Major Legal Systems of the World

The major legal systems in the contemporary world could be divided into three types: Romano-Germanic family, Common law family, and the family of Socialist law. Besides these, other systems also exist.

(a) Romano Germanic Family

This groups includes those countries in which legal science has developed on the basis of Roman jus civile (the civil law or the law of the land). Here the rules of law are conceived as rules of conduct intimately linked to ideas of justice and morality; and the legal scholars are less interested in the actual administration and application of law.

Another feature of this family is that the law has evolved, primarily for historical reasons, as an essentially private law, as a means of regulating the private relationships between individual citizens. This private law was secular, its authority depended solely upon a claim to intrinsic rationality. Since the 19th century, its various member countries have attached special importance to enacted legislation in the form of “codes”.

(b) Common Law Family

It includes the law of England and those laws modelled on English law. It was formed primarily by judges who had to resolve specific disputes. The common law legal rule is one which seeks to provide the solution to a trial rather than to formulate a general rule of conduct for the future. It is, then, much less abstract than the characteristic legal rule of the Romano-Germanic family. Matters relating to the administration of justice, procedure, evidence and execution of judgment have, for common law lawyers, an importance equal or even superior to substantive legal rules. The casuistic character makes common law rich in detail, but somewhere weak in general principles.

Thus, common law is largely a judge-made law which is based on judicial decisions or precedents and is uncodified. While, substantive or statutory law (e.g. civil law) is made by legislatures and so based on legislations or statutes and is codified. Law of Torts is based entirely on the common law.

The origins of the Common law are linked to royal power. It was developed as a system in those cases where the peace of the English Kingdom was threatened, or when some other important consideration required the intervention of royal power. It seems, essentially, to be a public law, for contestations between private individuals did not fall within the purview of the Common law courts save to the extent that they involved the interest of the crown or kingdom. The divisions of the Common law, its concepts and vocabulary, and the methods of the common law lawyer, are entirely different from those of the Romano-Germanic family. In recent years, the two families have tended to draw close together. In both, the law has undergone the influence of Christian morality, and philosophical teachings have given prominence to individualism, liberalism and personal rights. The ‘civil law’ today still remains the main branch of legal science.

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(c) Family of Socialist Laws

The socialist law, like the Roman law, conceive legal rule in the form of general rule of conduct; and it retains the divisions of law and legal terminology of the Roman law. However, socialist law is different because of its revolutionary nature, in contrast to the static character of Roman law. The ambition of social jurist is to overturn society and create the conditions of a new social order in which the very concepts of State and law will disappear. The sole source of socialist rules of law therefore resides within the revolutionary work of the legislature, which expresses popular will, narrowly guided by the Communist Party. In the socialist system, private law has lost its importance and all law has now become public law.

(d) Muslim and Hindu Laws

These laws are linked to the religion than to the laws and decrees of the sovereign (treated as merely administrative measures). In the Islamic and Hindu communities, like the West, law is held to be a necessary part of or a basis for society. Good social order implies the primacy of law; men must live according to law; and, the courts must ensure that law is respected. Outside the law, there can only be anarchy or arbitrariness.

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(e) Far East

For the Chinese, law is an instrument of arbitrary action, rather than the symbol of justice. The good citizen must not concern himself with law. Reconciliation or mediation must be used to remove conflicts rather than invoking law to resolve them. Thus, here, the value of law itself has been put into question.

Place of the Indian Legal System

Three mainstreams join together to form the Indian legal system. That of the common law is perhaps the most dominant among them. Then there is the stream of laws springing from religion. The third is that of the civil (Roman) law. Trickles of customary laws cherished by tribal societies and other ethnic communities also flow into the main stream. The common law is dominant because many of the concept and most of the judicial techniques are of common law origin.

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State and Non-State Legal Systems

Paton said that a “mature system of law normally sets up that type of legal order known as the State, but we cannot say a priori that without the State no law can exist. Nor should we assume that in mature systems all law is State law.

Non-State law and non-State legal systems such as tribal laws, family laws and other local laws subsist and even flourish at various levels along with the State law and State legal system. However, unlike the State legal system where legislation is the dominant source of law, in non-State legal systems the custom still continues to be the main source of law.

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