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  Comparative Legal Systems - TOPIC OUTLINES

Week Three

Historical development of different legal systems,
legal imperialism
and the global reach of legal families

(Sue Farran)




Historical Development of the major systems

The Roman Legal System

The Civil Law System

The Germanic legal system

The Common Law system

The Islamic legal system

Legal Imperialism

The global reach of legal families



The law of any system is based on legal tradition. Generally law changes very slowly. To study law without knowing something of its history is to study law in a vacuum. Indeed it is often argued that legal history and comparative law have close links. The history of a legal system also explains some of its characteristics and peculiarities and the study of the historical development or background of legal ideas is sometimes referred to as historical jurisprudence – a study which is not much in fashion nowadays. For example, in English law to understand why we talk of law and equity it is necessary to understand something about the development of the courts of chancery, the antagonism between the courts of chancery and the courts of common law and the final result of that. All legal systems in the world today have reached the present through a process of evolution. Some comparativists would argue that you cannot begin to use the comparative method unless you thoroughly understand the history of a particular legal system. It may not always be possible to have a thorough grasp of the history of a system let alone several systems, but it is helpful to have at least a general knowledge, because this will help your understanding of why a system is as it is today.

Historical Development of the major systems

In a narrow sense “legal systems” are the legal rules and institutions of a country. In a broader sense a “legal system” also includes a certain legal tradition or philosophy, as well as techniques or procedures. This means that legal systems can be defined very broadly or more narrowly into national legal systems. For example, the French legal system, is also part of the Civil Law System, the Australian legal system is part of the Common Law system, as is the American legal system. Within these national systems there are further legal systems, for example the political structure of a country may allow for different legal systems for different states or provinces, as in the United States of America, Australia and Switzerland. Legal systems may exist without political structures or only partially supported by political structures as in the case of Jewish law or Islamic law.

David & Brierley describe the “parent systems” as the major legal systems of the world, and include within this category the very broad legal families of “civil law”, “common Law” and “socialist law” a categorization approved of by J.H. Merryman in his book The Civil Law Tradition 1985. Today the family of socialist law might be replaced with Chinese communist law, as the great socialist legal system of the USSR has now fragmented and in many cases been replaced by features of Civil law systems.

In this topic it is not intended to provide students with a thorough grounding of the legal history of all the major legal systems of the world but to provide a sufficient introduction for further study, and to highlight some salient features. .

The Roman Legal System

Roman Law was certainly not the earliest legal system nor the most sophisticated. Nevertheless its influence was important because it was to affect many of the legal systems of the western world, and from the western world these legal systems spread to other parts of the world.

Roman Law itself can be divided into a number of categories. There is the Roman Law of the West or the Western Roman Empire, which had its capital in Rome, and the Roman law of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire which had its capital in Constantinople. The terms classical Roman law, received Roman law and vulgar Roman law are also found. These terms reflect the changing historical and political influences in the Roman world.

The Roman influence starts in the West, building on the foundations of the Greeks. One of the earliest key dates is 450 B.C. when the Twelve Tables of Rome were written. One of the last most important dates is A.D. 533, the date of the publication of Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis.

Early jurists were men of education and political influence who discussed and wrote about legal problems. They advised litigating parties and magistrates and they also played a key role in the formulation of magisterial edicts which formed the body of formal law. Gradual the legal framework and the role of jurist became more formalised and they were absorbed into the imperial administration, advising the emperor and his council. Later the writings of jurists, who tended to comment by posing hypothetical problems and then answering them, were collected into Digests. The Western empire fell in 455 A.D. after a period of turmoil and political instability. It was not until the period of the Emperor Justinian (527-65) that the works of jurists emerged again. His Corpus Iuris Civilis consisted of four elements: a textbook for law students (the Institutes); a collection of juristic works (the Digest); a collection of imperial enactments (the Code) and Justinian’s own enactments (the Novels). Justinian also reformed the curriculum for students of law who studied for five years, either at Constantinople or Beirut before becoming a judge or advocate.

While Justinian’s law applied in Byzantium (the eastern empire), in the west a number of elements combined. Roman law had been extended to all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire (i.e. not slaves) in 212A.D. However personality of law – i.e. law determined by personal status – also continued, as did local customary law, and the enactment of imperial legislation. To complicate matters further Christianity became the official religion from the early fifth century and with this the influence of ecclesiastical law and the structures of the church, became significant.

In 455 Rome fell to invading Germanic tribes – Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Franks – who were largely Christian and who also adopted various aspects of Roman law in their codes of law, such as the Edict of Theodoric (c.460A.D.) and the Lex Romana Visigothorum (506 A.D.). The law of this period is sometimes called “vulgarized Roman law”, because it was adapted to suit the needs of the time and to reflect the mixed legal influences.

Towards the end of the sixth centuries further political changes effectively brought an end to this period of Roman law. The Arabs invaded much of Spain and southern France and the Germanic Lombards invaded most of Italy. It was not until 800 when Charlemagne – a Frank - became Emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire that a measure of unity and stability returned to this part of Europe.

(See the Germanic Legal system)

Reference: Robinson, Fergus and Gordon An Introduction to European Legal History Chapter One

The Civil Law System

A Civil Law system is one which derives from the ius civile of Roman Law. That is the law of the state of Rome, or the law which applied to citizens of Rome – as opposed to citizens of the Roman Empire. It was therefore originally the name given to the law of a certain place. When interest in Roman Law revived in the eleventh century Justinian’s writings were referred to as the Corpus Iuris Civilis – the body of civil law – because his books were taken as an authoritative source of what the law should be. The teaching of law, including Roman and Canon law, Lombard and feudal law, was most evident in Italy, for example, in the universities of Ravenna, Bologna and Pavia . At this stage Civil Law meant the Roman Law re-discovered, and gradually re-interpreted. Scholars came from all over Europe to study and the common language of study was Latin. They returned to their own countries with the ideas generated by discussion of the Code Civil. Legal Systems which are regarded as Civil Law systems thus share a historical link. They are derived from the received Roman Law that is the Roman law of the twelfth century. It was “Romanistic” rather than “Roman”.

The pattern of Justinian’s Civil Code was to provide a model for the later codes and was seen as providing a core of rules for “civil law” that is private law : the law of persons, family, property , torts, inheritance, unjust enrichment contracts and remedies.

As the identity of nation-state emerged in the fifteenth century the idea of a common law of Europe was less attractive. There was also a revival of interest in customary law of the law of the region. Nevertheless by that time Roman law had permeated much of Western Europe.

Another aspect of Civil Law was the law of the Roman Catholic Church. The church had its own system of law and its own courts although in some areas the jurisdiction overlapped, for example in cases of succession or family law and even sometimes land law as the church owned vast tracts of land. Canon law crossed all national boundaries and shared many aspects of Roman law. It was taught alongside civil law in the universities.

Another influential force was commercial or mercantile law, the law of trade. This also originated in Italy and spread throughout the Mediterranean. This system of law was practical and geared to the needs of merchants from Venice, Pisa, Genoa and the great trading ports. Commercial courts emerged as separate entities with merchants sitting as judges. Commercial law was soon international and spread easily becoming incorporate eventually into commercial codes.

Although the Civil Law became the common law of much of Europe – that is it was applied in a number of countries, especially where local law was insufficient, unclear or in dispute – it never really became part of the Common law of England. It crept in slightly into ecclesiastical or church law through Catholicism, but England was not swept up in the revival of Roman Law. (See English Common law system)

From the nineteenth century on Civil Law was also used to describe systems of law which had certain important sources of law, namely Codes. Napoleon’s Civil Code of 1804 (Code Civil) was the first great code – there had been other codes of law even in England, but none so radical or broad. The new codes replaced the old Roman law and marked a new era in Civil Law systems. Roman law reverted to being a study of classical Roman law – i.e. the law as it really had been before being glossed and commentated upon or changed to meet 12th-14th century needs. In any case the influence of Roman law had been only partial, being strongest in areas of law most influenced by academic and practicing lawyers, such as contract, property and later tort, whereas family law had been largely determined by custom and administrative law by local legislation. The new codes also gave a new meaning to the term Civil Law, because they were primarily concerned with private law, especially the Code Civil. Civil Law thus came to signify private law. It also signified a system of law which was written, complete and universally applicable

The Napoleonic Codes, along with Napoleon’s military campaigns spread into much of Europe taking this system to Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. From Spain it spread to Spain’s colonies in South America. Later colonization and empire building took codified law to Quebec in Canada and Louisiana in what is now the United States of America – although it was far from united at the time that French law crept into Louisiana. Indeed civil law dominated legal tradition over most of Western Europe, parts of Asia and Africa and the pre-socialist eastern bloc including what was to become socialist Russia.

Civil law has also been an important influence in international law - and one of the aims of early comparativists was to work towards the establishment of international legal frameworks - and certainly the law of the European Community.

Reference: Merryman The Civil Law Tradition Chapter Two

The Germanic legal system

Early Germanic people moved across large areas of Europe. They took their personal law with them, most of which was oral customary law. The influence of these people on the development of law in Europe was evident in the fifth century as they moved south west into what had been the Roman Empire which fell to Germanic people in the west in 476. These people were from different tribes, for example Burgundians and Salic Franks. Their legal systems co-existed alongside Roman law. Certain customs were written down in codes – such as the customs of the Visigoths in the Codex Euricianus 480 AD, the Salic laws in the Lex Salica 482-511 and the Ostrogoth customs in the Edictum Theodorici. Codes of Roman law and Gallo-Roman law were also made and Roman law was influential procedurally while the law of the church – which was primarily Roman – was also influential especially in the education of lawyers.

Under Charlemagne who established the Holy Roman Empire in AD800 there were attempts to unify the Germanic people under one legal system held together by imperial edicts. This failed and the empire fragmented into three parts in 843 with increasing focus on regional and personal law. Law making moved from the assemblies of the people to feudal lords. In 911 one third of the former empire, East Franconia or Germania, was re-established as the holy Roman Empire and through the next few centuries grew into the German nation. It was not however a unified country and the administration of law was not centralized, with regional, often unwritten law being the most important. Customary law was established by law-finders and as people became more settled in regions the principle of personality of laws gave way to localization of laws. Commercial law, focussed in the urban areas developed separately with its own specialized courts and arbitrators.

From the 13th century there was a revived interest in Roman law and attempts to codify some of the regional customary law, notably in the Sachsenspiegel. However, the variety of customary law and the continuing political fragmentation of the country led to an increasing interest in Roman law as glossed by the glossators and commented on by the commentators of the universities from the twelfth century. This Roman law was used to fill the gaps in German law on a piecemeal basis first under the influence of canon law – the church was the one unifying aspect of the Germanic people – and the law of procedure, and secondly via the Roman law which had been left in place as the personal law of the Italian inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire, and which was seen by successive emperors as providing a fitting basis for imperial enactments. German universities established in the sixteenth century also followed the Italian universities in the study of Roman Law, first as canon law for clerics but later as law for lawyers. Roman law began to be adopted throughout Germany, being seen as superior to unwritten customary law. Also Roman law provided a model - procedurally and conceptually it offered a unified system. It was also, thanks to the work of the commentators, adaptable to a changing world, while customary law was seen as being less flexible, particularly in trade and in the conflict of laws within the country between the different personal and later regional laws.

Centralised courts were gradually established, first the Imperial Court of Appeal in 1495 – which was largely ineffective – and then lower regional courts which were expected to follow the Court of Appeal. These latter were staffed by university trained judges. Competition with the ecclesiastical courts led to a strengthening of these secular courts and a corresponding increase in reference to Roman law. The law-finders of the local courts were gradually replaced with university trained lawyers and judges. The status of university law professors, their rights of appearance and the value placed on legal theory and academic opinion remain features of the German legal system along with a professional judiciary and long legal training. From the universities emerged the publication of decisions and doctrine which was largely Roman law but included aspects of customary law. This was the Usus Modernus Pandectarum and represented modernized and applied Roman law. By the seventeenth century the process of the reception of Roman law was virtually complete.

The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1815 and a Confederation of German States established. The rise in separate states, some of which were very strong, led to decentralization. Those states which had come under Napoleon’s control retained French law, and the idea of codification began. However it would be some time before it could become a reality. The school of natural law favoured in the universities had already led to some codes, notably the Prussian Code of 1714-1794 and the Bavarian Code of 1756 but these related to single states. Until a unified German state could be achieved a single code was impossible to achieve. Commercial pressure eventually led to the General Commercial Code of 1861 and the Bills of Exchange Act of 1848. The rise of German nationalism under Bismarck led to the establishment of the second Reich in 1871 in which the northern and southern states of Germany combined. The political structure was two tier, with a unified assembly in the Reichstag – the First Assembly – and states having the second assembly – the Bundesrat. A number of specialised codes were passed at this time such as the Penal Code, the Code of Civil Procedure and laws for the organization of the courts and the legal profession. The Courts Act of 1879 created a decentralized system of courts with a hierarchical system of appeal to the central courts. Work on the Civil Code began in 1874 and was completed in 1900.

German Law is in some ways a Civil Law system. However nearly a century separated the French Civil Code from that of Germany and in that period German law developed along separate paths. In Germany, because of its fragmented political structure until the start of the twentieth century, customary law and local law remained very important.

Reference: Foster N German Legal System and Laws p. 1-30

The Common Law system

It could be claimed that the Common Law did not start until 1066, when William Duke of Normandy, defeated the King of England Harold 1 at the Battle of Hastings, and became William 1 – or William the Conqueror, of England. This date is of course considerably later than Roman Law but around the same time as the re-discovery and revived interest in Roman law inspired by the study of Justinian’s writings.

The Romans left Britain in the early fifth century and for sometime afterwards the country was fragmented until brought under Anglo-Saxon rule in the early years of the seventh century. However even by the end of King Alfred’s reign in 899 half of England was still under Danish rule and subject to threats from the Norse and Celts. Dane law applied in the east and the customs of Wessex in the land ruled by the king.

A form of feudalism existed and in the tenth century an administrative structure which divided the country into shires and hundreds. There were shire courts, borough courts and courts of the hundreds. Shire courts were chaired by earls (ealdormen) and local bishop and dealt with lay and religious maters. The Earl’s deputy was the reeve or sheriff, and the sheriff represented the king. The shire courts met twice a year. The borough courts three times, and the court of the hundred once a month. The king was the last resort in the system and he sat with his council (the witan). The most minor court was the hall-moot or manor court.

Trial was often by ordeal and a defender would seek the help of oath-helpers to swear his innocence. The accuser would similarly be assisted. This process was called “compurgation”. Trial by jury and the use of writs was already known before 1066, as was the circuit court of the sheriff who had to move around the shire.

There was therefore not only a court structure in place but also considerably conformity of custom even between Anglo-Saxon law and Dane law. The influence of the church had also been felt and William took the crown with the support of the church.

William established a centralized system of courts and a national system of justice. Local courts still remained and dealt with a number of local matters as did the ecclesiastical courts which dealt with matters relating to the family and spiritual matters. The “common law” of England came to mean the law which applied to everyone – England of course did not include Wales, Scotland or Ireland, which remained for a long time outside the control of the English monarch.

The witan or King’s council was replaced with the Curia Regis which functioned as a court. The shire courts became less important and were replaced by honour courts. The Normans introduced trial by battle for civil and criminal matters, and civil and ecclesiastical matters and roles became separated.

The court of the Exchequer was established under Henry 1 (1100-35) and a collection of written laws the Leges Henrici were made. Under Henry 11 juries of twelve men developed and also the specialisation of royal justices in the courts. This saw the development of the Court of Common pleas – litigation between ordinary people. As the work of the eyres increased they were sub-divided into different courts with separate civil and criminal jurisdiction. Although eyres disappeared in the fourteenth century, circuit courts remained for the next 800 years, while the continuing use of the jury influenced the development of forms of pleading, and the distinction between questions of law and those of fact.

Throughout the period from the twelfth to nineteenth century the use of the writ for initiating an action was fundamental and despite restrictions imposed in 1285 under the Statute of Westminster – which prohibited the creation of new writs – the number of writs continued to grow.

In the thirteenth century centralisation of the courts became significant and in particular the specialisation and development of the courts of the Curia Regis. The Exchequer was the first court to become permanently settled in Westminster (London). It was followed by the Court of Common Pleas and by the end of the fourteenth century by the Court of the King’s Bench. The King’s Council became distinct from the Kings Bench and as Parliament heard petitions from senior and important people of the realm, lay and church. Gradually only the most important cases were heard by Parliament and by the end of the 14th century lesser matters were delegated to individual council members such as the Chancellor or the Admiral from which developed the Court of the Lord High Admiral (abolished in 1970) and the Court of Chancery. Actions were by way of petition. By the 15th century the Court of Chancery had a staff of 120 and the most senior member of staff was called the Master of the Rolls. The Court of Chancery dealt with feudal matters involving the King and petitions or individual bills of complaint (or plaint). Later courts were the Court of the Star Chamber – established in 1540, and the Privy Council. The Court of the Star Chamber was abolished in 1641, but the Privy Council remains.

Common law was the law of the Court of Common Pleas, the Kings Bench and the Exchequer, and its greatest development was between the 13th and 16th centuries. By the 14th century English common law had emerged as clearly distinct. It was law as practiced. Its lawyers and judges were trained within the courts and at the Inns of Court, not at universities. Gradually clerics were excluded from the administration of justice – except for the ecclesiastical courts – and by 1342 no clerics sat on the King’s Bench. The language of the courts was French, although Latin was used in written documents. Academic writing had little influence in English law. There had been two major writers in the 12th century, Glanvill and Bracton, but apart from the year books little was evident in the way of jurisprudence or legal philosophy until the seventeenth century, despite chairs of civil law being established by Henry VIII at Oxford and Cambridge. Although there had been writers such as Seldon (1584-1654), Hale (1609-76), and Coke (1552-1634) William Blackstone and his Commentaries on the Laws of England was probably the most influential early writer on English Common Law (1723-80) and was to be of particular relevance in the development of American common law.

Early courts remained, such as the manor courts, the shire courts and the borough courts. The latter increasingly came under the control of Justices of the Peace and their jurisdiction grew, eventually they became the magistrate and county courts. Assize courts still visited the shires twice a year and the King’s Bench occasionally went on circuit, but quarter sessions and petty sessions before justices of the peace represented the bulk of local court work.

The idea of appeal courts came very late. It was not until 1851 that a Court of Appeal in Chancery was created. This was partly because the common law was the law of the king, the justices were the king’s men so could not have made a wrong decision. To challenge the finding of a judge was like challenging the king.

English law was ruled by forms of procedure – the forms of action – which created very rigid formula for bringing a case within the jurisdiction of the court. The focus was on remedies not rights. It was therefore procedural rather than substantive and framed in terms of actions and remedies. The law evolved through individual cases and not general rules – these came later. The doctrine of precedent did not become established until the nineteenth century although weight began to be given to previous decisions around the sixteenth century.

It was certainly not a written law, and indeed there is the view in English law that legislation intrudes on the role of the courts, although of course legislation is of increasing importance. There is still the presumption that legislation does not repeal the common law – here the law formulated through case-decisions – unless it does so expressly.

The difference of approach is evident in the way in which courts interpret legislation. Generally English courts are restrictive in their interpretation, the first rule being to give words their ordinary meaning. Civil lawyers will adopt a rather more liberal approach and look at legislation quite creatively.

The historical development of the law also explains aspects such as the adversarial system, the training of lawyers and judges, the role of the Inns of Court, the role of universities and academics, and the approach to sources of law.

Reference: Robinson, Fergus and Gordon An Introduction to European Legal History Chpt 8.

The Islamic legal system

Islamic Law stems from the birth of Muhammed the Prophet, and in terms of the western calendar dates from the sixth century AD, not long after Justinian’s work of codification of Roman law of the later Byzantine Empire. This legal system emerged in a region where a number of laws already existed including Roman law and Jewish law. Much of the population in this part of the Middle East were nomadic and so the law moved with them. Much law was oral and personal. The law revealed to Muhammed was only a small part of the total revelations which were to be written in the Koran (of 6,000 verses only about 500 relate to law and these are scattered through out the Koran).

The Koran was the starting point for the law from which flowed other sources - the Shari’a or pathways. The work of commenting on the Koran and elaborating on the legal aspects of it took time and different approaches or pathways emerged. The most important comments were those of the Prophet himself which are referred to as the Sunna – the path of the Prophet, and the hadith which are the traditions or statements followed and passed on. Further legal commentary arose on the hadith as there were a great many of these. Doctrinal consensus on hadith emerges as ijma. To get to this stage required much debate and discussion and different schools of thought emerged and therefore law developed along different doctrinal lines. At one time there were hundreds of different school of law but gradually four major schools emerged – around the 11th century. A fourth source of law was qyas which represent types of reasoning used.

The resolution of disputes in Islamic law is undertaken by a qadi who must first of all find the law, a task which the parties are expected to help with. The process is oral and there are no rules of precedent. The process if helped by the mufti who is knowledgeable about the law. His opinion is called a fatwah. These fatwah have, in many cases, been collected and incorporated into doctrinal works.

The structure of Islamic law is very different from other legal systems. There are no appeal courts and often those knowledgeable in the law will also hold other roles such as the imam who is a prayer leader, or the muezzin who calls the faithful to prayer. Much law is consensual and private and not formalized. For example marriage is consensual, divorce – by the husband – may be oral (the talaq), or consensual.

In many Islamic countries, the state has intervened with legislation, in certain areas of the law but these are constrained by the broad principles of the Koran and shari’a.

Islam and the question of successor to the Prophet also gives rise to religious power struggles between imans (ayatollahs) who are important for their opinions (fatwahs) and knowledge of the law. There is also division between orthodox schools of thought sunni and non-orthodox schools.

The growth of Islam as a religion raises issues of compatibility between Islamic legal thought and other forms of legal system, particularly in areas of private law. It is less a problem of public law because traditionally Islamic law was not greatly concerned with public law – criminal law is perhaps an exception. In non-Islamic countries the recognition given to Islamic law is variable. In some it is given formal status for certain matters – e.g. marriage. Elsewhere it may dominate certain areas of law where personal law is allowed to determine the legal system. In other parts of the world it may be part of a multiple or pluralist tradition of law as in south-east Asia. In many western countries however, Islamic law is not given formal recognition and may even be denied.

Reference: Glenn P H Legal Traditions of the World 2000 OUP p. 157- 204

Legal Imperialism

It is an interesting aspect of conquest that the conqueror tends to impose his own rules and laws on the conquered nation. It is rare that this is not the case and the conquered people are left to continue with their old laws and ways. It does however happen, either because the conqueror is not sufficiently powerful to effect such changes, or because the machinery of the law is too difficult to introduce or because the conqueror is not interested in certain matters and these are left to the existing structures. For example, the Romans did not seek to impose the same Roman civil law on the countries brought under the Roman Empire but created a separate system of law. When William the Conqueror became William 1 of England in 1066, he let the local courts – the courts of the 100s, the Reeves and Bailiffs courts – remain to deal with local matters.

Much later Napoleon not only created an empire but imposed his laws on that empire. The Code Napoleon was very portable. The law was written, it was timeless and as far as Napoleon was concerned it was universal and applied to all people. Unlike English common law which was in a permanent state of creation and changeable, the Civil Law was stable. True it had to be interpreted but there were academic commentaries to do this and the fact that there was no rule of precedent allowed a certain flexibility. The Civil law spread first as a result of the Napoleonic Empire, to the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Italy. From these countries it spread to other colonies, for example in South America, Africa, the Seychelles, Mauritius, French Cambodia, the Congo etc.

The common law also spread to other countries. How it did so is something of a mystery as it was eminently less portable and early settlers to countries such as America certainly did not have access to the vast range of case reports. Indeed what one finds is reference to standard texts such as Blackstone or Coke, and more recently Halsbury’s laws of England. In some cases common law codes were written for subject countries, for example the Penal Code of India, written by Stephens, although there was no such code in England. Nevertheless the Common law spread to most parts of the British Empire, and the colonies, to South Africa, British East Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the countries of the Pacific, the West Indies etc.

The imposition or introduction of legal systems to other countries is an impressive phenomenon and one that continues, either openly or insidiously, with stronger nations imposing their views, and structures on weaker ones. Socialist law under the USSR is one of the examples of the twentieth century. In many cases this can only partially succeed because the circumstances of the recipient country are so different from those of the parent country – see Pound’s article. In other cases subsequent political events cause major changes to the legal system – for example the imposition of the socialist regime on what was East Germany and then with the fall of the Berlin war the re-emergence of German law.

Law without boundaries may spread more easily, for example Islamic law, of different schools, can be found in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and parts of what was the UUSSR. Also in parts of Africa, such as the Sudan, north and west Africa, north Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and south-east Asia. The Islamic legal system has spread by way of jihads: commerce, military force and religious zeal.

The Germanic code influenced the development of the law not just in its close neighbours such as Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Greece, but also Japan, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico and Peru and has been taken up by the new states of Eastern Europe such as the Czech Republic

The global reach of legal families

If we consider a world map we can appreciate the global reach of legal families.

Moreover the exchange of different legal models at an international level has meant the merging and mixing of legal ideas and concepts from many different systems. Take the example of the United Nations. When the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted delegates from many legal systems sat down to formulate it. Their common goal was very vague. Of course this can be a problem in implementing international measures because of fundamentally different perceptions of matters ruled on. Take for example the single phrase, “A right to family life”. Can you think of different perceptions of this?


  1. What would you understand “Fourth World Legal Systems” to be?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of legal imperialism?

  3. Why is the word “imperialism” used?

  4. What is the relevance of this phenomenon in the Pacific region?

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