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Legal Systems of the World      Civil law      Common law      Bijuridical (civil and common law)      Customary law      Fiqh

The three major legal systems of the world today consist of civil law, common law and religious law. However, each country (see State law) often develops variations on each system or incorporates many other features into the system.


Civil law

Shamash (the Babylonian sun god) hands King Hammurabi a code of law

Civil law is the most widespread system of law in 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. Civil law systems mainly derive from the Roman Empire, and more particularly, the Corpus Juris Civilis issued by the Emperor Justinian ca. 529AD. 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.[1][2] Civil law today, in theory, is interpreted rather than developed or made by judges. Only legislative enactments (rather than judicial 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:

A comprehensive list of countries that base their legal system on a codified civil law follows:

Country Description
Albania Albania The Civil Code of the Republic of Albania, 1991 really[1]
Angola Angola Based on Portuguese civil law
Argentina Argentina The Spanish legal tradition had a great influence on the Civil Code of Argentina, basically a work of the Argentine jurist Dalmacio Vélez Sársfield, who dedicated five years of his life on this task. The Civil Code came into effect on January 1, 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.

Andorra Andorra Courts apply the customary laws of Andorra, supplemented with Roman law and customary Catalan law.[3]
Aruba Aruba Based on Dutch civil law
Austria Austria The Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (ABGB) of 1811
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan
Belarus Belarus
Belgium Belgium Influenced by the Napoleonic Code
Benin Benin
Bolivia Bolivia Influenced by the Napoleonic Code
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina Influenced by Austrian law. The Swiss civil law (Zivilgesetzbuch) was a model for the Law on Obligations of 1978.
Brazil Brazil Derived from the Portuguese civil law
Bulgaria Bulgaria Civil Law system influenced by Germanic and Roman law systems
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso
Burundi Burundi
Chad Chad
People's Republic of China People's Republic of China civil law system; based on native customs and practices with Soviet and German influence
Republic of the Congo Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo
Côte d'Ivoire Cote d'Ivoire
Cambodia Cambodia
Cape Verde Cape Verde Based on Portuguese civil law
Central African Republic Central African Republic
Chile Chile 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 January 1, 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.

Colombia Colombia Civil code introduced in 1873. Nearly faithful reproduction of the Chilean civil code
Costa Rica Costa Rica 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 is into effect since January 1, 1888, and reveals the influenced by the Napoleonic Code and the Spanish Civil Code of 1889 (from its 1851 draft version).
Croatia Croatia Influenced by Austrian and Hungarian law. The Law on Obligations of 2005.
Cuba Cuba Influenced by Spanish and American law with large elements of Communist legal theory.
Czech Republic Czech Republic Descended from Austro-Hungarian Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, influenced by German (minor influence) and Soviet (major influence) legal codes during occupation periods, substantially reformed after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
Denmark Denmark Scandinavian-German civil law
Dominican Republic Dominican Republic Based by the Napoleonic Code
Ecuador Ecuador Civil code introduced in 1861. Nearly faithful reproduction of the Chilean civil code
El Salvador El Salvador
Estonia Estonia
Finland Finland civil law system based on Swedish law[4]
France France Based on the Napoleonic code (code civil of 1804)
Equatorial Guinea Equatorial Guinea
Ethiopia Ethiopia
Gabon Gabon
Guinea Guinea based on French civil law system, customary law, and decree[5]
Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau
Georgia (country) Georgia
Germany Germany The Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch of 1900 ("BGB"). The BGB is influenced both by Roman and German law traditions.
Greece Greece The Greek civil code of 1946, highly influenced by 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 Guatemala 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.

Haiti Haiti Influenced by the Napoleonic Code
Honduras Honduras
Hungary Hungary
Iceland Iceland Based on Germanic traditional laws and influenced by Medieval Norwegian and Danish laws.
Italy Italy Based on codified Roman law, with elements of the Napoleonic civil code; civil code of 1942 replaced the original one of 1865
Japan Japan Modeled after European (primarily German) civil law system. Japanese civil code of 1895.
Latvia Latvia Largely influenced by Germany, medium influences from Russian and Soviet law.
Lebanon Lebanon Modeled after French civil law
Lithuania Lithuania Modeled after Dutch civil law
Luxembourg Luxembourg Influenced by the Napoleonic Code
Macau Macau Based on the Portuguese strand of the continental tradition, itself much influenced by Germany; also influenced by the law of the PRC
Mexico Mexico "The origins of Mexico's legal system are both ancient and classical, based on the Greek, 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)..." From: Jaime B. Berger Stender Attorney at Law author, Tijuana, B.C., Mexico
Mongolia Mongolia
Montenegro Montenegro First: the General Property Code for the Principality of Montenegro of 1888, written by Valtazar Bogišić. Present: the Law on Obligations of 2008.
Netherlands Netherlands Influenced by the Napoleonic Code
Norway Norway 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.
Panama Panama
Paraguay Paraguay The Paraguayan Civil Code in force since 1987 is largely influenced by the Napoleonic Code and the Argentinian Code
Peru Peru Based on civil law system; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations
Poland Poland The Polish Civil Code in force since 1965
Portugal Portugal Influenced by the Napoleonic Code and later by the German Civil Law
Republic of China Republic of China (Taiwan) Codification derived from German BGB.
Romania Romania Based on the Napoleonic Code
Russia Russia 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.
São Tomé and Príncipe São Tomé e Príncipe Based on Portuguese civil law
Serbia Serbia First: the Civil Code of Principality of Serbia of 1844, written by Jovan Hadžić, was influenced by the Austrian Civil Code (Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch). Present: The Swiss civil law (Zivilgesetzbuch) was a model for the Law on Obligations of 1978.
Slovakia Slovakia Descended from Austro-Hungarian law, influenced by German (minor influence prior to 1945) and Soviet (major influence after World War II) law, reformed after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
Slovenia Slovenia A Civil Law system influenced mostly by Germanic and Austro-Hungarian law systems
Spain Spain 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 tradions.
Sweden Sweden 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.
Switzerland Switzerland The Zivilgesetzbuch of 1908 and 1912 (obligations; fifth book)
Turkey Turkey Modeled after the Swiss civil law (Zivilgesetzbuch) of 1907; this has been a conscious choice of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, in order to abolish the Islamic law (Sharia), aiming at westernizing the country
Ukraine Ukraine Civil Code of Ukraine of 2004
Uruguay Uruguay
Uzbekistan Uzbekistan Represents an evolution of Soviet civil law. Overwhelmingly strong impact of the Communist legal theory is traceable.
Vatican City Vatican City based on principles of Code of Canon Law
Vietnam Vietnam Communist legal theory and French civil law

Common law

King John of England signs Magna Carta

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 the Norman conquest of England which introduced legal concepts from Norman 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.

Common law is currently in practice in Ireland, most of the United Kingdom (England and Wales and Northern Ireland), Australia, 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[6] 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.

Country Description
American Samoa American Samoa
Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda based on English common law
Australia Australia based on English common law
The Bahamas Bahamas based on English common law
Barbados Barbados based on English common law
Belize Belize based on English common law
Bhutan Bhutan
British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands based on English common law
Canada Canada based on English common law, except in Quebec Quebec, where a civil law system based on French law prevails
Dominica Dominica based on English common law
England Wales England and Wales
United Kingdom (UK)
primarily common law, with early Roman and some modern continental influences
Fiji Fiji based on English common law
Gibraltar Gibraltar based on English common law
Ghana Ghana
Myanmar Myanmar based on English common law
Grenada Grenada based on English common law
Hong Kong Hong Kong principally based on English common law
India India based on English common law (except Goa which follows a Civil Law based on Portuguese Civil Law)
Republic of Ireland Ireland based on Irish law before 1922, which was itself based on English common law
Jamaica Jamaica based on English common law
Kiribati Kiribati based on English common law
Marshall Islands Marshall Islands based on U.S. Law
Nauru Nauru based on English common law
New Zealand New Zealand based on English common law
Northern Ireland
United Kingdom (UK)
based on Irish law before 1921, which was itself based on English common law
Palau Palau based on U.S. Law
Pakistan Pakistan[7] based on English common law with some provisons of Islamic law
Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Kitts and Nevis based on English common law
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Saint Vincent and the Grenadines based on English common law
Singapore Singapore based on English common law
Tonga Tonga based on English common law
Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago based on English common law
Tuvalu Tuvalu based on English common law
Uganda Uganda based on English common law
United States United States Federal courts and 49 states use legal system originally based on English common law but which diverged greatly in 19th century with substantial indigenous innovations and borrowing of some civil law practices such as codification;
State law in the U.S. state of Louisiana is based upon French and Spanish civil law (see below)

Religious 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 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.[8]

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.[9] It is not a divine law, however, as only a fraction of Sharia law is based on the Qur'an and Sunnah, while the majority 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.[2] During the Islamic Golden Age, classical Islamic law may have had an influence on the development of common law[2] and several civil law institutions.[1] 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 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.

Country Description
Afghanistan Afghanistan Islamic law
Bangladesh Bangladesh formerly based on English common law
The Gambia The Gambia English common law, Islamic law and customary law
Iran Iran Islamic law
Libya Libya Islamic law
Mauritania Mauritania mix of Islamic law and French Civil Codes, Islamic law largely applicable to family law.
Morocco Morocco mix of Islamic law and French Civil Codes, Islamic law largely applicable to family law.
Oman Oman Sharia and tribal custom laws
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia Islamic law
Sudan Sudan Based on Islamic law
Yemen Yemen Islamic law

Pluralistic systems


Civil law and common law

Country Description
Botswana Botswana South African law (a mixed system) transferred uno acto through a proclamation of reception
Cameroon Cameroon
Cyprus Cyprus 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.
Guyana Guyana
Israel Israel 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.[10]
Lesotho Lesotho South African law (a mixed system) transferred uno acto through a proclamation of reception
Louisiana Louisiana
United States (U.S.)
Based on French and Spanish civil law, but federal laws (based on common law) are in effect in Louisiana as well.
Malta Malta Initially based on Roman Law and eventually progressed to the Code de Rohan, Code Napoleon with influences from Italian Civil Law. English common law however is also a source of Maltese Law, most notably in Public Law
Mauritius Mauritius
Namibia Namibia South African law (a mixed system) transferred uno acto through a proclamation of reception
Philippines Philippines Based on Spanish law; influenced by U.S. common law after 1898 Spanish and Philippine-American Wars, personal law based on sharia law applies to Muslims
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico
United States (U.S.)
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.)
Quebec Quebec
Canada (Canada)
After the defeat of the French in the battle at the Plains of Abraham, the British allowed them to keep their language (French), their religion (Roman Catholicism), and their legal system (civil law). However, as Quebec is part of the Canadian Confederation, English-based laws applied at the federal level are in effect in Quebec also.
Saint Lucia Saint Lucia
Scotland Scotland based on Roman and continental law, with common law elements dating back to the High Middle Ages
Seychelles Seychelles The substantive civil law is based on the French Civil Code. Otherwise the criminal law and court procedure are based on the English common law. See Seychelles Legal Environment.
South Africa South Africa An amalgam of English common law and Roman-Dutch civil law as well as Customary Law.
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka An amalgam of English common law, Roman-Dutch civil law and Customary Law
Swaziland Swaziland South African law (a mixed system) transferred uno acto through a proclamation of reception
Thailand Thailand 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].
Vanuatu Vanuatu
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe South African law (a mixed system) transferred uno acto through a proclamation of reception

Civil law and religious law

Country Description
Afghanistan Afghanistan
Algeria Algeria
Bahrain Bahrain
Comoros Comoros
Djibouti Djibouti
Egypt Egypt Based on Islamic law and French civil law system
Eritrea Eritrea
Indonesia Indonesia Based on civil law of Holland and adat (cultural law of Indonesia)
Morocco Morocco Based on Islamic law and French and Spanish civil law system
Oman Oman
Syria Syria Based on Islamic law and French civil law system
Jordan Jordan Mainly based on French Civil Code and Ottoman Majalla, Islamic law applicable to family law.

Common law and religious law

Country Description
Bangladesh Bangladesh
Brunei Brunei
The Gambia Gambia
India India based on English common law, separate personal law codes apply to Muslims, Christians, and Hindus except in Goa which follows Civil law based on Portuguese civil laws, but criminal penal law is uniform
Malaysia Malaysia based on English common law, personal law based on sharia law applies to Muslims
Nigeria Nigeria Sharia is applied in some northern states
Pakistan Pakistan based on English Common Law, some Islamic Law applications in inheritance. Tribal Law in FATA
Qatar Qatar

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.

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b Badr, Gamal Moursi (Spring, 1978), "Islamic Law: Its Relation to Other Legal Systems", The American Journal of Comparative Law 26 (2 [Proceedings of an International Conference on Comparative Law, Salt Lake City, Utah, February 24-25, 1977]): 187–198 [196–8], doi:10.2307/839667 
  2. ^ a b c Makdisi, George (April-June 1989), "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West", Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175–182 [175–77], doi:10.2307/604423 
  3. ^ Andorra (11/07)
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Magna Carta". Retrieved 2006-11-10. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ El-Gamal, Mahmoud A. (2006), Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice, Cambridge University Press, p. 16, ISBN 0521864143 
  9. ^ Badr, Gamal Moursi (Spring, 1978), "Islamic Law: Its Relation to Other Legal Systems", The American Journal of Comparative Law 26 (2 - Proceedings of an International Conference on Comparative Law, Salt Lake City, Utah, February 24-25, 1977): 187–198, doi:10.2307/839667 
  10. ^ E.g., see the work of Menachem Elon and Nahum Rakover.
  • Moustaira Elina N., Comparative Law: University Courses (in Greek), Ant. N. Sakkoulas Publishers, Athens, 2004, ISBN 960-15-1267-5
  • Moustaira Elina N., Milestones in the Course of Comparative Law: Thesis and Antithesis (in Greek), Ant. N. Sakkoulas Publishers, Athens, 2003, ISBN 960-15-1097-4


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