlds like Columbus the improved upon or used custom was basically interpreted as any yard that had been fenced in, hence the lower density of the original settlements.
As there were no "deeds" recognized by any authority, ownership was generally determined by general reputation with neighbors vouching that a person or family owned a given piece of land. Surprisingly, this actually prevented most instances of people moving into another's home or dwelling and claiming it as their own since the neighbors had an equal interest in people vouching for their ownership.
Common Laws As Applies to One's Self
Murder was, of course, considered the most egregious of all common law violations and family members and friends of the murdered, prior to the creation of police forces, were considered correct to find the person who committed the act and retaliate accordingly.
Some places, like in the Fenghuang System considered the killing of the murderer to be just. While Galileo had a range of interpretations and a murderer caught could face any number of punishments up to and including death.
Assault was considered a relative crime, as in the amount of damage or harm a victim caused the perpetrator versus the amount of harm they caused the victim. Thus, a loser at the end of a fist fight was considered to have no rights of retaliation while a random person beaten on the street could rightly come back armed and take vengeance.
Rape, sadly, was also considered a relative crime with the "reputation" of the person assaulted and their relationship to the accused being taken into account. It was far more common for an "upperclass" woman to be avenged than for the poorer classes. However, whenever rape was the charge and the friends or family members of the victim decided to act, it was not an uncommon punishment to castrate, blind, and/or otherwise disfigure the perpetrator.
In the end, though, someone accused of assault retained the right of self-defense against those seeking vengeance and those wishing to seek retribution first had to catch them in order to carry it out. It is perhaps here where the creation of police forces charged with enforcing common laws were most useful as they could investigate and adjudicate whether the accused was even involved with the original crime at all, thus sparing their communities a fair amount of violence.