civil law

civil law
civil-law, adj.
1. the body of laws of a state or nation regulating ordinary private matters, as distinct from laws regulating criminal, political, or military matters.
2. Rom. Hist. the body of law proper to the city or state of Rome, as distinct from that common to all nations. Cf. jus civile.
3. systems of law influenced significantly and in various ways by Roman law, esp. as contained in the Corpus Juris Civilis, as distinct from the common law and canon or ecclesiastical law.
[1375-1425; late ME]

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Body of law developed from Roman law and used in continental Europe and most former colonies of European nations, including the province of Quebec and the U.S. state of Louisiana.

The most significant codifications of modern civil law were the French (Napoleonic Code) and the German (German Civil Code). The basis of law in civil-law jurisdictions is statute, not custom; civil law is thus to be distinguished from common law. In civil law, judges apply principles embodied in statutes, or law codes, rather than turning to case precedent. French civil law forms the basis of the legal systems of The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Spain, most of France's former possessions overseas, and many Latin American countries. German civil law prevails in Austria, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, and certain countries outside Europe, such as Japan, that have westernized their legal systems. The term is also used to distinguish the law that applies to private rights from the law that applies to criminal matters. See also criminal law; tort.

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▪ Romano-Germanic
also called  Romano-Germanic law 

      the law of continental Europe, based on an admixture of Roman (Roman law), Germanic (Germanic law), ecclesiastical, feudal, commercial, and customary law. European civil law has been adopted in much of Latin America as well as in parts of Asia and Africa and is to be distinguished from the common law of the Anglo-American countries.

      The term civil law has other meanings not employed in this article. The term jus civile, meaning “civil law,” for example, was used in ancient Rome to distinguish the law found exclusively in the city of Rome from the jus gentium, the law of all nations, found throughout the empire. The phrase has also been used to distinguish private law, governing the relations between individuals, from public law and criminal law. Finally, in the philosophy of law (law, philosophy of), civil law sometimes refers to the positive law of the state, as distinct from natural law.

The historical rise of civil law
      In the 5th and 6th centuries CE, western and central Europe were dominated by Germanic peoples, especially those who had overrun the Roman Empire. Among them were the Anglo-Saxons of England, the Franks of western Germany and northern France, the Burgundians, the Visigoths of southern France and Spain, and the Lombards of Italy. Although the traditions of Roman law endured for some time, Germanic customs came to prevail in most regions. In the Middle Ages these customs underwent vigorous growth in an effort to satisfy the complex needs stemming from the development of feudalism and chivalry, the growth of cities, Eastern colonization, increasing trade, and an increasingly refined culture. Among the many strands that went into the weaving of the complex pattern of medieval law, the customs of merchants and the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church were of special significance. It was principally through the canon law that the concepts and ideas of ancient Rome continued to make their presence felt even when, as a whole, Roman law itself had been forgotten. In the late 11th century, Roman law was rediscovered and made the subject matter of learned study and teaching by scholars in northern Italy, especially at Bologna. With the increasing demand for trained judges and administrators, first by the Italian city-republics and then by princes in other localities, students flocked to Bologna from all over Europe, until the study and teaching of law (legal education) were gradually taken over by local universities. As a result of this process, Roman law penetrated into the administration of justice north of the Alps, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, where the Roman-law influence became particularly strong.

 In the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, the reception of Roman law was facilitated because its emperors cherished the idea of being the direct successors of the Roman Caesars; Roman law, collected in the Code of Justinian (Justinian, Code of) (Corpus Juris Civilis) by the emperor Justinian I between 527 and 565, could be regarded as still being in effect simply because it was the imperial law. Decisive for the reception, however, was the superiority of the specialized training of Roman-law jurists over the empiricist methods of lay judges and practitioners of the local laws. Equally decisive was the superiority of the Roman-canonical type of procedure, with its rational rules of evidence, over the local forms of procedure involving proof by ordeal, battle, and other irrational methods. Nowhere, however, did Roman law completely supplant the local laws, and, as far as the content of the law was concerned, various amalgams developed. Roman law strongly influenced the law of contracts (contract) and torts (tort); canon law achieved supremacy in the field of marriage; and combinations of Germanic, feudal, and Roman traditions developed in matters of property and succession, or inheritance. The conceptual formulations in which the norms and principles of the law were expressed, as well as the procedural forms in which justice was administered, were also strongly Roman. The system that thus emerged was called the jus commune. In actual practice it varied from place to place, but it was nevertheless a unit that was held together by a common tradition and a common stock of learning. Although the law of the Corpus Juris Civilis (especially its main part, the Digest—the writings of the jurists) was, as such, in effect nowhere, it constituted the basis of study, training, and discourse everywhere. In spite of all local variety, the civil-law world experienced a sense of unity that corresponded to the strongly felt unity of European civilization.

      This unity was undermined by the religious divisions of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and by the rise of nationalism that accompanied the unification and stabilization of the European nations and their struggle for hegemony. In the field of law (law code) the split found expression in the national codifications, through which the law was unified within each nation but was simultaneously set apart from that of all others. In Denmark codification occurred in 1683, in Norway in 1687, in Sweden-Finland in 1734, and in Prussia in 1794. Because of the personality of their promoter and the novel technique applied, great fame and influence were achieved by the Napoleonic codifications of the private and criminal law of France, especially their central piece, the civil code of 1804 that came to be known as the Napoleonic Code.

      Codification continued after the Napoleonic era. In Belgium and Luxembourg, which had been incorporated into France under Napoleon (Napoleon I), his codes were simply left in effect. The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and numerous countries of Latin America followed the French model not only by undertaking national codification but also by using the same techniques and arrangements. Naturally, their courts and legal scholars were, at least in the early 19th century, inclined to pay great attention to French legal learning.

      In Germany national codification came considerably later than in France. Only a commercial code had been uniformly created by the independent German states shortly after the revolution of 1848. The unification of the criminal law took place almost simultaneously with the political unification of the country, which occurred in 1871. Codification of the organization of the courts and of civil and criminal procedure came in 1879. But the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch für das deutsche Reich) was not completed until 1896, and it did not take effect until Jan. 1, 1900.

      Throughout the 19th century the vigorous German science of law exercised much influence in Austria (which as early as 1811 had codified its law in a technique different from that of France), in Switzerland, in the Nordic countries, and, later, in most of eastern Europe. When Swiss law was codified in 1907–12, it became the model for the Turkish codification of 1926 and strongly influenced the codification of China, which is still in effect in Taiwan.

      Owing to the different dates of codification and the different style and attitude of legal learning, the civil-law family of laws is thus divided into the French, or Romanist, branch and the German, or Germanic, branch. Their main features are determined by those of their prototypes. The legal system of Japan essentially belongs to the German branch, but it presents important features of its own.

The French system
      In France the Revolutionary period was one of extensive legislative activity, and long-desired changes were enthusiastically introduced. A new conception of law appeared in France: statute was deemed the basic source of law. Customs remained only if they could not be replaced by statutes. The Parlements (Parlement), the major courts of the nation, were dismantled and replaced by a unified system of courts that were merely supposed to apply the law and never to lay down general rules.

      The main ideas embodied in the revolutionary legislation were to be found in the motto of the French Revolution, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (which is still the motto of France). The passionate desire for liberty and equality aroused by the 18th-century philosophes (philosophe) inspired the changes that took place.

      The system that had come to be called feudal, although it had little to do with the feudalism of the High Middle Ages, was hated by the peasants and the bourgeoisie for its unbalanced distribution of privileges—especially those exempting the nobles and clergy from taxation. These privileges were abolished early in the Revolution. The revolutionaries detested organized groups of any kind, for it was thought that only one authority should exist over the citizens—that of the state. As a result, the guilds, which demanded compulsory membership and regulated every profession, were suppressed, and freedom of commerce was established. The old-style universities were dissolved; in the same spirit, the property of the Roman Catholic Church was secularized, and the priests and bishops were made state employees, a situation that most of them did not accept.

      Family (family law) relations were deeply transformed according to the principles of liberty and equality. Marriage was organized merely as a civil act; divorce was permitted; paternal authority was limited; and parents' consent was not required for marriages of children over 21 years of age. A short experiment was made with “family courts (family court)” that were permitted to overrule paternal decisions, and the wife was declared equal to her husband. In matters of succession (inheritance), equal parts were given to all children, and the testator's right to dispose of property by will was limited in order to prevent the reestablishment of inequalities by this device.

      Throughout the Revolutionary period, successive governments were committed to consolidating the legal changes in a set of codes. Drafts were made, but time and authority were lacking, and none were enacted until civil society was restabilized under Napoleon.

The concept of codification
      From a practical point of view, the Civil Code achieved the unification of French civil law (law code). This was not, however, the only concern of its drafters. They shared with most of their contemporaries and with most modern French lawyers the belief that the law should be written in clear language so that it would be accessible to every citizen. This view implied that the new code had to be complete in its field, setting forth general rules and arranging them logically. Finally, it was not to unnecessarily break with tradition.

      The Civil Code was organized as a series of short articles because it was assumed, first, that legislators could not foresee all circumstances that might arise in life and, second, that only conciseness could make the code flexible enough to adapt old principles to new circumstances. The general rules contained in the code have since been applied to concrete circumstances without much difficulty. When an interpretation has been required, the courts have had the responsibility to give it, taking into consideration the “spirit” of the code in an effort to apply to each case the solution that would have been desired by the legislator.

      The drafters of the code strove toward inner consistency in their work so that reliance on logic might ensure satisfactory application of it. They saw no contradiction between logic and experience. Since the 17th-century beginnings of the Age of Reason, abstract reasoning had characterized the French approach to law and to life in general. For this reason, articles of the code were not regarded as narrow rulings. If no one article was found to apply exactly to a given situation, it was proper to consider several articles and to draw from them a more general rule that could either be applied to the case itself or be combined with others to reach a solution.

      Although the code was a work of logic, it relied mainly on experience. Its drafters were exceptionally well qualified in this respect: they had lived the first half of their lives under the laws of ancient France and had also known the Revolution. Their purpose was not so much to create new laws as to restate existing laws, subject to choice when revolutionary enactments varied from previous ones and when previous laws differed from one another. They were ready to adopt any rules that seemed best suited to the French people on the basis of experience; they recognized that laws could not be inflexible “but must be adapted to the character, the habits, and the situation of the people for whom they are drafted.”

Later changes and adaptations
      No important changes were made in the Civil Code from 1804 to 1880, except the repeal of divorce in 1816, when a Catholic monarchy was restored. The political and legislative power was held by the bourgeoisie, and they were entirely satisfied with the basic principles of the code, which favoured individualism and free will. In fact, from 1804 until the enactment of the constitution of the Third Republic in 1875, the Civil Code remained the law of France despite several changes in political regimes. Jurisprudence was centred upon it; in both teaching and writing, scholars discussed it article by article. The courts fulfilled the role that the drafters had stressed for them; imbued with the spirit of the code, they applied its general rules to particular cases.

      The social atmosphere changed during the Third Republic, when universal suffrage gave the labouring class an influence on legislation. Faith in liberalism was shaken, and the idea grew that the state should intervene to protect the weak. Statutes increased in number. This movement was accentuated by the world wars of the 20th century, during which a mass of emergency regulations had to be passed, and the power of the state to encroach on private interests for the sake of the community was increased.

      Subsequent amendments to the code revealed two trends: first, greater individualism in family law; second, qualification of individual rights for the sake of social interests—what has been called “socialization” of the law. Adaptation of the law to new social needs was not made by statute alone; the courts, to a certain extent, adjusted the law to modern circumstances. They did this, however, while maintaining a consciousness of their subordinate position. They recognized that, as a general rule, basic changes were the province of the legislature and not of the judge, though this did not prevent them from gradually adapting the law to the modern conditions of life.

      Legal learning also had a role. A number of important statutes were drafted by commissions that included judges, professors, and lawyers; and authors often suggested to the courts new developments in the application of rules of law. Although most of the statutes passed during the 19th and 20th centuries were left outside the code, they continued to be published with the new editions of the code.

      By the middle of the 20th century, it had become apparent that the code should be revised. This task was entrusted to a commission, which produced several important drafts. The effort to replace the old code with a completely new one was halted when Charles de Gaulle (Gaulle, Charles de) came to power in 1958. Revision has since occurred only on a sporadic, piecemeal basis, except for the sections concerning family law, which have been thoroughly reformulated.

The main categories of French private law
      The French Civil Code uses many of the categories that were developed in ancient Rome, but its law is that of its own time.

Marriage (marriage law) and family
      The drafters of the French Civil Code regarded marriage as the basic institution of a civilized society. Taking into account the variety of religious attitudes in France, they decided that only marriage ceremonies celebrated before secular officials should be legally valid. This did not deprive clergy of the various faiths of the right to celebrate religious marriage ceremonies, but these were devoid of any legal effect and had to take place after the secular ceremony in order to avoid any risk of confusion. Parental control over children's marriages was partially restored; consent was required for sons under 25 and daughters under 21. After 1900 the formalities of marriage were lessened and parental control over it curtailed. Twentieth-century statutes gradually reestablished the revolutionary rule that the consent of the parents was not necessary when the parties were over 21. In 1974 the age of majority for this and other purposes was reduced to 18.

      In France under the ancien régime, the family had been centred upon the husband, whose strong authority and powers were inherited from the Roman paterfamilias (head of family) tradition. Although the Revolution proclaimed women to be equal in rights with men, it did little to implement this view in law. The drafters of the code saw no reason to modify the traditional situation, and Napoleon himself favoured subordination of the wife to the husband. The code expressly stated that she owed him obedience. With very few exceptions, she had no legal capacity to act. Without the written consent of her husband, she could not sell, give, mortgage, buy, or even receive property through donation or succession. Statutes in the 20th century, however, severely diminished the authority of the husband over his wife and endowed her with full legal capacity. In 1970 the old language stating that “the husband is the head of the family” was abandoned in favour of a new principle of joint family decision-making power, which did not, however, extend to the management of community property.

      Matrimonial-property regimes have since been revised in numerous countries, the tendency being toward a partnership in property acquired after the marriage, with each party retaining control over the property he or she had before the marriage. Although the Napoleonic Code provided for a statutory regime (if no particular marriage contract had been made), under which all chattels and earnings of the spouses would be community property to be shared equally between them or their heirs at the dissolution of the marriage, the husband was vested with all active powers, even over his wife's property. In 1965 movables owned by either spouse before marriage were excluded from the community fund, which now, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, consists only of the fruits of the spouses' work or frugality during marriage. With the acquisition of legal capacity in the early part of the century, a French wife was free to manage and dispose of her own earnings and property, but it was not until 1985 that the long predominance of the husband in the management of the couple's common property was replaced by a system of equal comanagement.

       divorce was first introduced into France after the Revolution. It was made very easy and was even allowed by mutual agreement.

      The drafters of the code decided that since many persons were not prevented by religious conviction from seeking divorce, it was not for the legislator to prevent unhappy spouses from terminating their marriages and from entering new legal unions. Divorce, therefore, was allowed, but only within strict limits, so that “the most sacred of contracts should not become the toy of caprice.” The only grounds for divorce were adultery, sentences for the most serious crimes, excesses such as gambling habits and expenditures, cruel treatment, or serious insult. Mutual agreement was added under the personal pressure of Napoleon, already intent on divorcing his first wife, by whom he had no child. But the procedure of divorce by mutual agreement was extremely long, complicated, and costly, and no second marriage could take place within six years thereafter.

      Divorce was repealed in 1816 after Napoleon's fall and the restoration of the monarchy, and it was not reintroduced until 1884. From 1884 to 1975, divorce was permitted only on the grounds of adultery, conviction of a serious crime, and cruelty. Divorce by mutual agreement was not reinstated until 1975, when a comprehensive reform of the divorce law permitted a marriage to be terminated by consent or by petition of one spouse unopposed by the other, or when the marriage had broken down after six years of separation or after six years of mental illness of one spouse, in addition to the traditional grounds of fault.

Succession and gifts
      The Napoleonic Code adopted many of the ideas of the Revolution concerning succession. But its formulators tempered them with exceptions and combined them with ideas from the ancien régime.

      The revolutionary law on intestate succession (succession without a valid will) relied upon two basic principles: (1) that no distinctions be made within the estate of the deceased, land and chattels being treated in the same way and no account being taken of the origin of landed property; and (2) that equal parts be given to all heirs of the same degree of kindred, the advantages accruing through some customs to the firstborn or to male children being abolished. Using these two principles, the code provided that an estate should devolve first of all upon the children and other descendants. If heirs of one degree died before others of the same degree and left children, representation (the principle that the children of a deceased heir inherit his share) applied. In other cases distribution was made per capita, with equal shares going to those heirs of equal degree. Illegitimate children (illegitimacy) could inherit from their parents, but they received less than legitimate children and could not cut out either the deceased's own parents or his brothers and sisters. Through reforms in the 1970s, the rights of illegitimate children to succeed to their parents have largely been assimilated to those of legitimate offspring.

      According to the code, the spouse could succeed only if there were no persons who were related to the deceased up to a degree specified by law. A surviving wife was thus in a poor position if no gift or legacy had been made to her, though under the statutory matrimonial regime she received half of the community property into which all chattels of both spouses fell. The rights of the surviving spouse were increased at various times during the 20th century. In general, surviving spouses are entitled to at least the usufruct (similar to a life interest) of one-quarter of the property left by the deceased. The survivor inherits half of the estate if there are no children and if there are surviving ascendants on only one side of the deceased's family. If the decedent leaves no blood relatives within a certain degree of kindred, the surviving spouse receives the entire estate.

      Wills (will) may be formal or informal. Unwitnessed wills are valid, provided that they are handwritten throughout, and dated and signed, by the testator's own hand. Wills are effective upon the death of the testator and do not need to be probated. Freedom to dispose of property by will or by gift is limited in order to protect children and other descendants as well as parents and grandparents, who have to be allowed a certain proportion.

      The intricate system of obligations and rights inherited by the ancien régime from feudalism was rejected by the Revolution, which restored a system patterned on that of Roman law.

      The only classification of goods is the basic one of immovables (which are defined as having a fixed place in space) and movables (movable and immovable) (which include all goods that are not immovables). In contrast to the “feudalist” complexities in common law, the normal relationship between persons and things is ownership, which is defined as a complete, absolute, free, and simple right. But, as in the law of other modern nations, the use of property is subject to many kinds of restrictions imposed in the public interest. Usufructs, or servitudes (servitude), are possible, but rights in an estate never require the person in whom they are vested to do anything. The code states that a servitude “is a charge laid on an estate for the use and utility of another estate belonging to another owner,” and it emphasizes that “servitudes do not establish any preeminence of one estate over another.” Title in land may be acquired within 10 or 20 years if the possessor believed, in good faith, that he was the real owner. Furthermore, the bona fide purchaser of movable property immediately becomes its owner, and nobody can prove a better title against him unless the property has been lost or stolen.

      The section on mortgages (mortgage) in the Civil Code was weak. An excellent statute of the revolutionary period was developed in 1798 to set up a system of registration for all transfers of land titles and real-estate mortgages. It enabled a buyer of land to ascertain whether he was buying from a regular owner and whether the land was mortgaged; if it was, the buyer could clear his title by offering the price to the mortgagee.

      The drafters of the code maintained this system of compulsory registration, but only for gifts and for contractual mortgages. Sales of real estate and a number of legal mortgages were not subject to registration. This gap left prospective creditors or buyers with insufficient information. It was only after reforms were made in 1855, 1935, 1955, and 1967 that there was a comprehensive, though still not fully reliable, system of publicity for mortgages and conveyances of immovable property.

Contracts (contract) and torts (tort)
      The French Revolution brought no changes into the law in this relatively nonpolitical field. The drafters of the code merely restated the law that had developed during the course of centuries and that authors already had analyzed.

      The basic principles of contract law are informality and freedom; the latter is limited, however, when demanded by public policy. The code states that “agreements legally entered into have the effect of laws on those who make them.” The entire matter of torts (tort) is dealt with in only five short articles. The general basis for liability is the following: “Any act of a person that causes injury to another obligates the person through whose fault the injury occurred to give redress.” The subsequent articles in the code regulate liability for damages caused by things, animals, children, and employees. It was left to the courts to work out a complete system of tort law based on these few articles.

The German system
       Roman law, as embodied in the Corpus Juris Civilis, was “received” in Germany from the 15th century onward, and with this reception came a legal profession and a system of law developed by professionals (Juristenrecht). Roman law provided the theoretical basis for legal progress that culminated in the work of the scholars of the 19th century. Under this tradition, the legal process has been viewed in Germany as the application of more or less generally formulated rules to individual cases. German courts traditionally have not been as dominant in developing the law as have their counterparts in the common-law countries. Roman law provided tools to strengthen sovereignty, as well as the correlative ideas that the legislative function is a state monopoly and that the responsibility for the development of law rests with a legally trained state-controlled bureaucracy rather than—as in 18th- and 19th-century England—with a combination of gentry and leaders of the bar. German judges traditionally have been university-trained experts under the authority of the state and the anonymity of the court. In the post-World War II period, however, West German judges assumed a more active role, especially in constitutional law.

      Because the German Civil Code of 1896 came almost 100 years later than the civil code of France, its drafters profited from the intensive efforts of German scholars who had systematized, clarified, and modernized the law during the 19th century. As a result, the German code is markedly different from its French predecessor: its arrangement is more orderly, its language more precise, and its use more exacting.

      The appeal of the German code is from lawyers to lawyers; the matter-of-fact neutral tone contrasts with the livelier mood in which the French Civil Code was written. It does not try to teach men in a broad sense, but it emphasizes ethical imperatives. Good faith and fair dealing are to be observed in all affairs. Breaches of good morals, abuses of rights, and underhanded legal transactions are deprived of legal effect. The code was meant to fit the society of the turn of the 20th century, but, through the use of general clauses that leave the elaboration of specific norms to the judges, it demonstrated an adaptability to new economic, cultural, and sociopolitical postulates.

The main categories of German private law
      The German Civil Code begins with the proposition that at birth every person acquires the capacity to exercise rights and to fulfill duties. A minor's interests are protected by a representative who acts in his name, and although certain legal transactions may be entered into at age 7, full legal capacity is not acquired until age 18 (formerly 21). Every person (family law) possesses the right, protected by an action in court, to freedom from personal injury and from attacks on individual dignity.

Marriage (marriage law) and family
      Since 1875 marriage has required civil celebration by a registrar, who cannot be a priest. Celebration in church may follow the civil ceremony. Marriage can be declared null and void on application by one of the spouses or by the public prosecutor on various grounds, such as lack of form or affinity, but the consequences of such nullity approximate those of divorce: the children are not necessarily illegitimate. Since 1976 the sole ground for divorce has been the breakdown of the marriage, which is presumed if the spouses have lived apart for a year and are in agreement on the divorce, or if the spouses have lived apart for three years.

      The provisions of the German Civil Code concerning the rights of women in marriage were less restrictive than those of the French Civil Code. After World War II nearly all rules contravening the principle of equality of men and women were repealed. The ordinary statutory marital-property regime, with the husband administering and using the wife's estate, was replaced in 1957 by a system of separate management and equal sharing in the value of acquisitions made during the marriage. Upon the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse is entitled to a generous share in the estate. Care for the person and property of the children belongs to both spouses.

      In contrast to Anglo-American law, the assets of the decedent pass directly to the heirs (inheritance), who are determined by the rules of intestacy or by testamentary disposition. As a general rule, the estate does not pass through a stage of administration by an administrator or executor. The heirs are liable for the debts of the decedent with their own property, but by taking appropriate steps they may limit their liability to the assets of the estate. A testator may appoint an executor to perform certain functions in the settlement. A will may be unwitnessed, but then it must be entirely in the testator's handwriting. Public wills are either made orally before a public official, who records them, or set down in a document that the testator hands to the official with a declaration that it is his last will. Descendants and other close relatives, including the surviving spouse, cannot be deprived of more than one-half of their intestate shares.

       property is declared to entail obligations of the owner to the community. This is particularly important in the case of farmland, which can be pooled and redistributed to make better use of machinery and to increase production. Every creation, transfer, encumbrance, or cancellation of a right in immovable property requires, in addition to the agreement of the parties, registration with the district court. A person who, in good faith, acquires an interest in land from the person registered is protected. In order to obtain title to a chattel from a person who does not own it, the transferor must have had possession, the transferee must have been in good faith, and the owner must not have lost possession involuntarily. But neither in the case of land nor in that of chattels is it required that the transfer to the transferee be for value. Even if the transferee acquires a title, he may be required to surrender the asset or to pay its value if the acquisition appears to be a legally unjustified enrichment.

contract and delict
      Parties are free to regulate their relations by contract, within limits set by express statutory prohibitions and by good morals. Strict limits are set to eliminate fraudulent practices by one of the contracting parties. In the case of a valid contract, the parties must observe the requirements of good faith, with ordinary usage taken into consideration. The determination of “ordinary usage” is left to the courts.

      Unless the promisor can prove that a breach of contract has been caused in a way entirely outside his sphere of risk, he is liable for damages. But if the promisee chooses to do so, he may have the promisor ordered to complete the contract as long as it is not shown that this is impossible. The principle that “anyone who through an act performed by another or in any other way acquires something at the expense of that other without legal justification is bound to return it to him” is stated in broad terms, but it is cautiously applied by the courts.

      With regard to delict, the German Civil Code provides that any person who intentionally or negligently injures unlawfully the life, body, health, property, or any other absolute right of another person is bound to compensate him for any damage arising therefrom. Damages also are due for harm caused by the violation of a statute meant to protect others and for harm caused intentionally and immorally. If a public officer violates his statutory duty, court remedies against the government are readily available.

Other significant codifications

Swiss (Swiss Civil Code) law
      Shortly after German law was codified, Switzerland followed suit. The Swiss Civil Code of 1907, together with a separate Code of Obligations, went into effect in 1912. These new federal codes superseded the earlier codes of the separate cantons (which had generally been patterned after the Austrian or the French model). The drafters of the Swiss code took advantage of earlier experiences with codification technique—drawing especially upon both the Napoleonic Code and the German code. The Swiss Civil Code, which exists in German, French, and Italian versions of equal authority, is a masterly attempt at summarizing and systematizing civil law and has influenced codification in countries as diverse as Brazil and Turkey.

Italian law
      The French code was introduced into parts of Italy during the Napoleonic conquests. Even after the collapse of Napoleon's empire, when French law was abrogated, the Napoleonic Code still served as the model for the new codes of several Italian states. The new Civil Code for the Kingdom of Italy was enacted in 1865 while the peninsula was being united politically. Its structure and content were reproductions of the French Civil Code. Unlike France and Germany, which have occasionally tried to draft new codes but still have not replaced their original ones, Italy succeeded in introducing a reformed code in 1942, during the Fascist era. This code remains in force, with its only amendments due mainly to changes in political regimes. In comparison with the Civil Code of 1865, Italy's code of 1942 appears inspired by less-individualist views; for example, in property law and in labour legislation, the social aspects of the law are stressed.

      After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which abolished feudal privileges and restored titular power to the emperor, the leaders of the new government sought to construct an economic, political, and legal structure capable of commanding respect internationally. The introduction of Western law was one element of a wholesale importation of things Western. In legal matters the Japanese took for models the systems of continental Europe, especially the German. The drafters of the Japanese Civil Code of 1898 surveyed many legal systems, including the French, the Swiss, and common-law, and they took something from each. Their final product was, however, best characterized as following the first draft of the German Civil Code. In subsequent developments the Japanese legal system remained true to these sources. In 1947, revisions of code provisions dealing with family law and succession, which had reflected traditional Japanese attitudes, completed the transition of Japanese civil law to the continental European family of laws.

      In several respects, however, Japanese law is closer to that of the United States than to European models, especially in matters of public and constitutional law. This is largely a result of the post-World War II occupation and of subsequent contacts with American legal thinking and education. From the perspective of the rules and institutions of private law, the Japanese legal system remains closer to the civil law of Europe than to the common law of the United States. In many ways, nevertheless, the Japanese legal order differs markedly from all Western legal orders.

      The fact that Japanese law is not the product of organic evolution suggests that the role of law in modern Japanese society differs markedly from its role in Western societies. In Japan, law plays a far-less-pervasive role in the resolution of disputes and in the creation and adjustment of rules regulating conduct. The size of the Japanese bar is small, and extralegal methods of resolving disputes continue in large measure.

      For many purposes the Japanese family transcends husband, wife, and dependent children. The notion that a business is analogous to a family unit also persists and colours all labour relations, especially in small and middle-sized firms. In the relatively homogeneous Japanese society, social status carries heavy obligations, and community pressure is extremely powerful.

      Thus, although Japan early adopted a version of the German Civil Code, it did not adopt the Germans' strong consciousness of legal rights. In many areas of Japanese life, it is still difficult to predict whether a dispute will be settled under legal standards, and it is often impossible to know whether a person will enforce those rights that are legally available to him. The concepts pervasive in Western law—that the legal consequences of a particular conduct should be predictable before the conduct has occurred, that in any dispute the courts should give full effect to claims (a plaintiff receiving all or nothing), and that individual disputes should be resolved without considering the parties' social and economic background—have not penetrated deeply into Japanese law. In contrast, facilities for conciliation are used to promote adjustment in terms of nonlegal considerations; local police stations provide conciliation rooms, and elders act as go-betweens. Compromise based on legally irrelevant considerations is encouraged, and disputes are often resolved by techniques that fall outside formal law.

Modern developments in civil law
      In the latter part of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century, civil-law systems underwent substantial modification as a result of the changing sources of law in modern, bureaucratic, regulatory states. Virtually all modern civil-law systems have increasingly made use of uncodified statutory law in order to regulate broad areas of social and economic life.

      Such legislation typically falls outside the scope of the traditional civil codes, even when it touches on questions concerning contract or delict—areas of law that were traditionally governed by the codes. Furthermore, because much of the modern statutory law is administered by regulatory agencies, it lacks the systematically integrated conceptual framework characteristic of the civil-law codes, which were shaped by legal and cultural traditions. Contemporary statutory law tends to reflect the much-broader role of the state in modern society, even in the areas traditionally considered to be part of “private” law. In addition, both constitutional law and international law have reflected a broadened concern for fundamental rights in ways that also make civil law more public in orientation. Such developments in modern law have had important implications for the traditional content and scope of civil law. The influence and salience of classical codes have receded, as many code-based legal systems now rely on extensive areas of non-codified “special legislation” as well as the case law of national and supranational courts. The traditional divisions of areas of law within civil codes have become increasingly uncertain as the law addresses new problems, such as consumer protection and sports law, that were not contemplated by the prior legal categories. Public-law concerns have pervaded almost every area of the civil law: equal treatment principles, for example, have completely transformed the previously patriarchal family-law provisions of civil codes everywhere.

      These developments have been especially pronounced in countries that are members of the European Union (EU), largely owing to supranational efforts to integrate European markets and to harmonize national laws. European law, or European Union law, often affects and even replaces the substantive rules of the civil law, although it does not necessarily use traditional civil-law juridical constructs or respect traditional dogmatic civil-law categories. It therefore contributes to the further breakdown of the civil codes.

      In Europe such changes in civil law, which are likely to continue and even to increase in tandem with global economic activity and the growth of international and supranational legal institutions, cast doubt upon the utility of treating civil law as the defining characteristic of continental European legal systems. At the same time, some believe an effective balance can be reached through a Europe-wide civil code that would seek to reconcile the traditional civil-law codes with modern legal developments.

Max Rheinstein Mary Ann Glendon Paolo Carozza

Additional Reading
Arthur Taylor von Mehren and James Russell Gordley, The Civil Law System, 2nd ed. (1977), is a rich collection of cases and other source materials from France and Germany. Useful introductions for general readers as well as for those with legal training are John Henry Merryman, David S. Clark, and John O. Haley, The Civil Law Tradition: Europe, Latin America, and East Asia (1994); and John Henry Merryman and Rogelio Pérez-Perdomo, The Civil Law Tradition: An Introduction to the Legal Systems of Europe and Latin America (2007). Helpful guides to the legal systems of particular countries are Otto Kahn-Freund, Claudine Lévy, and Bernard Rudden, A Source-Book on French Law: Public Law—Constitutional and Administrative Law: Private Law—Structure, Contract, 3rd rev. ed. by Bernard Rudden (1991); John Bell, Sophie Boyron, and Simon Whittaker, Principles of French Law (1998); Christian Dadomo and Susan Farran, The French Legal System, 2nd ed. (1996); Gerhard Robbers, An Introduction to German Law, 4th ed. (2006; originally published in German, 4th ed., 2006); Werner F. Ebke and Matthew W. Finkin (eds.), Introduction to German Law (1996); Nigel G. Foster, German Legal System & Laws, 2nd ed. (1996); Jeffrey S. Lena and Ugo Mattei (eds.), Introduction to Italian Law (2002); Thomas Glyn Watkin, The Italian Legal Tradition (1997); and Hiroshi Oda, Japanese Law, 2nd ed. (1999).

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Universalium. 2010.

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