Civil law is a legal system originating in Continental Europe based on a codified set of principles that serve as the primary source of law. Often contrasted with the [common law] system, which originated in England. [common law] is predominant in Anglophone areas and [civil law] in areas speaking other European languages. Not to be confused with [civil law] claims, which is a person-to-person legal redress that can arise under any legal system.

Civil law is a legal system originating in Continental Europe and adopted in much of the world. The civil law system is intellectualized within the framework of Roman law, and with core principles codified into a referable system, which serves as the primary source of law. The civil law system is often contrasted with the common law system, which originated in medieval England, whose intellectual framework historically came from uncodified judge-made case law, and gives precedential authority to prior court decisions.

Historically, a civil law is the group of legal ideas and systems ultimately derived from the Corpus Juris Civilis, but heavily overlaid by Napoleonic, Germanic, canonical, feudal, and local practices, as well as doctrinal strains such as natural law, codification, and legal positivism.

Conceptually, civil law proceeds from abstractions, formulates general principles, and distinguishes substantive rules from procedural rules. It holds case law secondary and subordinate to statutory law. Civil law is often paired with the inquisitorial system, but the terms are not synonymous.

There are key differences between a statute and a code. The most pronounced features of civil systems are their legal codes, with concise and broadly applicable texts that typically avoid factually specific scenarios. The short articles in a civil law code deal in generalities and stand in contrast with ordinary statutes, which are often very long and very detailed.

Civil law systems can be divided into:

  • those where Roman law in some form is still living law but there has been no attempt to create a civil code: Andorra and San Marino
  • those with uncodified mixed systems in which civil law is an academic source of authority but common law is also influential: Scotland and the Roman-Dutch law countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Guyana)
  • those with codified mixed systems in which civil law is the background law but has its public law heavily influenced by common law: Puerto Rico, Philippines, Quebec and Louisiana
  • the Scandinavian legal systems, which are of a hybrid character since their background law is a mix of civil law and Scandinavian customary law and they have been partially codified. Likewise, the laws of the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark) mix Norman customary law and French civil law.
  • those with comprehensive codes that exceed a single civil code, such as France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain.