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Civil versus Common Law

There is a notable distinction in domestic legal frameworks between what are referred to as common and civil law traditions.

The main difference between these two systems is the significance that is placed on case law and judicial precedent. In common law systems, this is given primary importance whereas civil law systems rely on written ‘codified’ law. 

This can impact on the proceedings and outcome of cases, as well as the flexibility available to judges in reaching a decision. In some cases this means that under common law, the oral arguments and presentations of lawyers in court are given more weight and will take a more active role to persuade others to rule in favour of their client. 

Some jurisdictions on this site – the UK (England and Wales) and the US – have common law systems while others – Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain – follow civil law systems. South Africa has a hybrid or mixed legal system, whereas Canada has a bijural system meaning in Quebec the prevailing legal tradition is civil law, but the rest of the country follows common law.