What is Civil Law?

Civil law is popular around the world.
Civil law is popular around the world.

Civil law is a legal system that outlines private rights and remedies and solves disputes between individuals in areas such as contracts and property. Civil law is also known as civilian law or Roman law. The civil law system originated in Rome. Doctrines compiled by legal scholars under a code serve as the primary source of law.

Features of Civil Law

The civil law system uses precisely structured codes on a written constitution. Codification is a common characteristic of civil law, as every state requires a law that can apply to its jurisdiction. There are codes covering corporate laws and tax laws as well as constitutional and civil codes.

In civil law, there is a clear separation of powers. The judiciary is highly independent from the legislative and executive arms of government. The judiciary court can make independent judgements without the fear of influence by the other arms of government. In policy making, the courts have equal but separate powers.

Legislation enactments are the only laws considered binding in all civil laws. There is little reference to judge-made laws in commercial, civil, and criminal laws. While making judgements, courts are very specific to the underlying codes. In some civil law systems, legal scholars' writings have an influence on the courts. Germany applies this method significantly.

Groups of Civil Law

The Napoleonic Code, named after the French Emperor Napoleon, covers property law, commercial law, and the law of persons. Countries who use this system include France, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Chile, Luxembourg, Romania, Belgium, and most Arab countries when they do not use Islamic law. Former colonies like Louisiana (U.S) and Quebec (Canada) use this code despite the rest of their country's use of common law.

The Chilean Code was developed by legislator Andres Bello. Some of its laws are from the Napoleonic Code except for laws pertaining to family and succession. This system is adopted by Latin American countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Panama.

The Germanistic Code system applies in Germany, Latvia, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Serbia, Roman-Dutch, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Portugal, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, and Taiwan. The Nordic Code system applies in Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Finland.

China uses a mixture of a socialist and civil law. Macau uses the Portuguese legal system. Hong Kong uses entirely common law. Other countries like Cameroon and South Africa use bi-juridical, since the Cameroon was colonized by both France and the United Kingdom while South Africa was colonized by the United Kingdom but influenced by colonists from the Netherlands.


It is clear that a civil law system is based on more perspective than common law. This is due to the set legislations used in deciding cases unlike the use of judicial precedents in common law. However, at some points, a government is required to consider whether a particular legislation is needed to either allow or limit the scope of contracts such as infrastructure projects.


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