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Civil Law

Civil Law

Civil Law: A Primer

Civil law is a legal system originating from continental Europe. It is based on codified laws that prescribe rules for all aspects of civil disputes, including property, torts, and contracts. Civil law is distinct from criminal law, which deals with offenses against the state and its citizens. This article provides an overview of civil law, its history, principles, and practices.


Civil law is a legal system that originated in ancient Rome and is based on codified laws rather than judicial precedents. It applies to civil disputes arising between persons, companies and other legal entities, including government bodies, and focuses on seeking restitution for harm caused, whether physical, economic, or both. In this article, we’ll explore the principles and practices of civil law.

History of Civil Law

Civil law has its roots in Roman law, which spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. When the Empire collapsed in the 5th century AD, the knowledge and practice of the Roman legal system were forgotten. Roman Law was revived in the 11th century by the Emperor Justinian and the scholars he drew to Constantinople. These scholars created the Corpus Juris Civilis, a collection of law texts that codified Roman law and laid the foundation for civil law.

Principles of Civil Law

Civil law is based on the principle of legal positivism, which emphasizes the importance of written laws and their enforcement. It’s essential to understand that civil law presumes there is a wrong that requires repair or compensation. Some of the principles of civil law are as follows:

1. Civil law is prescriptive – Civil law operates on codes and statutes that prescribe rules for conduct. These rules create predictable outcomes.

2. Legal certainty – The principle of legal certainty assures citizens that they can confidently resolve their disputes based on clear legal rules and guidelines.

3. Duty of Care – Individuals owe a duty of care to one another, and as such are liable for damages or injury suffered by others when they breach this duty.

4. Reparation – In civil law, the primary goal is to restore injured parties to their original state before suffering harm.

Civil Law Practice

Civil law cases usually originate with a party seeking compensation for harm suffered at the hands of another party. The harmed or injured party (Plaintiff) will file a civil lawsuit in the court that is competent to hear the matter. The defendant will typically be asked to defend the lawsuit. A trial will be held, in which each party presents their evidence. Judges will assess the merits of the evidence presented, apply the law to the established facts, and make a decision.


Civil law is a fundamental branch of law that operates in most parts of the world. It owes its origins to Roman Law and has evolved over millennia with a dominant focus on codification and legal certainty. It applies to civil disputes between parties, including individuals, legal entities, and government bodies. Its principles of legal certainty and the duty of care have been influential in shaping the legal systems of many parts of the world, including the USA. Civil law plays a vital role in protecting citizens from harm and providing a framework for dispute resolution.

Civil law refers to the general category for legal systems derived or descended from the framework of laws through which the Roman Empire was administered. As such, civil laws are typically contrasted with the opposing alternative for common law.

In essence, the direction of civil law is toward rigorous codification and then enforcement of those codified legal measures, whereas common law inclines more toward an evolution in practice and principle. The civil law of the relevant area will reside in a distinct collection of written documents. It is then up to the discretion of judges to correctly interpret and administer that law.

Though the concept is essentially Roman in provenance, the myriad avenues for application of civil laws in the contemporary legal world do not end with that period, but also reflect further evolutions in how humans use laws to their own ends. In this regard, a civil law system is also related to the past legal history of the European medieval system of feudalism, the ecclesiastical of Christian churches of the period, and past German legal theory.

One key distinction between common and civil laws is the place of precedent, for which there is almost none in the latter. Interpretation, as such, is more limited in a civil law court than it would be in one devoted to the common law. The Civil Law concept is particularly significant for how the various Latin American legal systems have developed, and is also noted to a less extent in Asian and African nations.

What is Civil Law?

Originally inspired by Roman law, Civil law is a legal scope which primarily feature the field requiring a law that must be written into a formal code. This is determined by judges, before it can be affirmed as a law. In a conceptual sense, civil law is the group of systems and legal concepts that proceeds from abstractions, while formulating general principles to distinguish substantive rules derived from procedural viewpoints and statutes.

Civil law maintains legislation and government rulings as the primary source for which laws are created; in turn, the general court system is typically not constrained by precedent and primarily composed of trained judicial officers with a limited ability to interpret law.

General Principles of Civil Law:

The general principle of civil law is to equip citizens of a typical community with an accessible and written collection of law which must be followed by the judicial system and applied to the basic functions of a society. As a result, civil law is the most widespread form of legal system in the world (applied in various forms to over 150 countries) and the most traditional scope throughout the world.

The primary source of civil law is the legal code, which is composed of a series of statutes arranged by a specific subject matter in a pre-specified order. These codes, which are a systematic collection of interrelated articles, typically created by a legislature’s enactment of a new statute that will embody old statutes relating to the subject matter and intertwined with changes mandated by previous court decisions.

Differences with Common Law Systems:

The original difference between civil law and common law is that in a historical context, common laws were developed by custom—the common law system began before there were any written laws and continued to be applied by the judicial system after such laws were written. In contrast, civil law developed from the Roman’s civil law system. Over time, civil law became codified and developed an organizational system used to govern communities and various jurisdictions throughout the world.

Civil Procedure:

Civil procedure is the comprehensive body of laws that established the rules and standards which a court system must follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits. These specific rules will govern how a legality issues may begin, what kind of process is required to reach a resolution, the types of cases or pleadings, the motions or applications applied to the matters, and the various orders allowed in civil cases.

Additionally, the rules are also applied to elucidate upon the timing and manner of the deposition, the discovery process or disclosure. Such aspects will establish the conduct of the trials, the process for a judgment, and the evaluation process needed to inspect various remedies. All of these features will mold how the court system and clerks within the system must function.