This is an introductory course for the common law lawyer who is about to embark upon work in a foreign legal context. It is designed to give a broad, but not exhaustive, overview of the Civil Law system. The quote from the Wizard of Oz—while humorous—does capture the bewilderment many experience when surrounded by a Civil Law system for the first time. However, with a little bit of knowledge, the apparent mysteries can be readily understood, and the common law lawyer can acclimatize quickly to his or her new environment. The goal of this presentation is to facilitate this rapid transition. The examples discussed are drawn mainly from Continental Western Europe. Thus, these generalizations may or may not correspond with all members of the Civil Law Family, such as the states of Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, or Latin America. However, as general background, the concepts discussed are found across the aforesaid jurisdictions, and an understanding of these concepts is essential for common law lawyers seeking to work in a Civil Law context.
This presentation will cover each of the listed areas. It is important to understand both the historical and modern underpinnings of the Civil Law, and both will be explored. However, during the bulk of the presentation, key differences will be explored. In that regard, it is worth noting that as a general matter the similarities generally outweigh the differences—particularly, in terms of substantive law.
Each of these points should be obvious. However, American lawyers sometimes assume that their European counterparts operate in exactly the same way they do. This is potentially offensive, may lead to time consuming differences, and could jeopardize long-term relations.
Continental Origins: What is today viewed as Civil Law is really a collection of laws that historically circulated on the Continent. It was not until the 19 th Century that these laws were assembled as the Civil Law known today. Furthermore, the 20 th Century is the period in which it has been elaborated upon to the greatest extent. Distinguish Scandinavia, British Isles, etc.: While Scandinavia is heavily influenced by the Civil Law of the Continent, some scholars would not classify Scandinavian countries as pure Civil Law jurisdictions. For example, their system of legislation does not mirror the codes of the Continental systems. Also, clearly the British Isles have developed differently, forming the common ancestor of the American system, or the common law. Finally, it should be noted that the Socialist Law of the Cold War Period, while it drew heavily from the Civil Law tradition, was a wholly-separate branch as well.
Corpus Juris Civilis: In the 6 th Century, the Roman Emperor decided to organize and assemble the scattered legislation and commentary of the Empire. The Corpus Juris Civilis was the comprehensive reduction of Roman Law to a single, written text. It was divided into basic sections familiar to those with knowledge of today’s civil codes: Of Persons (Family Law), Of Things (Property Law), and Of Obligations (Contracts and Torts). This comprehensive text spread all throughout Europe. During the period between the 11 th and 15 th Centuries, Roman Law was revived and elaborated upon by scholars in Italy. At that time, customary law was incorporated to some extent. Canon Law of Roman Catholic Church: Beginning in the 12 th Century and continuing through the 16 th Century, ecclesiastical courts evolved within the Roman Catholic Church. The codes that arose under this legal family dealt with clerical issues, sources of law, marriage, and penal law. The ecclesiastical courts were known for the introduction of methods for documenting proceedings, legal argumentation by the parties, and legal reasoning as the basis for all decisions. Lex Mercatoria or Law Merchant: The other key development of the medieval period was the law arising from the commerce on the Italian penninsula with other ports of the Mediterranean Sea. However, each city had its own distinctions. One of the most famous actually originated in the port city of Barcelona. It was the maritime code of Consolata Del Mare . From Catalan, it was translated into Latin, French, and Italian and spread throughout Europe. NOTE: This Slide draws upon J. Apple and B. Deyling, A Primer on the Civil Law System (April 1995 Paper).
In the Enlightenment Period, the belief in the power of reason led scholars to turn to the issue of codification on the continent. While many countries contributed to the codification process, the leaders were France and Germany. France: Napoleon Bonaparte not only spearheaded the development of the modern civil code, but also its dissemination in the countries he conquered. In 1800, he appointed four distinguished lawyers. They met approximately 100 times in four years, producing the Code Civil des Francais in 1804 that consisted of three books and 2000+ articles. The basic structure of the Code Napol é on: General Principles: Publication, application, and effect. Book I (Arts. 7-515): Status of persons, marriage, divorce, and paternity. Book II (Arts. 516-710): Real and personal property Book III (Arts. 711-2281): Contracts, torts, and security Interests. Germany: In 1873, a German commission was established to bring a uniform civil code to the newly-unified German state. The comprehensive Bugerliches Gesetzgebuch (BGB) was approved in 1896, and it went into effect on January 1, 1900. The basic structure of the BGB: : Book I: General Principles, definitions, prescriptive periods, and classification of legal acts. Book II: Contracts and torts. Book III: Real and Personal Property Book IV: Family law including marriage Book V: Law of succession, wills, etc. NOTE: This Slide draws upon J. Apple and B. Deyling, A Primer on the Civil Law System (April 1995 Paper).
Austrian Constitutional Court: In 1920, the Austrians introduced onto the Continent a permanent, centralized system of judicial review utilizing a specialized Constitutional Court. This centralized system should be contrasted with the American “diffuse” system whereby all courts are empowered to address constitutional issues. This specialized Constitutional Court is commonly considered to be formally outside of the judicial system for reasons that will be developed later in the presentation. Decodification: The complexities of 20 th life, commerce in particular, have led to the “decodification” of Civil Law: Proliferation of additional specialized legislation, such as labor codes. Delegation of authority to the Executive Branch. Judge-made law, such as the torts/consumer protection jurisprudence in France and Germany. The legal science or positivism that led to the effort to create comprehensive codes gave way to the practicalities of modern life. European Union: Since 1957, European Union legislation has had an intense effect on legislation in the Member States, which include all major Western European states. This topic is complex and a topic for a separate training module.
To grasp the outlines of the Civil Law system, a common law lawyer must be familiar with some basic differences. These differences can be broadly defined as follows: Codes and Case-Law: Civil Lawyers look to the code and commentaries moreso than cases, and the doctrine of stare decisis does not per se apply. Legal Education System: Civil law is an undergraduate discipline that has a very different format from U.S. post-graduate legal education. Legal Profession: Civil law lawyers choose particular paths during or at the end of their law school, and they rarely switch paths later. Trials and Rules of Procedure: Civil law differs most from common law with respect to procedures.
For a common law lawyer, the initial step in understanding modern Civil Law is to recognize the distinction between public and private law. One should then proceed to an understanding of the basic codes, the role of commentary, and the uses of case decisions.
Fundamental Concept : Despite its fundamental nature, there is debate as to its theoretical basis, but generally, the distinction could be described as follows: Private Law: Sole function of the government is to recognize and provide enforcement of individual (private) rights. Examples of this would be commercial codes and civil codes. Public Law: The state is acting to protect and promote public interests. Examples of this would be administrative law, constitutional law, and criminal law. Frames Legal Structures: Court systems generally follow this distinction. “Ordinary courts” handle private law and the basic public law field of criminal law. Specialized “administrative courts” handle other areas of public law. Legal education and practice often divide on similar lines. Self-Evident to Civil Lawyers: All Civil Law lawyers will make reference to this distinction. It is seen as basic to an understanding of legal theory. Modern Scope Evolving : With the advent of constitutionalism, decline in parliamentary supremacy, increase in judicial review, the public-private distinction is increasingly difficult to apply. NOTE: This Slide draws upon J. Apple and B. Deyling, A Primer on the Civil Law System (April 1995 Paper).
Civil Code: As described above, the Civil Code will set out basic contracts, torts, as well as rights of succession, wills and frequently other family law matters. Civil Procedure Code: Describes all aspects of trial procedure in matters involving the civil code and commercial code. Commercial Code: Commercial legislation involving the registration of partnerships and companies, their structure, and their operation. It should be noted that courts play a significant role in the registration process that often includes filing of common law agency powers. It is not always a separate document. Sometimes, such as in Italy, it is incorporated in the Civil Code. Criminal Code: As the name suggests, it defines all crimes and the associated sanctions. Criminal Procedure Code: Describes all aspects of trial procedure in matters involving the criminal code code.
In keeping with the tradition of legal positivism, the law is viewed from a “scientific” perspective and learned scholars, usually law professors, are viewed as an authoritative source of interpretive material. Members of parliament would rarely venture to legislate on an issues without extensive consultations with the accepted experts, and judges will cite doctrine in support of their conclusions. In the 1800s, the German Friedrich Carl von Savigny laid down the basics of legal science (Rechtswissenschaft ) when he set forth his vision of a united Germany that was not united under a single law, but rather an “organically progressive legal science which may be common to the whole nation.” This approach was termed “pandectist,” and it was based upon the notion that legal scholars (i.e. professors) were ideally suited to develop an internally consistent and logical system of rules. Note: This slide draws upon Chapter I of the Introduction to German Law (1996 Ebke & Finkin eds.).
Any understanding of the Civil Law system must start with the axiom that the common law doctrine of stare decisis does not apply. However, one must immediately begin to backtrack in practical terms. In modern Civil Law jurisdictions, all lawyers and judges will make sure to consult the relevant case law. Taking a position contrary to an existing line of court decisions would be risky at best, and it is not commonly done. The French refer to a series of case decisions as jurisprudence constante, and it is clearly viewed as persuasive authority. In the post-WWII era, both French and German courts have been activist in certain areas, such as consumer protection and labor matters. For example, in Germany, when efforts to draft a comprehensive labor code foundered, the Federal Labor Court in Germany ( Bundesarbeitsgericht ) moved forward, developing this area with its extensive body of case law. This follows naturally from the notion that the often simple provisions in the basic codes have by necessity had to be interpreted to handle situations that were clearly never contemplated by the drafters. These types of decisions may even be referenced as “judge-made law.” That said, judicial decisions are structured somewhat differently. With French decisions being particularly known for their terse approach. Note: This slide draws upon Chapter I of the Introduction to German Law (1996 Ebke & Finkin eds.) and an internal memo on French Law.
As noted previously, the legal education and certification system reflects the underlying origins and philosophy of Civil Law. Notions of parliamentary supremacy cause the judiciary to be viewed more in civil servant terms, and substantive divisions of law shape the training and certification of attorneys. The standard legal education is a four-year undergraduate program, and there is typically a legal internship—practical training period—that precedes sitting for the bar exam. Some civil law jurisdictions, e.g., France and the Netherlands have elaborate judicial schools—commonly referred to as Magistrates School. These are geared towards prepping candidates for the judicial profession typically resulting in new members to the judiciary who have had very little—if any—experience as a practicing attorney.
Students: Consistent with Continental university systems, almost anyone who qualifies for university may pursue the study of law. There is generally nothing comparable to the U.S. Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). However, once admitted, the programs are frequently competitive, and large numbers are failed at various points in the program. Students are encouraged to decide early whether they wish to be a judge, notary, government lawyer, or private lawyer. The American practice of rotating between professional categories is uncommon. Given the competitive nature of law school and the bar exam, graduates frequently choose not to “practice” in the American sense. Professors: It is not uncommon for Law Professors to also practice sometimes privately and sometimes in part-time capacity with the judiciary. There is an arduous tenure track, and anyone who wishes to become a professor will likely serve for a number of years as an “academic assistant.” These assistants typically teach the smaller seminar sessions associated with the big classes, and they service the research needs of the chaired professor. It is not uncommon for persons attaining professorships to be between 35 and 40 years old. In the first two years of law school, classes of 400-500 are not unheard of and attendance is normally optional. Thus, the classes are not particularly interactive. Smaller associated seminars are where any discussions will take place. Oral exams are commonplace, and they may be the first time a student talks with his or her professor.
Civil law jurisdictions do not view the bar exam as the monolithic, ultimate test of who is qualified to practice. The concept of a licensing exam(s) is important, but different in many respects. For instance, it may involve more than one mandatory exam. To get a taste for the variety, consider Germany and France: Germany: When law students have completed their courses, they conclude their studies with the passage of the First State Exam, or Erstes juristiches Staatsexamen. They are not given a diploma and then allowed to sit for the “bar” exam. The Court of Appeals for the region administers this First State Exam, and a mixture of professors and practitioners grade the exams. The examination is conducted in two stages: written and oral. In Bavaria, for instance, the written consists of 8 five-hour papers, and the oral is 4-5 hours with 4-5 students facing four examiners. Private law is always a substantial focus of the exam. 20-25% typically fail. Those who pass do the two-year practical training and then sit for the Second State Exam, or Zweites juristiches Staatsexamen , which is more what we might view as the bar exam. This exam is administered by senior civil servants, lawyers, and judges. The written segment in the southern states ( L ä nder ) is commonly 12 five-hour exams followed by an extensive oral exam. Law professors generally do not participate in this stage of the exam. All who pass the Second State Exam become Assessors , who are fully-qualified to practice law. See Introduction to German Law Chapter I (1996 Ebke & Finkin eds.). Special certifications, such as in tax, are options as well. France: To become what we view as a lawyer, or avocat , you must first obtain a university law degree or its equivalent. Currently, the typical course after that is to obtain what is a rough equivalent of our bar exam known as the certificat d’aptitude à la profession d’avocat (CAPA). However, persons wishing to take this exam must first take a year-long course that is dedicated to both theory and practice. The Centers for Professional Preparation, or centres de formation professionelle, manage the CAPA program. The requisite coursework for the CAPA emphasizes many practical aspects such as oral argument and legal drafting, as well as brief training periods. An entrance exam before 7 legal professionals, who are a mixture of professors, judges, and lawyers, is mandatory. The same group will administer the final exam at the end of the CAPA program. Graduates of with their CAPA are then enrolled on the register of trainee lawyers, liste des stagieres. The trainee, or stagiere , chooses a geographic area and interns with an avocat’s office there for a period normally lasting two years. See C. Dadomo & S. Farran, The French Legal System Chapter IV (1996).
In virtually all civil law systems, there is an apprenticeship period, like the “articling” process in the British Isles. This practical training is typically a pre-requisite to the licensing exam process and/or full admission to the practice of law. However, there are widespread differences in how the process is structured. For example, in Germany, the process is wholly-state run. The practical legal training, or referendardienst , places trainees, or referendare, in training posts of three-four months, which are supplemented with planned training programs. The trainees receive a modest salary and generally work in criminal and civil courts, prosecutor’s offices, law offices, and with administrative bodies throughout the course of their training. In contrast, some states, or kantons , in Switzerland have a more informal program where students seek out and secure their own training in accordance with their future career goals. As mentioned previously, France has the pre-CAPA training period, which resembles Germany, coupled with the post-CAPA training period that is more flexible. In the latter, the first year is generally required to be with an established attorney. However, the second year can be a wide variety of places, including a foreign law firm. See Introduction to German Law Chapter I (1996 Ebke & Finkin eds.) and C. Dadomo & S. Farran, The French Legal System Chapter IV (1996).
One distinctive feature of some civil law systems is the presence of a Magistrates School. These programs are designed to provide specialized training to potential judges and prosecutors. The term magistrate is given a broader meaning in the French cognate, magistrat , where it refers to lawyers who hold state offices including the role of ordinary judge and prosecutor. The ordinary judges should always be contrasted with the administrative judge in the French system. The primary example of a Magistrate School is the French National Legal Service College, or Ecole Nationale de la Magistrature , in Bordeaux. In France, entrance to the Ecole is through an open competitive process. In keeping with the French emphasis on the judge as civil servant, personnel with 5 years of civil service are allowed to compete along with avocats, law graduates, and law lecturers for openings. Successful entrants follow a 31-month course that involves both training and internships. At the completion of this training the judge is appointed to an “ordinary” court. The appointment is accomplished through a Presidential Decree based on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice and with the assent of the High Council of Judges and State Prosecutors. C. Dadomo & S. Farran, The French Legal System Chapter IV (1996).
One often hears that the U.S. has too many lawyers—particularly when compared with Europe. However, this is problematic in the sense that the definition of lawyer in Europe is not so simple. Several different groups actually provide legal advice as understood in the U.S. sense of the word. There are at least three typical civil law distinctions: lawyers, or advocates; notaries, and non-lawyers entitled to provide legal advice. Some systems, France in particular, have other distinctions.
The civil law lawyer, or advocate, is the closest thing to the U.S. version of the lawyer. The advocate has the right to appear in court on behalf of the client where with few exceptions other legal professionals do not. It is very common for the advocate to be barred in a geographic subdivision and limited to practicing within that subdivision in much the same way a U.S. lawyer is a member of a particular state bar. As a general rule, the actual practice of the profession is more highly regulated. Fee schedules are not unusual, and historically, there have been restrictions on the formulation of corporate entities resulting in smaller firms. John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition 104-106 (1985) While it is unusual to have university level coursework in legal ethics, most advocates operate within a bar association that has a code of ethics. The Code of Conduct for Lawyers in the European Union (CCBE Code) sets some overarching rules that are typically followed. U.S. lawyers will find that CCBE is more general, placing greater trust in the integrity of the lawyer when compared to that ABA Model Rules. In contrast to the U.S., lawyers are rarely sued and the ethics codes are not generally viewed as a basis for lawsuits. Mary C. Daly, What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the Civil Law System, in The Professional Lawyer 46-47 (ABA 1998). Complaints concerning malpractice are typically handled totally as a bar disciplinary matter.
In sharp contrast to the advocate, the civil law notary has no ready U.S. analogue. Today in the U.S., the notary has a very limited role, and in civil law jurisdictions, the notary typically has a large role. Drafting : Notaries commonly draft articles of incorporation, contracts, wills, conveyances of land, etc. While advocates may be involved as well, it is not unusual to find notaries handling the majority of this type of work. Certification : When a civil law notary authenticates a document, it becomes a “public act” that is more than a simple statement of what the notary witnessed. It is also given evidentiary weight as to what the parties “said.” Thus, statements contradicting a public act are inadmissible. To challenge a public act requires a separate judicial proceeding, which is rarely done. Safeguarding Records : Civil law notaries are required to keep official copies of every document they prepare, and they serve as a source of official records. Quasi-Monopolies : It is common for a notary to share a geographic area with a limited number of notaries. To get a position, notaries commonly pass a certification exam and are awarded a territory. Access to the profession is as a rule quite limited. John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition 104-106 (1985)
In various civil law jurisdictions, other professionals perform legal services. However, these are generally limited to the substantive sphere associated with their profession. That said, it would be unusual for someone who did not stay within their substantive field to be sanctioned for practicing law without a license. See Mary C. Daly, What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the Civil Law System, in The Professional Lawyer 41 (ABA 1998).
Civil law trials and procedures are defined by what is commonly referred to as the “inquisitorial system.” This system is to be contrasted with the U.S. adversarial system. The central difference is the role of the judge. In an inquisitorial system, the role of the judge is more interventionist--controlling all aspects of the trial including questioning of witnesses. This more active role affects the way court records are established, proceedings conducted, and the approach to appeals.
System: The basic structures in a civil law court system resemble that of the U.S. There is a court of first instance, court of appeals, and supreme court. Also, there are systems of specialized courts with limited subject matter jurisdiction. Juries : With a few exceptions there are no juries. For example, in France, serious crimes are heard by the approximately 100 cour d’assises, and these courts sit with three judges and nine lay jurors. However, even in places where there are no juries, that is not to say that legal professionals always decide the cases. In Germany, non-technical input is secured through the lay judges, as opposed to juries. See C. Dadomo & S. Farran, The French Legal System Chapter III 73 (1996). De Novo Appeals : As a rule, all first appeals in a civil law system are on both facts and law, and the judges of the second instance are free to bring in additional evidence.
This diagram lays out the basic court system for Germany. It provides an illustration of both the “ordinary courts” and the specialized courts. One can clearly see the predominant role that specialized courts play in the field of public law. Also, it depicts the Constitutional Court in its overarching role as a constitutional protector. However, in keeping with the civil law approach to judges as civil servants, the Constitutional Court is frequently discussed as a sui generis review organ that does not properly fall within the judiciary. It is thought of more in terms of an overtly political organ. This question of constitutional review and its role vis a vis the judicial system is explored further at the close of this presentation.
The civil law approach to litigation is distinctly different from the common law system. Adversaries are not free to combat on the merits, and the courts are heavily involved in all aspects of adducing the facts of the case. Discovery : Fishing expeditions are not generally tolerated. That is to say investigation of facts likely to lead to admissible facts is circumscribed. Judges guide and conduct the gathering of evidence as a rule. Witnesses: Judges will almost always handle the questioning of witnesses. Cross-examination is very unusual. That said, litigants typically play an active role in formulating questions for the judge to put to witnesses. This flows from a strong bias against witness-based evidence. The testimony of witnesses is viewed generally as the lowest form of proof. See Introduction to German Law Chapter 13 365-67 (1996 Ebke & Finkin eds.) Transcripts : In sharp contrast to the U.S., every word of the proceeding is not generally recorded and transcribed. A witness is questioned, and the judge dictates a summary to the clerk. The parties and the witness then generally review it for accuracy, and this summary is what is entered into the record. Hearing Judges: It is quite common for the judge taking evidence to be different than the actual trial judge. While there are instances where they are the same, e.g., Italy, it is common for it to be otherwise. John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition 116 (1985)
As the previous slide on Evidence and the Court Record indicate, the civil law approach to trials is quite different. In much the same way that civil codes have shaped the modern views of civil law, the civil procedure codes have shaped the modern views of court proceedings in civil law jurisdictions. Separate rules of practice have emerged in administrative and criminal matters, but the outlines of these rules are shaped in large part by the civil procedure codes. The most important point to note is that there are no trials in the U.S. sense of the word. The trial is really a series of meetings between the parties and the court--combined with numerous exchanges of written documents. While there is a move towards consolidating procedures on the continent, the parties do not have control over discovery so there is no extreme pressure to get it right before your day in court to avoid surprise and embarrassment. The common law system has been structured in a concentrated way to minimize inconvenience of lay person who are called to serve as jurors. When you eliminate this feature, the need for “immediacy”--as Merryman terms it--is not as urgent—as is the possibility of harm deriving from the element of surprise.
Three Stages : Though there are trends towards “consolidation,” particularly in Germanic jurisdictions, it is still common to view civil trials as consisting of three separate stages: Preliminary : Pleadings are submitted and a “hearing” or “instructing” judge is appointed. Evidence-Taking : The hearing/instructor judge takes evidence and develops a summary written record of the facts of the case for the trial. Decisionmaking : Judges—sometimes including lay judges—review the written summary record, review counsel’s briefs, hear arguments, and render decisions. No Single Trial Event : Very common to have a large number of discrete appearances and written acts. But recall move towards consolidation. No Cross Examination : While both common law and civil law systems are “dispositive” systems with the parties deciding the best way to present the case, there are differences in what is allowed particularly in questioning witnesses. As noted previously, judges ask the questions. The do so based on “articles of proof” submitted by the parties to each other and the judge in advance of the questioning system. On the day of questioning cross-examination is as a rule not allowed. No Contingent Fees : The whole idea of contingent fees is viewed as an unethical influence on the independent professional judgment of lawyers. The loser pays in accordance with a fee schedule. It is however common practice for a lawyer and client to agree to fees higher than the schedule, but they should not expect remuneration for the extra amounts. No Contempt Powers : Judges in civil trials generally have nothing resembling contempt powers. Judicial remedies in civil proceedings are almost wholly actions in rem . Thus, a person who disobeys and lawful court order may be liable for damages to the other party, but they cannot be punished by a judge. Expert Witnesses : Judges typically pick their own experts and handle the questioning. John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition 111-123 (1985)
Three Stages : As in the case of civil procedure, there is a trends towards “consolidation,” particularly in Germanic jurisdictions. In 1975, Germany merged the entire pre-trial process into one phase with the prosecutor and police handling matters as is the case in the U.S. However, in other countries, it is still common to view criminal trials as consisting of three separate stages: Investigative : The public prosecutor commonly controls this phase, which starts with the police investigation and ends with the issuance of a document akin to an indictment. The prosecutor has considerable discretion and may discontinue a case for insufficient evidence. See C. Dadomo & S. Farran, The French Legal System Chapter V 198-200 (1996). Examining : Once the prosecutor lodges the indictment, the examining judge takes over and begins to conduct a comprehensive examination of the relevant facts in the case. The hearing/instructor judge takes evidence and develops a summary written record of the facts of the case for the trial. If the examining judges certifies that a crime has been committed and the accused is the perpetrator that matter moves forward for a trial. The accused and his/her legal counsel normally have access to the full dossier on the case that is proceeding to trial—an enormous advantage for the accused when compared to a U.S. trial. Trial : The trial itself is designed to present to the trial judges and lay judges or jurors the entire case previously assembled, permitting argument as to the particulars. It is a public event. No Plea Bargaining: This U.S. practice is uniformly forbidden in Western civil law countries because it is seen as frustrating the legislative intent in contradiction to the positive law. John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition 124132 (1985) Prosecutors : It is common to find prosecutors within judicial training programs, and they may even be viewed as a part of the judiciary. Prosecutors typically handle criminal matters, but they may also be permitted to intervene in civil cases with individual litigants to assert and protect the public interest. J. Apple and B. Deyling, A Primer on the Civil Law System (April 1995 Paper).
Common wisdom has it that there is something common about common law. The same is true for civil law. However, in a dynamic, changing world, the truth is that certain common law countries may have more in common with certain aspects of the civil law countries than they do with their common law brethren. The next segment of the discussion highlights how there is a modern convergence of traditions around certain key issues that is shaping a common legal culture, which we in the U.S. view as the “rule of law.” This convergence can be understood easily through four central themes. Decline of Parliamentary Supremacy : The British and the French have long maintained an allegiance to notions of parliamentary supremacy. Post-WWII practice has shown a marked decrease in this as a central concept. Rise of Constitutionalism : Following the abysmal performance of the German legal system under the Third Reich, consensus emerged as to the need for a foundation of basic rights in the form of a constitution. These rights were not to be subordinate to the basic laws and institutions. Acceptance of Judicial Review : Constitutional supremacy based on fundamental rights ipso facto decreases the power of the legislature and executive and bolsters the judiciary. With the acceptance of fundamental rights, legal systems are forced to provide remedies that are typically expressed via judicial organs. In many cases, civil law countries will still maintain that these organs are not “judicial” per se because they do not have the subordinate, civil servant character of proper judges, but as the Constitutional Court of Germany aptly demonstrates, it is now difficult to wholly separate these institutions from the judiciary. Harmonization of Commercial Practice : With the advent of the European Union and the International Convention on the Sale of Goods (CISG), there is now strong, formal pressure being applied to bring together systems across old common v. civil law barriers.
The heart of understanding the convergence of traditions is an understanding of the evolution of the roles of the legislature vis a vis the judiciary. Integral to this process was the widespread acceptance of fundamental rights, which has placed pressure on all legal systems to ensure their protection. The four arguably most influential nations have all addressed this issue in different ways, and there are certain key points that have shaped the various approaches. For persons working with issues of rule of law, it is important to be conversant in these key points. Ultimately, these points shape how practitioners from these jurisdictions view judicial review and the role of courts in the enforcement of fundamental human rights, which—from a technical assistance perspective--is a touchstone of the state based on the rule of law. In the next four slides, France, England, Germany, and the United States are discussed briefly to illustrate the spectrum of developments, and the lack of clear differentiation between common and civil law countries on these important matters.
Increased Delegation to the Executive: With the increase in legal complexity of the state more items had to be delegated to the Executive Branch. In the last half of the 20 th Century, developments like the European Union dramatically accelerated the process. Introduction of Limited Constitutional Review : In the 20 th Century, the ability of the Parliament to precisely guide the an increasingly complex (and sometimes authoritarian) Executive was challenged, testing the principe de légalité .” The Conseil D’Etat responded with recognition of the general principles of law, principe généraux du droit, such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Nevertheless, lack of judicial review in the first part of the century prevented the French State from achieving what the French Scholar Malberg termed the Etat du Droit , focused on protection of individual liberties. Instead, he argued that France maintained an Etat légal that continued to emphasize Parliamentary supremacy. The Fourth and Fifth Republics moved away from this model, formulating a new body with constitutional review powers. The resulting Conseil Constitutionnel now serves as a check on legislative power, which for some French scholars signifies the establishment of the Etat du Droit . The members of the Conseil are not necessarily lawyers. 1971 Conseil Constitutionnel Decision: In the famous 1971 Decision on Freedom of Association, the Conseil Constitutionnel asserted its authority to review Parliamentary acts on the basis of protecting fundamental rights. However, review is still limited to draft legislation and individual citizens do not have the right of petition. Consequently, the judiciary generally maintains a lower profile in the French legal system and is viewed as having less discretion and a more restricted role in the protection of individual liberties. Role of Administrative Courts: W ithin the aforesaid limitations, the French system of administrative courts have provided an effective forum for redress, handling what we might normally view as “constitutional issues.”
No Written Constitution : Without a written Constitution, Britain’s emphasis on the Parliament and the Common Law Court System left an uneasy balance between institutions: Courts seeking to uphold fundamental rights and Parliamentary sovereignty were placed in a difficult position. This dynamic forced courts to use interpretation/construction as a method of limiting legislative abuses. Furthermore, this dynamic caused administrative law to develop slowly. Initially, courts were limited in review to the application of the general principle of ultra vires . Pressures during this century promoted the extension of this power of review to protection of fundamental liberties. Parliamentary Supremacy Declining : Economic Community Act of 1972 established a legislative foundation for judicial review. Courts were empowered and required to give precedence to EC Law. Courts interpreted EC Law to apply so long as the Parliament did not express an explicit intent to derogate. Further legislation has now incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights so courts may use this to review legislation. Limited Judicial Review: Courts will issue a ruling of “incompatible” in cases of irreconcilable conflict. Parliament retains supremacy in dealing with ultimate resolution of such conflicts.
Impact of National Socialism: In the mid-20 th Century, The regime of National Socialism crushed the notion that substantive law derived naturally from the competent lawmaking authority with only the very basic guiding principles. Basic Law: The concern for a more widespread base led to the development of Germany’s famous post-war constitution, the Basic Law. Fundamental liberties were conceived of as both negative restrictions on the State as well as positive obligations. Constitutional umbrella covers state administrative functions as well. The term Rechstaat may be evolving to reflect this rights-based, constitutional approach. However, the notion of constitutionalism itself has now come to the fore, and the term Verfassungstaat could be said to more representative of the ROL concept. Centralized Review: The Basic Law establishes a strong Federal Constitutional Court that has the powers of constitutional review similar to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ordinary courts do not have this power. Constitutional Court as Ultimate Arbiter: It is the ultimate arbiter in matters of separation of powers and fundamental liberties, and it has shaped the development of administrative law accordingly.
Judical Branch as Co-Equal: Rule of law rests on explicit separation of powers between the branches of government and respect for individual liberties. The Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches are viewed as co-equal. Thus, judicial administrative review developed naturally from the inherent checks and balances approach. Diffuse Constitutional Review: Generally, ordinary courts possess some or all aspects of the power of “judicial review.” Due Process Jurisprudence: The process of diffuse review makes constitutional litigation commonplace, and “due process” emerges as a rich part of the common law, establishing human rights foundations. Supreme Court as Arbiter: Drawing on its substantial constitutional authority, the Supreme Court of the United States has emerged as the ultimate review authority for alleged executive or legislative abuses. The constitutional common law of the Supreme Court is binding on all lower courts and branches of government on matters relating to the fundamental freedoms in the Constitution and separation of powers. Supreme Court case law developed the concept of “due process” extensively, shaping all fields of law including administrative law.
This famous final quote captures the legal roots of the civil law tradition and the passion that it instills in its adherents.
USIP Civil Law Liason Briefing
Civil Law: Understanding the Basics “ You are not in Kansas anymore.”
Rationale <ul><li>Provide basic knowledge to be effective in Civil Law jurisdictions </li></ul><ul><li>Understand basis of most legal systems </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid being the “Ugly American”, or even worse, the “Ugly American Lawyer” </li></ul><ul><li>Create opportunities for dialogue </li></ul>
Historical Basis <ul><li>Continental in Origin </li></ul><ul><li>Codified First in 19 th Century </li></ul><ul><li>Developed Fully in the 20 th Century </li></ul>
Historic Laws of the Continent <ul><li>Corpus Juris Civilis </li></ul><ul><li>Customary Law </li></ul><ul><li>Canon Law </li></ul><ul><li>Lex Mercatoria </li></ul>
19 th Century Codifications <ul><li>French Revolution: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Code Napol é on </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Bismarckian Republic: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>German Civil Code </li></ul></ul>
2 0 th Century Innovations <ul><li>Austrian Constitutional Court </li></ul><ul><li>“ Decodification” </li></ul><ul><li>Council of Europe </li></ul><ul><li>European Union </li></ul><ul><li>Constitutionalism </li></ul>
Key Issues <ul><li>Codes and Case-Law </li></ul><ul><li>Structure of the Legal Education System </li></ul><ul><li>Structure of the Legal Profession </li></ul><ul><li>Trials and Rules of Procedure </li></ul>
Codes, Commentary & Case-Law <ul><li>Public v. Private Law </li></ul><ul><li>Basic Codes </li></ul><ul><li>Commentary </li></ul><ul><li>Case Decisions </li></ul>
Public v. Private Law <ul><li>Fundamental Concept </li></ul><ul><li>Frames Legal Structures </li></ul><ul><li>Self-Evident to Civil Law Lawyers </li></ul><ul><li>Modern Scope Evolving </li></ul>
Commentary <ul><li>Not a Formal Source of Law </li></ul><ul><li>Scholarly Doctrine Drives the System </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Legislatures Defer to Doctrine </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Judges Typically Refer to Doctrine </li></ul></ul>“ Civil law is a law of the professor.” John Merryman
Case Decisions <ul><li>No stare decisis Effect, but Cases are </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Always Consulted </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Commonly Followed </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Most Influential in New Areas of Law </li></ul><ul><li>Structured Differently </li></ul>
Structure of the Legal Education System <ul><li>Law Faculty </li></ul><ul><li>Bar Exam </li></ul><ul><li>Practical Training </li></ul><ul><li>Magistrate Schools </li></ul>
Law Faculty <ul><li>Students </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No Entrance Exams </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>High Failure Rate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Early Specialization </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Graduates Often Don’t Practice </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Professors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Usually in Private Practice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Arduous Tenure Track </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Full Professors Serviced By Team of Assistants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Less Interactive Style </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emphasize Theory </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Oral Exams Common </li></ul></ul>
Bar Exams <ul><li>One of Several Criteria to Practice </li></ul><ul><li>Failure Rates may be High </li></ul><ul><li>Contains Oral and Written Components </li></ul><ul><li>May be Administered Over More than One Session </li></ul><ul><li>May Include Special Certifications </li></ul>
Practical Training <ul><li>Prerequisite to Practice </li></ul><ul><li>Unique to Each Jurisdiction </li></ul><ul><li>May Involve Multiple Stages or Internships </li></ul><ul><li>May Allow Trainee to Earn Income </li></ul>
Magistrate Schools <ul><li>Judicial Training as a Special Legal Education Track </li></ul><ul><li>Magistrates May Include Prosecutorial Functions </li></ul><ul><li>Emphasizes the Judge as a Civil Servant </li></ul>
Structure of the Legal Profession <ul><li>Lawyer/Advocate </li></ul><ul><li>Notary </li></ul><ul><li>Non-Lawyers Who Provide Legal Advice </li></ul>
Lawyer/Advocate <ul><li>Right to Appear in Court </li></ul><ul><li>Geographic Limitations </li></ul><ul><li>Law Offices Typically Smaller </li></ul><ul><li>Different Role of Legal Ethics </li></ul>
Notary <ul><li>Draft Contracts, Wills, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Certify Documents as “Public Acts” for Court </li></ul><ul><li>Safeguard Records </li></ul><ul><li>Quasi-Monopolies </li></ul>
Evidence and the Court Record <ul><li>Discovery is Limited </li></ul><ul><li>Judges Question Witnesses </li></ul><ul><li>Verbatim Transcripts/ Recording Rare </li></ul><ul><li>Preliminary Record May Not Be Prepared by Trial Judge </li></ul>
Court Proceedings <ul><li>Rules of Procedure </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Civil Procedure </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Criminal Procedure </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Administrative Procedure </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Influence of Civil Procedure </li></ul><ul><li>No “Trials” in the U.S. Sense </li></ul>
Criminal Procedure <ul><li>Three Stages </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Investigative Phase </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Examining Phase </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trial </li></ul></ul><ul><li>No Plea Bargaining </li></ul><ul><li>Posture of the Prosecutor’s Office </li></ul>“ Judges in criminal cases have no right to interpret penal laws, because they are not legislators.” Cesare Beccaria
Modern Convergence <ul><li>Decline of Parliamentary Supremacy </li></ul><ul><li>Rise of Constitutionalism </li></ul><ul><li>Acceptance of Judicial Review </li></ul><ul><li>Harmonization of Commercial Practice </li></ul>
Legislature v. Judiciary <ul><li>Role of Legislature </li></ul><ul><li>Fundamental Rights </li></ul><ul><li>Spectrum of Judicial Review </li></ul>
France <ul><li>Increased Delegation to the Executive </li></ul><ul><li>Introduction of Limited Constitutional Review </li></ul><ul><li>1971 Conseil Constitutionnel Decision </li></ul><ul><li>Role of Administrative Courts </li></ul>
England <ul><li>No Written Constitution </li></ul><ul><li>Parliamentary Supremacy Declining </li></ul><ul><ul><li>EC Act of 1972 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>ECHR Incorporation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Limited Judicial Review </li></ul>
Germany <ul><li>Impact of National Socialism </li></ul><ul><li>The Basic Law </li></ul><ul><li>“ Centralized” Judicial Review </li></ul><ul><li>Constitutional Court as Supreme Arbiter </li></ul>
United States <ul><li>Judicial Branch as Co-Equal </li></ul><ul><li>“ Diffuse” Constitutional Review </li></ul><ul><li>Due Process Jurisprudence </li></ul><ul><li>Supreme Court as Ultimate Arbiter </li></ul>
Questions and Comments “ My true glory is not that I have won forty battles. Waterloo will blow away the memory of these victories. What nothing can blow away and will live eternally is my Civil Code.” Napolean Bonaparte in Exile on the Island of St. Helena