Civil law (legal system)

Legal systems of the world. Civil law based systems are in turquoise.

Legal system originating in mainland Europe and adopted in much of the world.

- Civil law (legal system)

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Principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive without going to courts for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.

Canadian criminal cases

In contrast, civil law systems adhere to a legal positivism, where past decisions do not usually have the precedential, binding effect that they have in common law decision-making; the judicial review practiced by constitutional courts can be regarded as a notable exception.

Code of law

Type of legislation that purports to exhaustively cover a complete system of laws or a particular area of law as it existed at the time the code was enacted, by a process of codification.

First page of the 1804 original edition of the Napoleonic code

Though the process and motivations for codification are similar in different common law and civil law systems, their usage is different.

Common law

Body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions.

Legal systems of the world. Common law countries are in several shades of pink, corresponding to variations in common law systems.
A view of Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster, London, early 19th century.
A 16th century edition of Corpus Juris Civilis Romani (1583)
USCA: some annotated volumes of the official compilation and codification of federal statutes.
The Constitution of India is the longest written constitution for a country, containing 395 articles, 12 schedules, numerous amendments and 117,369 words.
Sir William Blackstone as illustrated in his Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Today, one-third of the world's population lives in common law jurisdictions or in systems mixed with civil law, including Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Burma, Cameroon, Canada (both the federal system and all its provinces except Quebec), Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom (including its overseas territories such as Gibraltar), the United States (both the federal system and 49 of its 50 states), and Zimbabwe.

Natural law

System of law based on a close observation of human nature, and based on values intrinsic to human nature that can be deduced and applied independently of positive law (the express enacted laws of a state or society).

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Thomas Hobbes
Dr Alberico Gentili, the founder of the science of international law.

Natural law theory can also refer to "theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality."

Corpus Juris Civilis

Modern name for a collection of fundamental works in jurisprudence, issued from 529 to 534 by order of Justinian I, Byzantine Emperor.

Corpus Iuris Civilis, 1583
Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

This recovered Roman law, in turn, became the foundation of law in all civil law jurisdictions.

Inquisitorial system

Legal system in which the court, or a part of the court, is actively involved in investigating the facts of the case.

Legal systems of the world

Inquisitorial systems are used primarily in countries with civil legal systems, such as France and Italy, or legal systems based on Islamic law like Saudi Arabia, rather than in common law systems.

Civil code

Codification of private law relating to property, family, and obligations.

Countries with a collection of laws known formally or informally as 'Civil Code'
The first edition of the Swiss Civil Code (around 1907). In 1911, it became the first civil code to include commercial law (Swiss Code of Obligations).

The earliest surviving civil code is the Code of Ur-Nammu, written around 2100–2050 BC. The Corpus Juris Civilis, a codification of Roman law produced between 529 and 534 AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, forms the basis of civil law legal systems.


Theoretical study of the propriety of law.

Philosophers of law ask "what is law, and what should it be?"
Aristotle, by Francesco Hayez
Thomas Aquinas was the most influential Western medieval legal scholar.
Bentham's utilitarian theories remained dominant in law until the twentieth century.
Oliver Wendell Holmes was a self-styled legal realist.
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens
Mill believed law should create happiness.

Modern jurisprudence began in the 18th century and was focused on the first principles of natural law, civil law, and the law of nations.


Collective body of Jewish religious laws which is derived from the written and Oral Torah.

A full set of the Babylonian Talmud
Sefer Torah at Glockengasse Synagogue (museum exhibits), Cologne
Hasidim walk to the synagogue, Rehovot, Israel.
A mixed-gender, egalitarian Conservative service at Robinson's Arch, Western Wall
Set of Mishneh Torah
Shulchan Aruch HaRav
Peninei Halakha Set
An illuminated manuscript of Arba'ah Turim from 1435

Historically, in the Jewish diaspora, halakha served many Jewish communities as an enforceable avenue of law – both civil and religious, since no differentiation of them exists in classical Judaism.

Supreme court

Highest court within the hierarchy of courts in many legal jurisdictions.

The first four female justices of the Supreme Court of the United States: Sandra Day O'Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
Large courtroom of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands.
The courtroom of the Supreme Court of Canada

Civil law states tend not to have a single highest court.