Definition of legal system
The legal systems of the world today 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.
See civil law (legal system) for further details.
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 are 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 in Babylon ca. 1790 BC, civil law systems mainly 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 laws 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 precedents, 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, Switzerland, former Yugoslav republics, Greece, Portugal and its former colonies, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and the Republic of China;
- Scandinavian civil law: in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. As historically integrated in 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.
See common law for further details.
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, itself having origins in Anglo-Saxon 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 1999, one professor (Makdisi) theorized that Common law was influenced by aspects of Islamic law. however this theory isn't considered legitimate or factual by the majority of legal historians, more rather an attempt to take 'possession' of Common law.
Common law is currently in practice in Ireland, most of the United Kingdom (England and Wales and Northern Ireland), Australia, New Zealand, India (excluding Goa), Pakistan, South Africa, Canada (excluding Quebec), Hong Kong, the United States (excluding Louisiana) and many other places. In addition to these countries, several others have adapted the common law system into a mixed system. For example, Nigeria operates largely on a common law system, but incorporates religious law.
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.
See religious law for further details.
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 Madrasah (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.
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 a 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 Roman 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.
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.
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