blackletter law

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In common law legal structures, blackletter laws are the well-established legal rules that are certain and no longer disputable. Blackletter law is free from doubt and generally well-known. It also means well-established case law and refers to the basic key components of a subject in the law. Essentially, it refers to legal concepts that are ancient, important, and indisputable. The term “blackletter” originally refers to the text printed in old law books set in a Gothic type font, which are bold and black. This was due to the practice of medieval scribes and early modern publishers of printing the text of a law book in bold glossy print. Blackletter law is also known as hornbook law, the principles and concepts that are usually listed in a student textbook summary of a field, though blackletter law is characteristically more well-regarded and arcane.

In English common law specifically, blackletter law refers to areas of the law that consist of mainly technical rules as opposed to areas of the law that are defined by a more conceptual basis. Examples of blackletter law would be contracts, torts, and land law.

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]