The contemporary national legal systems are generally based on one of four basic systems
: civil law
, common law
, statutory law
, religious law
or combinations of these. However, the legal system of each country is shaped by its unique history and so incorporates individual variations. The science that studies law at the level of legal systems is called comparative law
Both ''civil'' (also known as ''Roman'') and ''common'' law systems can be considered the most widespread in the world: civil law because it is the most widespread by landmass and by population overall, and common law because it is employed by the greatest number of people compared to any single civil law system.
The source of law that is recognized as authoritative is codifications
in a constitution or statute
passed by legislature
, to amend a code.
While the concept of codification dates back to the Code of Hammurabi
ca. 1790 BC, civil law systems derive from the Roman Empire
and, more particularly, the ''Corpus Juris Civilis
'' issued by the Emperor Justinian
ca. AD 529. This was an extensive reform of the law in the Byzantine Empire
, bringing it together into codified documents. Civil law was also partly influenced by religious law
s such as Canon law
and Islamic law
Civil law today, in theory, is interpreted rather than developed or made by judges. Only legislative
enactments (rather than legal precedent
s, as in common law) are considered legally binding.
Scholars of comparative law
and economists promoting the legal origins theory
usually subdivide civil law into four distinct groups:
* French civil law
: in France, the Benelux
countries, Italy, Romania, Spain and former colonies of those countries;
* German civil law
: in Germany, Austria, Russia, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo*, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia, Greece, Portugal
and its former colonies
, Turkey, and East Asian countries including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (Republic of China);
* Scandinavian civil law
: in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. As historically integrated into the Scandinavian cultural sphere, Finland and Iceland also inherited the system.
* Chinese law
: a mixture of civil law and socialist law
in use in the People's Republic of China.
However, some of these legal systems are often and more correctly said to be of hybrid nature:
*Napoleonic to Germanistic influence (Italian civil law
civil code of 1942 replaced the original one of 1865, introducing germanistic elements due to the geopolitical alliances of the time. The Italian approach has been imitated by other countries including Portugal
(1966), the Netherlands
(2002) and Argentina
(2014). Most of them have innovations introduced by the Italian legislation, including the unification of the civil
and commercial code
*Germanistic to Napoleonic influence (Swiss civil law
The Swiss civil code
is considered mainly influenced by the German civil code and partly influenced by the French civil code. The civil code of the Republic of Turkey
is a slightly modified version of the Swiss code, adopted in 1926 during Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
's presidency as part of the government's progressive reforms and secularization.
A comprehensive list of countries that base their legal system on a codified
civil law follows:
Common law and equity
are systems of law whose sources are the decisions in cases by judges. In addition, every system will have a legislature that passes new laws and statutes. The relationships between statutes and judicial decisions can be complex. In some jurisdictions, such statutes may overrule judicial decisions or codify the topic covered by several contradictory or ambiguous decisions. In some jurisdictions, judicial decisions may decide whether the jurisdiction's constitution allowed a particular statute or statutory provision to be made or what meaning is contained within the statutory provisions. The common law developed in England, influenced by Anglo-Saxon
law and to a much lesser extent by the Norman conquest of England
, which introduced legal concepts from Norman law
, which, in turn, had its origins in Salic law
. Common law was later inherited by the Commonwealth of Nations
, and almost every former colony of the British Empire
has adopted it (Malta
being an exception). The doctrine of ''stare decisis'', also known as ''case law'' or ''precedent
by courts'', is the major difference to codified civil law systems.
Common law is practiced in Canada
, New Zealand
, most of the United Kingdom
, and Northern Ireland
), South Africa
, Hong Kong
, the United States
(on state levels excluding Louisiana
, and many other places. Several others have adapted the common law system into a mixed system; For example, Nigeria operates largely on a common law system in the southern states and at the federal level, but also incorporates religious law in the northern states.
In the European Union
, the Court of Justice
takes an approach mixing civil law (based on the treaties) with an attachment to the importance of case law. One of the most fundamental documents to shape common law is the English Magna Carta
, which placed limits on the power of the English Kings. It served as a kind of medieval bill of rights for the aristocracy and the judiciary who developed the law.
Religious law refers to the notion of a religious system or document being used as a legal source, though the methodology used varies. For example, the use of Jewish and Halakha
for public law has a static and unalterable quality, precluding amendment through legislative acts of government or development through judicial precedent; Christian Canon law
is more similar to civil law
in its use of codes
; and Islamic Sharia
law (and Fiqh
jurisprudence) is based on legal precedent
and reasoning by analogy
''), and is thus considered similar to common law
The main kinds of religious law are Sharia
in Islam, Halakha
in Judaism, and canon law
in some Christian groups. In some cases these are intended purely as individual moral guidance, whereas in other cases they are intended and may be used as the basis for a country's legal system. The latter was particularly common during the Middle Ages
The Halakha is followed by Orthodox
Jews in both ecclesiastical and civil relations. No country is fully governed by Halakha, but two Jewish people may decide, because of personal belief, to have a dispute heard by a Jewish court, and be bound by its rulings.
The Islamic legal system of Sharia
(Islamic law) and Fiqh
(Islamic jurisprudence) is the most widely used religious law
, and one of the three most common legal systems in the world alongside common law and civil law.
It is based on both divine law
, derived from the Qur'an and Sunnah
, and the rulings of Ulema
(jurists), who used the methods of ''Ijma
'' (consensus), ''Qiyas
'' (analogical deduction), ''Ijtihad
'' (research) and ''Urf
'' (common practice) to derive ''Fatwā
'' (legal opinions). An Ulema was required to qualify for an ''Ijazah
'' (legal doctorate
) at a ''Madrasa
'' (law school
) before they could issue ''Fatwā''.
During the Islamic Golden Age
, classical Islamic law may have had an influence
on the development of common law
and several civil law institutions.
Sharia law governs a number of Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, though most countries use Sharia law only as a supplement to national law. It can relate to all aspects of civil law, including property rights, contracts or public law.
Civil law and canon law
is not divine law, properly speaking, because it is not found in revelation. Instead, it is seen as human law inspired by the word of God and applying the demands of that revelation to the actual situation of the church. Canon law
regulates the internal ordering of the Catholic Church
, the Eastern Orthodox Church
and the Anglican Communion
. Canon law is amended and adopted by the legislative authority of the church, such as councils of bishops
, individual bishops for their respective sees, the Pope
for the entire Catholic Church, and the British Parliament for the Church of England
Civil law and common law
Civil law and sharia law
Common law and sharia law
Despite the usefulness of different classifications, every legal system has its own individual identity. Below are groups of legal systems, categorised by their geographic location
*English common law
*International customary law
**''Journal of Legal Pluralism
*Rule of law
*Rule According to Higher Law
*Comparative law wiki
* Moustaira Elina N., ''Comparative Law: University Courses (in Greek)'', Ant. N. Sakkoulas Publishers, Athens, 2004, .
* Moustaira Elina N., ''Milestones in the Course of Comparative Law: Thesis and Antithesis (in Greek)'', Ant. N. Sakkoulas Publishers, Athens, 2003, .
* Palmer, Vernon Valentine, Mohamed Y. Mattar, & Anna Kopper, eds. ''Mixed Legal Systems, East and West''. Farnham–Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014.
World Legal Systems
Website of the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa