Socialist law is the legal systems in communist states such as the former Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Academic opinion is divided on whether it is a separate system from civil law, given major deviations based on Marxist–Leninist ideology, such as subordinating the judiciary to the executive ruling party. One definition is that law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behaviour. English common law was largely customary law and unwritten, until discovered, applied, and reported by the courts of law. In a narrow sense, common law is the phrase still used to distinguish case law from statutory law.
- The specific system that a country is ruled by is often determined by its history, connections with other countries, or its adherence to international standards.
- The main institutions of law in industrialised countries are independent courts, representative parliaments, an accountable executive, the military and police, bureaucratic organisation, the legal profession and civil society itself.
- The election of a different executive is therefore capable of revolutionising an entire country’s approach to government.
In India, the Hindu legal tradition, along with Islamic law, were both supplanted by common law when India became part of the British Empire. Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Hong Kong also adopted the common law system. The eastern Asia legal tradition reflects a unique blend of secular and religious influences. Japan was the first country to begin modernising its legal system along western lines, by importing parts of the French, but mostly the German Civil Code. This partly reflected Germany’s status as a rising power in the late 19th century. Similarly, traditional Chinese law gave way to westernisation towards the final years of the Qing Dynasty in the form of six private law codes based mainly on the Japanese model of German law.
This “great charter” or Magna Carta of 1215 also required that the King’s entourage of judges hold their courts and judgments at “a certain place” rather than dispensing autocratic justice in unpredictable places about the country. A concentrated and elite group of judges acquired a dominant role in law-making under this system, and compared to its European counterparts the English judiciary became highly centralised. In 1297, for instance, while the highest court in France had fifty-one judges, the English Court of Common Pleas had five. This powerful and tight-knit judiciary gave rise to a systematised process of developing common law.
In common Law News legal systems, decisions by courts are explicitly acknowledged as “law” on equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and with regulations issued by the executive branch. The “doctrine of precedent”, or stare decisis (Latin for “to stand by decisions”) means that decisions by higher courts bind lower courts, and future decisions of the same court, to assure that similar cases reach similar results. Colour-coded map of the legal systems around the world, showing civil, common law, religious, customary and mixed legal systems. Common law systems are shaded pink, and civil law systems are shaded blue/turquoise. This case is used to support the view of property in common law jurisdictions, that the person who can show the best claim to a piece of property, against any contesting party, is the owner.
Locke argued that our “lives, liberties and estates” are our property because we own our bodies and mix our labour with our surroundings. Many Muslim countries have developed similar rules about legal education and the legal profession, but some still allow lawyers with training in traditional Islamic law to practice law before personal status law courts. In China and other developing countries there are not sufficient professionally trained people to staff the existing judicial systems, and, accordingly, formal standards are more relaxed. Freedom of speech, freedom of association and many other individual rights allow people to gather, discuss, criticise and hold to account their governments, from which the basis of a deliberative democracy is formed. The more people are involved with, concerned by and capable of changing how political power is exercised over their lives, the more acceptable and legitimate the law becomes to the people. The most familiar institutions of civil society include economic markets, profit-oriented firms, families, trade unions, hospitals, universities, schools, charities, debating clubs, non-governmental organisations, neighbourhoods, churches, and religious associations.
Hugo Grotius, the founder of a purely rationalistic system of natural law, argued that law arises from both a social impulse—as Aristotle had indicated—and reason. Immanuel Kant believed a moral imperative requires laws “be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature”. Jeremy Bentham and his student Austin, following David Hume, believed that this conflated the “is” and what “ought to be” problem.