As a preliminary to discussing the civil law, it is once more necessary, to begin with distinctions of terminology. The phrase “civil law” is used in English in two senses. In the first, it is contrasted with “criminal” or “penal” law to denote the law that governs all the relations of citizens to each other except those which involve punishment of offenders.
In order to avoid confusion, “civil law” in this sense will be written without capitals. In the other sense, civil law is a system derived from the law of Rome. In the technical sense of this system, the words will be capitalized.
This technical sense is derived from the phrase Corpus juris civilis (“The Body of the Civil Law”), which in the early seventeenth century was applied to the compilation of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, published in A.D. 528 – 534.
The modern Civil Law is founded on this compilation although it has been subjected to other influences as well and has been substantially modified by them.
The jurisdiction in which Civil Law is the foundation of the legal system are the following:
Europe: Scotland and all the countries of the Continent except Soviet Russia.
North America: Mexico and Central America; Quebec in Canada; and Louisiana in the United States.
South America: All Countries.
Africa: South Africa; Morocco; Tunisia; Algeria (where, however, many sections and groups live under native law), and Egypt, where family and land law is of local origin and has close contact with Islamic religious law.
Asia: Turkey, except for family law and inheritance; and China and Japan, where modern codes have been established in which Civil Law has been blended with ideas of native origin.
Further, in many islands colonized and ruled by Europeans. Civil Law codes have been set up. In Indonesia, the Dutch form of Civil Law exists side by side with the native legal customs, called Adat law.
The compilation of Justinian was the final attempt at codifying the Roman law, which had had a continuous history in Western Europe from the time when Rome was a small city-state on the Tiber to the last flare-up of imperial authority in the sixth century of the Christian Era.
It is necessary to deal with the Roman law separately from the Civil Law, although when the latter was established in the West it was declared to be a continuation of the former.