M.T. Gibbons (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, 1st edition, Oxford: John Wiley & Sons 2014, pp. 522-524
5 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2014 Last revised: 16 Oct 2014
Date Written: August 14, 2014
The concept of civil law has two distinct meanings. First, civil law may refer to the branch of the law that deals with civil disputes, ie disputes between private parties (individuals, corporations), as opposed to other branches of the law, such as administrative law or criminal law, which relate to disputes between individuals and the state. Secondly, the term civil law is often employed to indicate a legal "tradition" or a "family" of legal systems, this time in contrast with other legal traditions or families, in particular the common law. This is the sense in which we say, for example, that France and Germany are civil law countries while the United States and Australia are common law countries. This forthcoming contribution to The Encyclopedia of Political Thought (M. Gibbons ed.) is concerned exclusively with the civil law in the latter sense. The entry concludes that the number of contexts in which the concept of "civil law" today can be employed unproblematically, ie without running the risk of reductionism, anachronism, oversimplification or indeed caricature, seems rather limited. The similarities, differences and interconnections between the various jurisdictions in the world seem almost invariably to be far too complex to be capable of being usefully captured in the general concept of "the civil law" and its contrast with "the common law". In any case, the concept and its use is hardly ever neutral. Therefore, at best it can provide a convenient starting point for further critical analysis and discussion.
Keywords: civil law, common law, legal families, comparative law
JEL Classification: K12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation