Introduction to Civil Law Legal Systems

June 22, 2009 - 12:00am
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The process of globalization is intertwining the legal systems of all nations, making an understanding of our differences and similarities a useful, if not essential, tool for working in this new global environment. In terms of the post-conflict reconstruction and development projects, there are two predominant legal cultures involved in providing technical assistance: Common Law and Civil Law. Though these terms are frequently used as if they are self-defining, the contemporary reality is that it is increasingly difficult to identify countries with solely one legal tradition or the other. The cross-pollination between these legal cultures has enriched both traditions, creating a global legal mosaic. This trend has contributed to a renaissance in the study of comparative law. What was once considered an arcane field solely of academic interest is increasingly viewed as a practical asset. Legal professionals working across borders have found that the distinctions between, and within, the common and civil law traditions have significance for their practice. Moreover, while differences are often presumed, a careful analysis sometimes reveals striking similarities that surprise members from both traditions.

A basic understanding of these differences and similarities is the foundation of a common legal vocabulary and a necessary first step for bridging the divide between legal cultures. This Consolidated Response is designed to introduce professionals from outside the Civil Law realm to some of its core features, as well as draw distinctions with other legal traditions such as Common Law. This Consolidated Response does not attempt to introduce Common Law to Civil Law practitioners, nor does it attempt to describe the increasingly numerous hybrid systems. Rather, it purports to give a Common Law practitioner a basic introduction to the key features of the classic Civil Law system.