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The Civil Law Tradition

Civil Law is the law of continental Europe, with origins in Roman, Germanic, ecclesiastical, feudal, commercial, and customary law. Sometimes referred to as Romano-Germanic law, civil law depends on laws that are, or were, collected and codified. It remains the most widespread legal system in the world.

Civil Law ultimately derives from the Corpus juris civilis (529-534 CE) compiled by order of Roman Emperor Justinian (483-565 CE), but during the ensuing centuries became heavily overlaid by customary law and local practice. The reintroduction of Roman law in the late twelfth century provided a new opportunity to consolidate and refine the law to meet contemporary needs, and modern legal systems owe much to medieval and early modern legal scholarship and codification.

Civil Law as a legal system differs fundamentally from Anglo-American or Common Law. In contrast to the common law system, civil law judges are compelled to follow the law as written, rather than determine outcome based on precedent.