In the common law, civil law is the area of laws and justice that affect the legal status of individuals. Civil law, in this sense, is usually referred to in comparison to criminal law, which is that body of law involving the state against individuals (including incorporated organizations) where the state relies on the power given it by statutory law. Civil law may also be compared to military law,administrative law and constitutional law (the laws governing the political and law making process), and international law. Where there are legal options for causes of action by individuals within any of these areas of law, it is thereby civil law.
Civil law courts provide a forum for deciding disputes involving torts (such as accidents, negligence, and libel), contract disputes, the probate of wills, trusts, property disputes, administrative law,commercial law, and any other private matters that involve private parties and organizations including government departments. An action by an individual (or legal equivalent) against the attorney general is a civil matter, but when the state, being represented by the prosecutor for the attorney general, or some other agent for the state, takes action against an individual (or legal equivalent including a government department), this is public law, not civil law.
PurposeThe objectives of civil law are different from other types of law. In civil law there is the attempt to right a wrong, honor an agreement, or settle a dispute. If there is a victim, they get compensation, and the person who is the cause of the wrong pays, this being a civilized form of, or legal alternative to, revenge. If it is an equity matter, there is often a pie for division and it gets allocated by a process of civil law, possibly invoking the doctrines of equity. In public law the objective is usually deterrence, and retribution.
An action in criminal law does not necessarily preclude an action in civil law in common law countries, and may provide a mechanism for compensation to the victims of crime. Such a situation occurred when O.J.Simpson was ordered to pay damages for wrongful death after being acquitted of the criminal charge of murder. Civil law in common law countries usually refers to both common law and the law of equity, which while now merged in administration, have different traditions, and have historically operated to different doctrines, although this dualism is increasingly being set aside so there is one coherent body of law rationalized around common principles of law.
Difference from criminal lawIn many countries such as the USA and UK, criminal law has to prove that a party is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt when a case verdict is reached in court. Civil law operates differently, as the UK standard is only to prove guilt on the basis of a balance of probability. In civil law cases, the “burden of proof” requires the plaintiff to convince the trier of fact (whether judge or jury) of the plaintiff’s entitlement to the relief sought. This means that the plaintiff must prove each element of the claim, or cause of action, in order to recover. 
The purpose of codification is to provide all citizens with an accessible and written collection of the laws which apply to them and which judges must follow. It is the most widespread system of law in the world, in force in various forms in about 150 countries, and draws heavily from arguably the most intricate legal system we know of from before the modern era – Roman law.
Colonial expansion spread the civil law which has been received in much of Latin America and parts of Asia and Africa. Where codes exist, the primary source of law is the law code, which is a systematic collection of interrelated articles, arranged by subject matter in some pre-specified order, and that explain the principles of law, rights and entitlements, and how basic legal mechanisms work. Law codes are usually created by a legislature’s enactment of a new statute that embodies all the old statutes relating to the subject and including changes necessitated by court decisions. In some cases, the change results in a new statutory concept. Other major legal systems in the world include common law, Halakha, canon law, and Islamic law. Civilian countries can be divided into:
* those where civil law in some form is still living law but there has been no attempt to create a civil code: Andorra and San Marino * those with uncodified mixed systems in which civil law is an academic source of authority but common law is also influential: Scotland and Roman-Dutch law countries (South Africa, Zambia,Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Guyana) * those with codified mixed systems in which civil law is the background law but has its public law heavily influenced by common law: Louisiana, Quebec, Puerto Rico,
Philippines * those with comprehensive codes that exceed a single civil code, such as France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Mexico: it is this last category that is normally regarded as typical of civil law systems, and is discussed in the rest of this article. The Scandinavian systems are of a hybrid character since their background law is a mix of civil law and Scandinavian customary law and have been partially codified. Likewise, the laws of theChannel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark) are hybrids which mix Norman customary law and French civil law. A prominent example of a civil-law code would be the Napoleonic Code (1804), named after French emperor Napoleon. The Code comprises three components: the law of persons, property law, and commercial law.
Rather than a compendium of statutes or catalog of caselaw, the Code sets out general principles as rules of law. Unlike common law systems, civil law jurisdictions deal with case law apart from any precedence value. Civil law courts generally decide cases using statutory law on a case-by-case basis, without reference to other (or even superior) judicial decisions. In actual practice, an increasing degree of precedence is creeping into civil law jurisprudence, and is generally seen in the nation’s highest highest court. While the typical Francophone court of cassation decision is short, concise and devoid of explanation or justification, in Germanic Europe, the supreme courts can and do tend to write more verbose opinions supported by legal reasoning.
A line of similar case decisions, while not precedent per se, forms the jurisprudence constante. While civil law jurisdictions place little reliance on court decisions, they tend to generate a phenomenal number of reported legal opinions. However, this tends to be uncontrolled, since there is no statutory requirement that any case be reported or published in a law report, except for the councils of state and constitutional courts. Except for the highest courts, all publication of legal opinions are unofficial or commercial. Civil law is sometimes referred to as neo-Roman law, Romano-Germanic law or Continental law.
The expression civil law is a translation of Latin jus civile, or “citizens’ law”, which was the late imperial term for its legal system, as opposed to the laws governing conquered peoples (jus gentium); hence, the Justinian code’s title Corpus Juris Civilis. Civilian lawyers, however, traditionally refer to their system in a broad sense as jus commune, literally “common law”, meaning the general principles of law as opposed to laws peculiar to particular areas. (The use of “common law” for the Anglo-Saxon systems may or may not be influenced by this usage.)
HistoryThe civil law takes as its major inspiration classical Roman law (c. AD 1–250), and in particular Justinian law (6th century AD), and further expounding and developments in the late Middle Agesunder the influence of canon law. The Justinian Code’s doctrines provided a sophisticated model for contracts, rules of procedure, family law, wills, and a strong monarchical constitutional system. Roman law was received differently in different countries. In some it went into force wholesale by legislative act, i.e., it became positive law, whereas in others it was diffused into society by increasingly influential legal experts and scholars.
Roman law continued without interruption in the Byzantine Empire until its final fall in the 15th century. However, subject as it was to multiple incursions and occupations by Western European powers in the late medieval period, its laws became widely available in the West. It was first received into the Holy Roman Empire partly because it was considered imperial law, and it spread in Europe mainly because its students were the only trained lawyers. It became the basis of Scots law, though partly rivaled by received feudal Norman law. In England, it was taught academically at Oxford and Cambridge, but underlay only probate and matrimonial law insofar as both were inherited from canon law, and maritime law, adapted from the law merchant through the Bordeaux trade.
Consequently, neither of the two waves of Romanism completely dominated in Europe. Roman law was a secondary source that was applied only when local customs and laws were found lacking on a certain subject. However, after a time, even local law came to be interpreted and evaluated primarily on the basis of Roman law (it being a common European legal tradition of sorts), thereby in turn influencing the main source of law. Eventually, the works of civilian glossators and commentators led to the development of a common body of law and writing about law, a common legal language, and a common method of teaching and scholarship, all termed the jus commune, or law common to Europe, which consolidated canon law and Roman law, and to some extent, feudal law
CodificationAn important common characteristic of civil law, aside from its origins in Roman law, is the comprehensive codification of received Roman law, i.e., its inclusion in civil codes. The earliestcodification known is the Code of Hammurabi, written in ancient Babylon during the 18th century BC. However, this, and many of the codes that followed, were mainly lists of civil and criminal wrongs and their punishments. Codification of the type typical of modern civilian systems did not first appear until the Justinian Code.
Germanic codes appeared over the 6th and 7th centuries to clearly delineate the law in force for Germanic privileged classes versus their Roman subjects and regulate those laws according to folk-right. Under feudal law, a number of private custumals were compiled, first under the Norman empire (Très ancien coutumier, 1200–1245), then elsewhere, to record the manorial – and later regional – customs, court decisions, and the legal principles underpinning them. Custumals were commissioned by lords who presided as lay judges over manorial courts in order to inform themselves about the court process.
The use of custumals from influential towns soon became commonplace over large areas. In keeping with this, certain monarchs consolidated their kingdoms by attempting to compile custumals that would serve as the law of the land for their realms, as when Charles VII of France commissioned in 1454 an official custumal of Crown law. Two prominent examples include the Coutume de Paris (written 1510; revised 1580), which served as the basis for the Napoleonic Code, and the Sachsenspiegel (c. 1220) of the bishoprics of Magdeburg andHalberstadt which was used in northern Germany, Poland, and the Low Countries. The concept of codification was further developed during the 17th and 18th centuries AD, as an expression of both natural law and theideas of the Enlightenment.
The political ideal of that era was expressed by the concepts of democracy, protection of property and the rule of law. That ideal required the creation of certainty of law, through the recording of law and through its uniformity. So, the aforementioned mix of Roman law and customary and local law ceased to exist, and the road opened for law codification, which could contribute to the aims of the above mentioned political ideal. Another reason that contributed to codification was that the notion of the nation-state required the recording of the law that would be applicable to that state. Certainly, there was also a reaction to law codification.
The proponents of codification regarded it as conducive to certainty, unity and systematic recording of the law; whereas its opponents claimed that codification would result in the ossification of the law. In the end, despite whatever resistance to codification, the codification of European private laws moved forward.
Codifications were completed by Denmark (1687), Sweden (1734), Prussia (1794),France (1804), and Austria (1811). The French codes were imported into areas conquered by Emperor Napoleon and later adopted with modifications in Poland (Duchy of Warsaw/Congress Poland; Kodeks cywilny 1806/1825), Louisiana (1807), Canton of Vaud (Switzerland; 1819), the Netherlands (1838), Italy and Romania (1865), Portugal (1867), Spain (1888), Germany (1900), andSwitzerland (1912). These codifications were in turn imported into colonies at one time or another by most of these countries.
The Swiss version was adopted in Brazil (1916) and Turkey (1926). In the United States, U.S. states began codification with New York’s “Field Code” (1850), followed by California’s Codes (1872), and the federal Revised Statutes (1874) and the current United States Code (1926). Because Germany was a rising power in the late 19th century and its legal system was well organized, when many Asian nations were developing, the German Civil Code became the basis for the legal systems of Japan and South Korea. In China, the German Civil Code was introduced in the later years of the Qing Dynasty and formed the basis of the law of the Republic of China, which remains in force in Taiwan.
Some authors consider civil law to have served as the foundation for socialist law used in communist countries, which in this view would basically be civil law with the addition of Marxist–Leninist ideas. Even if this is so, civil law was generally the legal system in place before the rise of socialist law, and some Eastern European countries reverted back to the pre-Socialist civil law following the fall of socialism, while others continued using their socialist legal systems. Several civil-law mechanisms seem to have been borrowed from medieval Islamic Sharia and fiqh. For example, the Islamic hawala (hundi) underlies the avallo of Italian law and the aval of Frenchand Spanish law.
Differentiation from other major legal systemsIt should be noted that it has been said that little is known of continental European civil law systems from a comparative law perspective. The table below contains essential disparities (and in some cases similarities) between the world’s four major legal systems. | Common law| Civil law| Socialist law| Islamic law|
Other names| Anglo-American, English, judge-made, legislation from the bench| Continental, Romano-Germanic| Social| Religious law, Sharia| Source of law| Case law, statutes/legislation| Statutes/legislation| Statutes/legislation| Religious documents, case law| Lawyers| Control courtroom| Judges dominate trials| Judges dominate trials| Secondary role| Judges’ qualifications|
Experienced lawyers (appointed or elected)| Career judges| Career bureaucrats, Party members| Religious as well as legal training| Degree of judicial independence| High| High; separate from the executive and the legislative branches of government| Very limited| Ranges from very limited to high| Juries| Provided at trial level| May adjudicate in conjunction with judges in serious criminal matters| Often used at lowest level| Allowed in Maliki school, not allowed in other schools| Policy-making role| Courts share in balancing power| Courts have equal but separate power| Courts are subordinate to the legislature|
Courts and other government branches are theoretically subordinate to the Shari’a. In practice, courts historically made the Shari’a, while today, the religious courts are generally subordinate to the executive.| Examples| Australia, UK (except Scotland), India (except Goa), Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA (except Louisiana), Canada (except Quebec), Pakistan, Malaysia,Bangladesh, Norway (to some extent)| All European Union states except UK and Ireland; Brazil, China (except Hong Kong), Japan, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Quebec, Louisiana, Goa| Soviet Union and other communist regimes| Many Muslim countries have adopted parts of Sharia Law. Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, UAE, Oman, Sudan, Yemen| Civil law is primarily contrasted with common law, which is the legal system developed first in England, and later among English-speaking peoples of the world.
Despite their differences, the two systems are quite similar from a historical point of view. Both evolved in much the same way, though at different paces. The Roman law underlying civil law developed mainly from customary law that was refined with caselaw and legislation. Canon law further refined court procedure. Similarly, English law developed from Norman and Anglo-Saxon customary law, further refined by caselaw and legislation.
The differences of course being that (1) Roman law had crystallised many of its principles and mechanisms in the form of the Justinian Code, which drew from caselaw, scholarly commentary, and senatorial statutes; and (2) civilian caselaw has persuasive authority, not binding authority as under common law. Codification, however, is by no means a defining characteristic of a civil law system. For example, the statutes that govern the civil law systems of Sweden and other Nordic countries or Roman-Dutch countries are not grouped into larger, expansive codes like those found in France and Germany.
Civil law core Napoleonic Germanistic Mixed| | Civil-law-influenced Scandinavian Socialist| | The term civil law comes from English legal scholarship and is used in English-speaking countries to lump together somewhat divergent traditions. On the other hand, legal comparativists and economists promoting the legal origins theory usually subdivide civil law into four distinct groups: * Napoleonic: France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Quebec (Canada), Louisiana (U.S.), Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, Spain, and their former colonies; * Germanistic: Germany,
Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece,Brazil, Portugal, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (Republic of China); * Scandinavian: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. * Chinese (except Hong Kong) is a mixture of civil law and socialist law. Hong Kong, although part of China, uses common law. The Basic Law of Hong Kong ensures the use and status of common law in Hong Kong. Portugal, Brazil and Italy have alternated from French to German influence, as their 19th century civil codes were close to the Napoleonic Code and their 20th century civil codes are much closer to the German Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB). More recently,
Brazil’s 2002 Civil Code was heavily inspired by the Italian Civil Code in its unification of private law; legal culture and academic law now more closely follow the Germanistic tradition. The other law in these countries is often said to be of a hybrid nature. Some systems of civil law do not fit neatly into this typology, however. The Polish law developed as a mixture of French and German civil law in the 19th century. After the reunification of Poland in 1918, five legal systems (French Napoleonic Code from the Duchy of Warsaw, German BGB from Western Poland, Austrian ABGB from Southern Poland,
Russian law from Eastern Poland, and Hungarian law from Spisz andOrawa) were merged into one. Similarly, Dutch law, while originally codified in the Napoleonic tradition, has been heavily altered under influence from the Netherlands’ native tradition of Roman-Dutch law (still in effect in its former colonies). Scotland’s civil law tradition borrowed heavily from Roman-Dutch law. Swiss law is categorized as Germanistic, but it has been heavily influenced by the Napoleonic tradition, with some indigenous elements added in as well. Louisiana private law is primarily based on civil law. Louisiana is the only U.S. state partially based on French and Spanish codes and ultimately Roman law, as opposed to English common law. In Louisiana, private law was codified into the Louisiana Civil Code.
Current Louisiana law has converged considerably with American law, especially in its public law, its judicial system, and adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code (except for Article 2) and certain legal devices of American common law. The law of Quebec, whose private law is similarly of French civilian origin, has developed along the same lines, having adapted in the same way as Louisiana to the public law and judicial system of Canadian common law. To a lesser extent, other states