There are hundreds of legal systems in the world. Although each system has its own individuality, it is possible to group many of them into legal 'families'.
In general, legal systems around the world can be split into civil law jurisdictions, systems using common law and equity, religious and customary law. The specific system that a country follows is often determined by its history, its connection with countries abroad, and its adherence to international standards. The sources that jurisdictions recognize as binding are the defining features of legal systems. Yet classification of different systems is a matter of form rather than substance, since similar rules often prevail.
Civil law(sometimes known as Continental European Law or Romano-Germanic law) is the legal system used in most countries around the world today. In civil law the sources recognized as authoritative are, primarily, legislation – especially codifications in constitutions or statutes passed by government – and, secondarily, custom. Even the most ancient peoples compiled law codes. The earliest legal code known in its entirety is the Code of Hammurabi, a king who reigned over Babylon around 2000 BC. But modern civil law systems essentially derive from the legal practice of the Roman Empire, whose texts were rediscovered in medieval Europe. In the 6th century Emperor Justinian I appointed a commission to collect and consolidate existing sources of Roman law. This commission published three books that were collectively known as the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law), or the Justinian Code. The Code embodied many generations of legal documents as well as interpretations by great jurists (legal scholars).
The revival of the Roman civil law tradition eventually formed the basis for a common legal language throughout Europe.
Common law and equity (also called Anglo-American law) are systems of law whose special distinction is the doctrine of precedent. Alongside this "judge-made law", common law systems always have governments who pass new laws and statutes. But these are not put into a codified form. Common law comes from England and was inherited by almost every country that once belonged to the British Empire. Common law had its beginnings in medieval England, influenced by the Norman conquest of England which introduced legal concepts and institutions from the Norman and Islamic laws.
Religious law is based on scriptures and their interpretations. The source of religious law is the deity, legislating through the prophets. Examples include the Jewish law (Halakha) and Islamic Sharia, both of which mean the "path to follow". Religious laws are eternal and immutable because the word of God cannot be amended or legislated against by judges or governments. However religion never provides a thorough and detailed legal system. In a religious legal system disputes are usually settled by an officer of that religion, so the same person is both judge and priest.
In many parts of the world unwritten local or tribal custom sets the standard of behaviour and provides for conciliation and dispute settlement. Most of the African countries, for instance, have a formal constitutional and commercial law inspired by French, Belgian or British models but the relations between private individuals are regulated by customary law. This also applies to China and India.
1. Answer the following questions using the information from the text:
1. What are the main legal ‘families’ in the world today?
2. What factors determine the type of legal system a country follows?
3. What are the defining features of legal systems?
4. What sources are recognized as authoritative in civil law systems?
5. How was the Corpus Juris Civilis created?
6. Who makes laws in the common law countries?
7. What is the source of law in religious law system?
8. What is characteristic of customary law?
2. Find in the text words and expressions which mean:
1. something that is done by people in a particular society because it is traditional;
2. to choose someone for a position or a job;
3. the principle that a fair judgment must be made in a situation where the existing laws do not provide an answer;
4. to arrange laws, principles, facts etc in a system;
5. to correct or make small changes to something that is written or spoken;
6. an action or official decision that can be used to give support to later actions or decisions;
7. a person, book, or document that supplies you with information;
8. the process of trying to get people to stop arguing and agree.