In the contemporary world, there is a great variety of legal systems that exist in different countries. A country’s legal system is a result of its political and historical development, as it reflects the core values of the state. For instance, a variety of Middle Eastern countries follow Muslim law due to the significant impact of the Islamic religion on all aspects of governance. Due to extensive international cooperation, it is crucial for international law students and practitioners to understand the different legal systems used in different areas of the globe. The JuriGlobe site (n.d.) provides a useful overview of international legal systems. There are four types of law included in the JuriGlobe (n.d.) overview: civil law, Common law, customary law, and religious (Muslim and Jewish) law. Also, although a lot of countries adhere to a single legal system, many countries use mixed legal systems (Reichel, 2013).
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Common law is the first type of law addressed in the JuriGlobe. It is based on English Common law and is based on judicial precedent (Reichel, 2013). The precedent system means that the court decisions are made based on previous cases and decisions and not on written laws. The United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland all follow the Common law legal system. One advantage of the common law, as opposed to other systems, is that it promotes fairness of court decisions. Statutory laws passed by the government might not apply to all cases, which is why addressing past decisions in similar situations allows viewing each precedent separately. On the other hand, the precedent system complicates the court process, which might increase the efficiency of the judiciary.
One of the most popular legal systems in the world is civil law. It is used in European and South American countries, as well as in Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Thailand, and others. Civil law is also called the Roman law, as it largely based on the legal system used in ancient Rome (JuriGlobe, n.d.). The civil law gives precedence to written law, which means that it relies on a set of codified principles (Reichel, 2013). Such practice allows for a systematic support of the law, as the court decisions depend solely on the written principles and not on past precedents or the jury. This, in turn, allows for a simpler and clearer legal process than in common law, enhancing the court’s effectiveness. In the U.S. legal system, on the other hand, more value is given to past cases and decisions, which makes the law more flexible and adaptable to sociopolitical changes.
Another common legal system is religious law. JuriGlobe (n.d.) addresses Muslim law specifically, as it is the most common version of the religious law. Muslim law is practiced in Afghanistan, Maldives Islands, and Saudi Arabia and is part of mixed legal systems in Egypt, Iran, UAE, Pakistan, and many other countries of the Middle East. Jewish law is another version of religious law, which is used as part of a mixed system in Israel. Jewish courts are also present in America under the Beth Din of America (BDA), which helps to accommodate for the needs of Jewish citizens (Broyde, 2012). As opposed to the U.S. Common law, religious legal systems are based on religious doctrines, and the decisions are made by the court based on the appropriate religious values and rules (Reichel, 2013). The major limitation of such system is that it is only applicable to the members of the same religion, and cannot be used in multicultural communities.
FInally, customary law is the fourth legal system addressed by the JuriGlobe (n.d.). Customary law monosystems are rare and only apply to Andora, Jersey (UK), and Guernsey (UK). However, customary law is part of mixed legal systems of China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Switzerland. Customary law is based on traditions. Although it might seem somewhat similar to the American precedent system in terms of its reliance on past cases, is not formally accepted as the sole law of the country and can only be applied to a small number of communities with a long history of traditions and customs (Reichel, 2013). One significant disadvantage of customary law is that traditions used as a basis for court decisions are not formally accepted, which means that they can be illegal and unfair to subjects.
Overall, I believe that the best legal system is the one that suits the country’s sociopolitical context. Even though the common law is successfully used in the United States, it might not be as effective in other countries, such as South Korea or Japan due to the cultural and political differences. Moreover, some countries might require a mixed legal system to ensure a comprehensive approach to court procedures or to accommodate a wide variety of cultures and communities. For instance, the proposed adoption of a common law code in China can potentially enhance the country’s judicial system and eliminate many procedural issues (Capowski, 2012). Therefore, it would not be possible to define a universal legal system that would be successful in all countries of the world.
Broyde, M. J. (2012). Jewish law courts in America: Lesson offered to Sharia courts by the Beth Din of America precedent. New York Law School Law Review, 57(1), 287-311.
Capowski, J. J. (2012). China’s evidentiary and procedural reforms, the federal rules of evidence, and the harmonization of civil and common law. Texas International Law Journal, 47(3), 455-504.
JuriGlobe. (n.d.). World legal systems. Web.
Reichel, P. L. (2013). Comparative criminal justice systems: A topical approach (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.