Civil Law

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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A body of rules that delineate private rights and remedies, and govern disputes between individuals in such areas as contracts, property, and FAMILY LAW; distinct from criminal or public law. Civil law systems, which trace their roots to ancient Rome, are governed by doctrines developed and compiled by legal scholars. Legislators and administrators in civil law countries use these doctrines to fashion a code by which all legal controversies are decided.

The civil law system is derived from the Roman Corpus Juris Civilus of Emperor JUSTINIAN I; it differs from a common-law system, which relies on prior decisions to determine the outcome of a lawsuit. Most European and South American countries have a civil law system. England and most of the countries it dominated or colonized, including Canada and the United States, have a common-law system. However, within these countries, Louisiana, Quebec, and Puerto Rico exhibit the influence of French and Spanish settlers in their use of civil law systems.

In the United States, the term civil law has two meanings. One meaning of civil law refers to a legal system prevalent in Europe that is based on written codes. Civil law in this sense is contrasted with the common-law system used in England and most of the United States, which relies on prior case law to resolve disputes rather than written codes. The second meaning of civil law refers to the body of laws governing disputes between individuals, as opposed to those governing offenses that are public and relate to the government?that is, civil law as opposed to CRIMINAL LAW.

In France, the civil law is set forth in the comprehensive French Civil Code of 1804, also known as the Code Napoléon. France exported this legal system to the New World when it settled Louisiana in 1712. When the French ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762, the new Spanish governor replaced French civil law with Spanish civil law. France regained control of the territory in 1803 and the United States purchased it a mere 20 days later. During that brief period of French rule, the French prefect abolished all Spanish courts but did not reintroduce French law. Hence, the new U.S. governor of Louisiana, William Claiborne, took control of a territory that lacked a legal system.

Determined to Americanize Louisiana, Claiborne attempted to impose COMMON LAW but met fierce resistance from Louisianans who had grown accustomed to their...

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