Modern legal systems of the world have their foundations in one of the four main frameworks. These are civil law, common law, statutory law and religious law. Of course, many of them are a combination of two or more of these basic systems.Every country has a separate and unique historical development which leads to the formation of a unique set of laws. The most widespread of the four are Civil law (also called Continental European law) and Common law.
The history of Common Law is connected mostly to the history of the British Isles. It formed in England, based on the concepts of Anglo-Saxon law with a strong influence of Norman law. Afterward, it spread all around the British Commonwealth and influenced the formation of legal systems of many countries. It is currently in practice on practically every continent (except South America). The defining characteristic of common law is the fact that the main legal source is the judge’s decision in a case – precedent. Of course, common law systems have laws, just like all other legal systems do, but the relationship between precedents, statutes, and laws is very complex.
Civil law, in contrast to common law, has its base in codified laws. Codifications of rules, passed by the legislative powers like kings or parliaments, are the most important sources of law. Most of modern legal systems based on civil law stem from Roman legal tradition. The main codification of Roman law is Corpus Iuris Civilis from 529 A.D. Judges in Civil law systems do not have the authority to create a law like they do in Common law with legal precedents. They are only interpreters and enacters of the codified regulations.
Civil law systems are usually divided into four following groups: French civil law, German civil law, Scandinavian civil law and Chinese law. Each of these has many connections, but also distinct differences. Many countries all around the globe base their legal systems on civil law.
The defining feature of religious legal systems is that they are based on religious scripts, documents, books or even oral tradition. These sources are the only recognized legal sources. However, not all religious legal systems are the same. It is because the methodology used to differentiate legal sources varies. For example, Islamic Sharia law allows precedents and analogy. Therefore, it is close to Common law. On the other hand, Christian Cannon law is oriented towards codification, just like Civil law. There are three main religious legal systems: Jewish Halakha, Islamic Sharia law, and Christian Canon law. Sometimes these are considered to be purely moral guidance rules, but sometimes they have the full power of laws.
The main feature of statutory legal systems is that they are written down and passed on. The lawgiver can be a single ruler or a body of the legislature, such as a parliament. It is contrary to oral or customary law, where regulation is passed to future generations orally.