Civil law

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(1) Legal system used in many countries of the world, especially in Continental Europe, but also Quebec, Louisiana, Japan and elsewhere. Some authors wrongly think that the Scottish legal system is also based on civil law. However it is in fact a mixed system, combining elements of civil law and of common law.

The Civil law is based on Roman law, especially the Corpus Juris Civilis of Emperor Justinian, as latter developed through the Middle Ages by the commentators, the glossators and other mediaeval legal scholars.

Originally civil law was a common legal system to much of Europe; however 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 civil law incorporated many ideas associated with the Enlightenment.

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

Civil law is primarily contrasted to common law, the legal system developed in England. The primary difference is that, historically, common law was law developed by judges deciding individual cases the principles of which were then applied or amended by later judges in factually similar cases; whereas civil law was the exclusive product of the civil code. At the end of the 20th century this opposition seems less and less relevant, as English law is very different from American law in most branches, and as UK and Irish law are more and more Europeanised. Furthermore, the traditionally common law jurisdictions are more frequently codifying their laws by means of legislation, diminishing the power of judges to create new law.


(2) Also, the branch of law which deals with such issues as contracts, inheritance, property ownership, torts, real estate transactions, and other common societal interactions. Contrast with criminal law and administrative law.