The Legal Systems of the World

by Roger Alford

Legal Systems of the World

In case you ever wanted a snapshot of the legal systems of the world, this handy chart is worth a look. If you follow the link you can get a brief explanation of the legal system of each country, including the historical roots. The orange is common law, the blue civil law, the green mixed, and the red Muslim law.

The biggest surprise from this chart is how many countries are identified as mixed systems. I would have thought that most former British colonies would be identified as common law countries, that most former French, Spanish or Dutch colonies would be identified as civil law, and that most Middle Eastern countries would be identified as Muslim. Not so. The overwhelming majority of nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are mixed systems.

UPDATE: In light of the comments, I have posted a new set of charts that more accurately depicts the legal systems of the world.

6 Responses

  1. This doesn’t seem very accurate.  Just looking at the first line, Afghanistan is indicated as a “Muslim” law country, but the chart’s own data table says, in the notes, that the legal system is “based on mixed civil and sharia [sic] law”.  Louisiana is identified as a mixed system in the data table but not represented on the map.  Ditto with Quebec.

    Bright lines are impossible to draw here.  Your surprise would be less of a surprise if the dominant legal tradition were identified in each country, I think. On the other hand, I think it may be even more of a surprise how much common and civil law systems have converged.  Especially regarding the EU, which certainly must either make the UK more civil law-like, or the continental States more common law-like.

  2. I think the tendency is towards taking a little bit of both. I live in Peru, we are decidedly a Civil Law country, but we are starting to mold our Labor and Criminal rules of procedure in order to make them more “common law”. I would not say that makes us “mixed” (we wilk never repeal the Civil Code) just as the Louisiana Civil Code doesnt make the US “mixed”. So I’d be curious of what actually constitutes “mixed” for this chart.

  3. The map does not reflect the true nature of legal systems. The Civil Code of Quebec has been enacted in 1866 and since then, was used in all civil private law matters (unlike in the rest of Canada where the common law is the law of the land).

  4. Hi Roger,

    Interesting chart.  I’m curious that China is listed as a mixed system; I think Chinese law is often considered its own legal tradition, even though it has been influenced by both the civilian and Soviet systems.

  5. By what measure is India “mixed” and Scotland not “mixed”? If regional diversity accounts for a mixed system, is Louisiana enough to “mix” the U.S. as well? I am asking as an American legal scholar who has taught in New Orleans as well as New Delhi, and has a hard time seeing what (formal) features of the Indian legal system are not indebted to the common law tradition. (Yes there is codification, the British brought this to India in a stronger form before experimenting at home). 

  6. It is an interesting chart, but I can’t imagine how you could possibly go about accurately classifying national legal systems without grossly oversimplifying them. As the above comments point out, almost every system is mixed to some degree (as is certainly the case in Afghanistan). Meanwhile, there is often a good degree of variation within countries either on the basis of formal federalism or devolution (Louisiana and Scotland, to wit) or the prevalence of de facto pluralist traditions and practices.

    What might be really interesting would be to chart geneaologies. For instance, tracking the respective influence of key schools of Sharia, along with the French, German and Italian codes, by way of the Ottoman Mejelle code and the work of influential scholars like Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Sanhuri would provide a far more nuanced picture of the legal systems in many MENA countries than slapping them all with a ‘mixed’ label. Can’t quite imagine how one would go about that graphically though…

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