A civil code is a systematic compilation of laws designed to comprehensively deal with the core areas of private law. A jurisdiction that has a civil code generally also has a code of civil procedure. In some jurisdictions with a civil code, a number of the core areas of private law that would otherwise typically be codified in a civil code may instead be codified in a commercial code.
History[edit | edit source]
European codes and influences on other continents[edit | edit source]
The idea of codification emerged during the age of enlightenment, when it was believed that all spheres of life could be dealt with in a conclusive system based on human rationality. The first attempts at codification were made in the second half of the 18th century, when the German states of Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony began to codify their laws. The first statute that used this denomination was the Codex Maximilianeus Bavaricus Civilis of 1756 in Bavaria. It was followed, in 1792, by a legal compilation that included civil, penal, and constitutional law, the Allgemeines Landrecht für die Preussischen Staaten (General National Law for the Prussian States) (promulgated by King Frederick II the Great. Neither satisfied the standards of the modern law-codification movement.
In Austria, the first step towards fully-fledged codification were the yet incomplete Codex Theresianus (compiled between 1753 and 1766), the Josephinian Code (1787) and the complete West Galician Code (enacted as a test in Galicia in 1797). The final Austrian Civil Code (called Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) was only completed in 1811.
Meanwhile, the French Napoleonic code (Code Civil) was enacted in 1804 after only a few years of preparation, but it was a child of the French Revolution, which is strongly reflected by its content. The French code was the most influential one and was adopted in many countries standing under French occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, but it has lasting influence much beyond that. In particular, countries such as Italy, the Benelux countries, Spain, Portugal (with the Civil Code of 1867, later replaced by the Civil Code of 1966, which is strongly influenced by the German BGB), the Latin American countries, the province of Quebec, the state of Louisiana in the United States, and all former French colonies base their civil law systems to a strong extent on the Napoleonic Code.
The 19th century saw the emergence of the School of Pandectism, whose work peaked in the German Civil Code (BGB), which was enacted in 1900 in the course of Germany's national unification project, and in the Swiss Civil Code (Zivilgesetzbuch) of 1907. Those two codes had a great deal of influence on later codification projects in countries as diverse as Japan, Turkey, Portugal (1966 Civil Code) and Macau (1999 Civil Code).
In Europe, apart from the common law countries of the British Isles, only Scandinavia remained untouched by the codification movement. The particular tradition of the civil code originally enacted in a country is often thought to have a lasting influence on the methodology employed in legal interpretation. Scholars of comparative law and economists promoting the legal origins theory of (financial) development usually subdivide the countries of the civil law tradition as belonging either to the French, Scandinavian or German group (the latter including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea).
American codes[edit | edit source]
The first civil code promulgated in America was that of Louisiana of 1804, inspired by the 1800 project of the French civil code, known as the Projet de l'an VIII (project of the 8th year); nevertheless, in 1808 a Digeste de la loi civile was sanctioned.
In the United States, codification appears to be widespread at a first glance, but American codifications are actually collections of common law rules and a variety of ad hoc statutes; that is, they do not aspire to complete logical coherence. For example, the California Civil Code largely codifies common law doctrine and is very different in form and content from all other civil codes.
In 1852, Peru promulgated its own civil code (based on a project of 1847), which was not a simple copy or imitation of the French one, but presented a more original text based on the Castillan law (of Roman origin) that was previously in force on the Peruvian territory.
Chile promulgated its civil code in 1855, an original work in confront with the French code both for the scheme and for the contents (similar to the Castillan law in force in that territory) that was written by Andrés Bello (begun in 1833). This code was integrally adopted by Ecuador in 1858; El Salvador in 1859; Venezuela in 1862 (only during that year); Nicaragua in 1867; Honduras in 1880 (until 1899, and again since 1906); Colombia in 1887; and Panama (after its separation from Colombia in 1903).
Nicaragua in 1904 replaced its civil code of 1867 by adopting the Argentine code. In 1916 Brazil enacted its civil code (project of Clovis Bevilacqua, after rejecting the much superior project by Teixeira de Freitas that was translated by the Argentines to prepare their project), that entered into effect in 1917 (in 2002, the Brazilian Civil Code was replaced by a new text). Brazilian Civil Code of 1916 was considered, by many, as the last code of the 19th century despite being adopted in the 20th century. The reason behind that is that the Brazilian Code of 1916 was the last of the important codes from the era of codifications in the world that had strong liberal influences, and all other codes enacted thereafter were deeply influenced by the social ideals that emerged after World War I and the Soviet Socialist Revolution.
Panama in 1916 decided to adopt the Argentine code, replacing its code of 1903.
Contents of a civil code[edit | edit source]
A typical civil code deals with the fields of law known to the common lawyer as law of contracts, torts, property law, family law and the law of inheritance. Commercial law, corporate law and civil procedure are usually codified separately.
The newer codes such as the ones of Germany, Switzerland and Portugal are structured according to the Pandectist System:
The civil code of the state of Louisiana, following the institutions system, is divided into five parts:
- Preliminary Title
- Of Persons
- Things and Different Modifications of Ownership
- Of Different Modes of Acquiring the Ownership of Things
- Conflict of Laws
Pandectism also had an influence on the earlier codes and their interpretation. For example, Austrian civil law is typically taught according to the Pandect System (which was devised by German scholars in the time between the enactment of the Austrian and the German Codes), even though this is not consistent with the structure of the Code.
Important civil codes[edit | edit source]
Civil Codes with Year of Enactment (codes written in bold letters are still in force):
- Mesopotamia Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1780 BC)
- Bavarian Codex Maximilianeus bavaricus civilis (1756)
- Prussian Allgemeines Landrecht (1792 -- "General Law of the Land"; an incredibly casuistic and thus unsuccessful code of 11000 sections)
- French Code civil des Français (1804) (later Code Napoléon and today Code civil)
- Austrian Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (1812)
- Louisiana Civil Code of the State of Louisiana (1825)
- Chile Código Civil (Civil Code) written mostly by Andrés Bello and the base of the codes of Colombia, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. (1855 )
- Quebec or Civil Code of Lower Canada (1865) repealed and replaced by Civil Code of Québec in 1994
- German Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (1900)
- Swiss Zivilgesetzbuch (1907)
- Italian Codice Civile (1942)
- Greek Αστικός Κώδικας (Civil Code) (1946)
- Portuguese Código Civil (1966)
- The Code was enacted in 1855, but came into force on January 1 1857.