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Civil law


Civil law has at least three meanings. It may connote an entire legal system , or either of two different bodies of law within a legalsystem:

  1. a legal system derived from Roman law and commonly used in Europe ; here the contrast is common law ;
  2. the set of rules governing relations between persons (either humans or legal personalities such as corporations ); here the contrast is public law , especially criminal law ;
  3. Secular law, as opposed to canonlaw .

As opposed to common law

Civil law (as opposed to common law ) is a legal tradition which is the basis of the law in many countries of the world, especially incontinental Europe , but also Quebec ( Canada ), Louisiana ( USA ), Japan , LatinAmerica , and elsewhere. (Some authors wrongly state that the Scottish legalsystem is also based on civil law, because of its origin in civil law. But it has been developing since 1707 into a mixed system,combining elements of civil law and of common law, as the House of Lords in England being thecourt of last resort for Scotland, has interpreted Scots Law through the lens of English jurisprudence .) In the United States , civil law isformally the basis of the law of Louisiana , although in western and southwesternparts of the U.S., laws in such diverse areas as divorce and water rights show the influence of their Iberian civil-law heritage,being based on distinctly different principles from the laws of the northeastern states colonized by settlers with Englishcommon-law roots.

The civil law is based on Roman law , especially the Corpus Juris Civilis of Emperor Justinian , as latter developed through the Middle Ages bymediaeval legal scholars. The most authoritative modern source is Karl Eduard Zachariae .

Originally civil law was one common legal system in much of Europe, but with the development of nationalism in the 17th century Nordic countries and around the time of the French Revolution , it became fractured into separate national systems.This change was brought about by the development of national codes, most importantly the Napoleonic Code , but the German and Swiss codes are also of historical importance. Around this time civillaw incorporated many ideas associated with the Enlightenment .Because Germany was a rising power in the late 19th century when many Asian nations were introducing civil law, the German CivilCode has been the basis for the legal systems of Japan , South Korea , and the Republic of China on Taiwan .

Some authors consider that civil law later served as the foundation for socialist law used in Communist countries, which in this viewwould basically be civil law with the addition of Marxist-Leninist ideas.

Civil law, in this sense, is primarily contrasted to common law, which is the legal system developed among Anglo-Saxonpeoples, especially in England . The primary difference is that, historically, commonlaw was law developed by custom, beginning before there were any written laws and continuing to be applied by courts after therewere written laws, too, whereas civil law develops out of the Roman law of Justinian 's Corpus Juris Civilis proceeding from broad legal principles and the interpretation of doctrinalwritings rather than the application of facts to legal fictions. In later times civil law became codified as droitcoutumier or customary law that were local compilations of legal principles recognized as normative. This led after theFrench Revolution to the development of Civil Codes in such jurisdictions such as France (with its Napoleonic Code ), Quebec , Spain , and Germany (with its own German Civil Code ), but remains uncodified in such countries as Scotland , Belgium , Namibia and South Africa to name a few countries that remain uncodified civilian ormixed jurisdictions.

In practice, in many countries with systems based on civil law, such as France , case law (or, more properly, jurisprudence ) still plays a considerable role.

See also

As opposed to criminal law

Civil law regulates relationships amongst persons and organizations . Civil law, in this sense, is usually referring to redress to civillaw courts (as opposed to criminal courts) and is often used as a means to resolve disputes involving accidents ( torts such as negligence ), libel and other intentional torts, contract disputes, the probate of wills , and trusts , and any other private matters that can be resolved between private parties. Violations of civil law areconsidered to be torts or breaches of contract, rather than crimes . Depending upon theregional government , this field of law contain commercial law and some kinds of administrative law remedies, though sometimes administrative law judges adjudicate penal law violations such as parking tickets and other minoroffenses.

Contractual law enforces contracts by allowing a party, whose rights have been violated or breached, to collect damages andpenalties from a defendant . Where monetary damages are deemed insufficient, civil courts may offer other remedies; such as forbidding someone to do anact (eg; an injunction ) or formally changing someone's legal status (eg; divorce or change of name). Civil lawsuits sometimes occur as a result of criminal action, and such a lawsuitcan be successful even when the defendant was found not guilty under criminal law . Some civil lawsuits , suchas under the civil provisions of the U.S. federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes,allow for a private right of action for damages when someone has suffered due to the violation of certain predicate crimes underfederal law (such as wire and mail fraud and other specifically enumerated federal offenses).

See also

As opposed to canon law

Civil law (as opposed to " canon law ") is the secular legalsystem of the national government when there is also a system of ecclesiastical courts governed by a church's laws in the samecountry. This was the situation in England that repeatedly caused problems between the two legal systems, most famously perhapsthe one that led to the murder of Thomas ŕ Becket during the reign of Henry II of England .


  • David, René, and John E. C. Brierley. Major Legal Systems in the World Today: An Introduction to the ComparativeStudy of Law. 3d ed. London: Stevens, 1985 ( ISBN 0420473408 ).

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