The contemporary legal systems of the world are generally based on one of three basic systems: civil law, common law, and religious law – or combinations of these. However, the legal system of each country is shaped by its unique history and so incorporates individual variations.
Civil law is the most widespread system of law around the world. It is also sometimes known as Continental European law. The central source of law that is recognized as authoritative is codifications in a constitution or statute passed by legislature, to amend a code.
The Spanish legal tradition had a great influence on the Civil Code of Argentina, basically a work of the Argentine juristDalmacio Vélez Sársfield, who dedicated five years of his life on this task. The Civil Code came into effect on 1 January 1871. Beyond the influence of the Spanish legal tradition, the Argentinian Civil Code was also inspired by the Draft of the Brazilian Civil Code, the Draft of the Spanish Civil Code of 1851, the Napoleonic code and the Chilean Civil Code. The sources of this Civil Code also include various theoretical legal works, mainly of the great French jurists of the 19th century. It was the first Civil Law that consciously adopted as its cornerstone the distinction between i. rights from obligations and ii. real property rights, thus distancing itself from the French model.
The Argentinian Civil Code was also in effect in Paraguay, as per a Paraguayan law of 1880, until the new Civil Code went in force in 1987.
During the second half of the 20th century, the German legal theory became increasingly influential in Argentina.
The Spanish legal tradition exercised an especially great influence on the civil code of Chile. On its turn, the Chilean civil code influenced to a large degree the drafting of the civil codes of other Latin-American states. For instance, the codes of Ecuador (1861) and Colombia (1873) constituted faithful reproductions of the Chilean code, but for very few exceptions. The compiler of the Civil Code of Chile, Venezuelan Andrés Bello, worked for its completion for almost 30 years, using elements, of the Spanish law on the one hand, and of other Western laws, especially of the French one, on the other. Indeed, it is noted that he consulted and used all of the codes that had been issued till then, starting from the era of Justinian.
The Civil Code came into effect on 1 January 1857. Its technique is regarded as perfect; it is distinguished for the clarity, logic and cohesiveness of its provisions. As mentioned by Arminjon, Nolde, and Wolff ('Traite de droit comparé', Paris, 1950–1952) Andrés Bello may be regarded as one of the great legislators of mankind. The influence of the Napoleonic code is great; it is observed however that e.g. in many provisions of property law, the solutions of the French code civil were put aside in favor of pure Roman law.
First Civil Code (a part of the General Code or Carrillo Code) came into effect in 1841; its text was inspired by the South Peruvian Civil Code of Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz. The present Civil Code went into effect 1 January 1888, and was influenced by the Napoleonic Code and the Spanish Civil Code of 1889 (from its 1851 draft version).
The Greek civil code of 1946, highly influenced by traditional Roman law and the German civil code of 1900 (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch); the Greek civil code replaced the Byzantine–Roman civil law in effect in Greece since its independence (Νομική Διάταξη της Ανατολικής Χέρσου Ελλάδος, Legal Provision of Eastern Mainland Greece, November 1821: 'Οι Κοινωνικοί Νόμοι των Αειμνήστων Χριστιανών Αυτοκρατόρων της Ελλάδος μόνοι ισχύουσι κατά το παρόν εις την Ανατολικήν Χέρσον Ελλάδα', 'The Social [i.e. Civil] Laws of the Dear Departed Christian Emperors of Greece [referring to the Byzantine Emperors] alone are in effect at present in Eastern Mainland Greece')
Guatemala has had three Civil Codes: the first one from 1877, a new one introduced in 1933, and the one currently in force, which was passed in 1963. This Civil Code has suffered some reforms throughout the years, as well as a few derogations relating to areas which have subsequently been regulated by newer laws, such as the Code of Commerce and the Law of the National Registry of Persons. In general, it follows the tradition of the Roman-French system of civil codification.
Regarding the theory of 'sources of law' in the Guatemalan legal system, the 'Ley del Organismo Judicial' recognizes 'the law' as the main legal source (in the sense of legislative texts), although it also establishes 'jurisprudence' as a complementary source. Although jurisprudence technically refers to judicial decisions in general, in practice it tends to be confused and identified with the concept of 'legal doctrine', which is a qualified series of identical resolutions in similar cases pronounced by higher courts (the Constitutional Court acting as a 'Tribunal de Amparo', and the Supreme Court acting as a 'Tribunal de Casación') whose theses become binding for lower courts.
Based on codified Roman law with strong German traditions in civil and administrative law and procedure, as it was historically before the Soviet occupation, elements of French legal system are also common in Latvian law. While general principles of law are prerequisites in making and understanding the law, case law is also broadly applied to present legal arguments in courts and to explain application of law in similar cases. Rapidly decreasing remains of Soviet understanding of criminal acts can be found in criminal law, while criminal procedure law has been fully modeled after practice accepted in Western Europe. Civil law of Latvia enacted on 1937.
"The origins of Mexico's legal system are both ancient and classical, based on the Roman and French legal systems, and the Mexican system shares more in common with other legal systems throughout the world (especially those in Latin America and most of continental Europe)..."
Scandinavian-German civil law. King Magnus VI the Lawmender unified the regional laws into a single code of law for the whole kingdom in 1274. This was replaced by Christian V's Norwegian Code of 1687.
Civil Law system descendant from Roman Law through Byzantine tradition. Heavily influenced by German and Dutch norms in 1700-1800's. Socialist-style modification in 1900's, and Continental European Law influences since 1990's.
Influenced by the Napoleonic Code, it also has some elements of Spain's legal tradition, starting with the Siete Partidas, a major legislative achievement from the Middle Ages. That body of law remained more or less unchanged until the 19th century, when the first civil codes were drafted, merging both the Napoleonic style with the Castilian traditions.
Scandinavian-German civil law. Like all Scandinavian legal systems, it is distinguished by its traditional character and for the fact that it did not adopt elements of Roman law. It is indeed worth mentioning that it assimilated very few elements of foreign laws whatsoever. It is also interesting that the Napoleonic Code had no influence in codification of law in Scandinavia. The historical basis of the law of Sweden, just as for all Nordic countries, is Old German law. Codification of the law started in Sweden during the 18th century, preceding the codifications of most other European countries. However, neither Sweden, nor any other Nordic state created a civil code of the kind of the Code Civil or the BGB.
Common law and equity are systems of law whose sources are the decisions in cases by judges. Alongside, 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. Statutes were allowed to be made by the government. 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 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 or precedent by courts is the major difference to codified civil law systems.
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 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.
based on English common law, except in Quebec, where a civil law system based on French law prevails in most matters of a civil nature, such as obligations (contract and delict), property law, family law and private matters. Federal statutes take into account the bijuridical nature of Canada and use both common law and civil law terms where appropriate.
based on English common law, but Muslims are subject to the Administration of Muslim Law Act, which gives the Sharia Court jurisdiction over Muslim personal law, e.g., marriage, inheritance and divorce.
Federal courts and 49 states use the legal system based on English common law which has diverged somewhat since the mid-nineteenth century in that they look to each other's cases for guidance on issues of first impression and rarely, if ever, look at contemporary cases on the same issue in the UK or the Commonwealth
State law in the U.S. state of Louisiana is based upon French and Spanish civil law (see above)
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 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 civil codes; and Islamic Sharia law (and Fiqh jurisprudence) is based on legal precedent and reasoning by analogy (Qiyas), 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 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 the most protected divine law, because, the majority of the rulings of Sharia law are based on the Qur'an and Sunnah, while a small fraction of its rulings are based on the 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 (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.
Aleppo Codex: 10th century Hebrew Bible with Masoretic pointing
The Halakha is followed by orthodox and conservative 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.
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 adapted by the legislative authority of the church, such as councils of bishops, single bishops for their respective sees, the Pope for the entire Catholic Church, and the British Parliament for the Church of England.
Based on English common law (Cyprus was a British colony 1878–1960), with admixtures of French and Greek civil and public law, Italian civil law, Indian contract law, Greek Orthodox canon law, Muslim religious law, and Ottoman civil law.
Originally (1948) based on English common law; in the process, influenced by German civil law—for instance, between 1962 and 1981, the Knesset issued twenty (20) wide-ranging laws, which were clearly influenced by civil law, and were in the form of codes. Religious law plays a role, especially in matters of personal status and family law, and judicial and legislative decisions take into account Jewish law (halakhah) on occasion.
Initially based on Roman Law and eventually progressed to the Code de Rohan, the Napoleonic Code with influences from Italian Civil Law. English common law however is also a source of Maltese Law, most notably in Public Law
Based on Spanish law; influenced by U.S. common law after 1898 (victory of the U.S. over Spain in the Spanish-American war of 1898 and cession of Puerto Rico to the U.S.); federal laws (based on common law) are in effect because of federal Supremacy Clause.
After the 1763 Treaty of Paris awarded French Canada to Great Britain, the British initially attempted to impose English Common Law, but in response to the deteriorating political situation in the nearby Thirteen Colonies, the Quebec Act was passed in 1774, which allowed a mix of English Common Law and customary civil law, based on the Coutume de Paris. Codification occurred in 1866 with the enactment of the Civil Code of Lower Canada, which continued in force when the modern Province of Quebec was created at Confederation in 1867. Canadian federal law in force in Quebec is based on common law, but federal statutes also take into account the bijuridical nature of Canada and use both common law and civil law terms where appropriate.
The Thai legal system became an amalgam of German, Swiss, French, English, Japanese, Italian, and Indian laws and practices. Even today, Islamic laws and practices exist in four southern provinces. Over the years, Thai law has naturally taken on its own Thai identity.
The most prominent example of a hybrid legal system is the Indian legal system. India follows a mixture of civil, common law and customary or religious law. Separate personal law codes apply to Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. Decisions by the Supreme Court of India and High Courts are binding on the lower courts. Further, most of the laws are statutory and it also has a constitution which signifies the Civil nature of law in India.
Systems by geography
Despite the usefulness of different classifications, every legal system has its own individual identity. Below are groups of legal systems, categorised by their geography. Click the "show" buttons on the right for the lists of countries.