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Legal systems of the world

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Explanatory notes:

stare decisis (лат) – «стоять на решённом», обязывающая сила



The three major legal systems of the world consist of civil law, common law and religious law. However, each country develops variations on each system or incorporates many other features into the system.

Civil law is the most widespread system of law all around the world. It is also sometimes known as Continental European law. The central source of law that is recognized as authoritative are codifications in a constitution or statute passed by legislature to amend a code. While the concept of codification dates back to the Code of Hammurabi in Babylon about 1790 BC, civil law systems mainly derive from the Roman Empire. This was an extensive reform of the law in the Byzantine Empire bringing it together into codified documents. Civil law was also partly influenced by religious laws such as Canon law and Islamic law. Civil law today, in theory, is interpreted rather than developed or made by judges. Only legislative enactments (rather than judicial precedents, as in common law) are considered legally binding.

Scholars of comparative law and economists promoting the origin of the legal theory usually subdivide civil law into four distinct groups:

French civil law (France, the Benelux countries, Italy, Romania, Spain); German civil law ( Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and the Republic of China);Scandinavian civil law (Denmark, Norway and Sweden);Chinese law (a mixture of civil law and socialist law ).


Common law is a system of law whose sources are the decisions in cases by judges. Alongside, every system will have a legislature that passes new laws and statutes. The relationships between statutes and judicial decisions can be complex. In some jurisdictions such statutes may overrule judicial decisions or codify the topic covered by several contradictory or ambiguous decisions. Common law developed in England, influenced by the Norman conquest of England which introduced legal concepts from Norman law, which in turn was influenced by aspects of Islamic law. Common law was later inheritedby the Commonwealth of Nations, and almost every former colony of the British Empire has adopted it (Malta being an exception). The doctrine of stare decisis or precedent by courts is the major difference to codified civil law systems.

Common law is currently in practice in Ireland, most of the United Kingdom (England and Wales and Northern Ireland), Australia, India (excluding Goa), Pakistan, South Africa, Canada (excluding Quebec), Hong Kong, the United States (excluding Louisiana) and many other places. In addition to these countries, several others have adapted the common law system into a mixed system. For example, Nigeria operates largelyon a common law system, but incorporates religious law.

  Religious law refers to the notion of a religious system or document being used as a legal source. Christian Canon law is more similar to civil law in its use of civil codes; and Islamic Sharia law is based on legal precedent considered similar to law. The main kinds of religious law are Sharia in Islam, Halakha in Judaism, and Canon law in some Christian groups. In some cases these are intended purely as individual moral guidance, whereas in other cases they are intended and may be used as the basis for a country's legal system. The latter was particularly common during the Ages. The Islamic legal system of Sharia (Islamic law) is the most widely used religious law, and one of the three most common legal systems in the world alongside common law and civil law. During the Islamic Golden Age, classical Islamic law may have had an influence on the development of common law and several civil law institutions. Sharia law governs a number of Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, though most countries use Sharia law only as a supplement to national law. It can relate to all aspects of civil law, including property rights, contracts or public law.    

Ex.2Study the words. Translate the sentences comprising them.



incorporate, v включать, содержать

e.g. His suggestions were incorporatedin the plan.


feature, n черта, особенность

e.g. the main features of his programme


pass, v сдать/выдержать экзамен; принимать


e.g. The Estonian parliament has passeda resolution declaring the republic fully independent.

e.g. He refrained from passingjudgment.



amend, v вносить поправки

e.g. They voted to amend the constitution.


derive from, v извлекать; происходить, вести своё происхождение

e.g. to derivegreat pleasure from one’s studies


partly, adv частично, отчасти

e.g. It’s partly my fault.


influence, v влиять, воздействовать

e.g. My Dad influenced me to do electronics.


enactment, n введение закона в силу; утверждение;закон, указ; положение, статья (закона)

e.g. the enactmentsfor the regulation of trade


binding, adj обязывающий

e.g. Remember that this is a legally binding document.


scholar, n учёный

e.g. a well-known scholar


promote, v продвигать, повышать в чине или звании

e.g. He was promoted to the rank of captain.


alongside, adv, prep около, рядом; наряду c

e.g. We stopped and the police car drew up alongside.

e.g. They were walking alongside us.

e.g. Religious law is one of the most common legal system alongsidecommon law and civil law.


overrule, v отклонять предложение; аннули ровать; считать недействительным

e.g. In 1991 the Court of Appeal overruled this decision.


contradictory, adj противоречивый

e.g. contradictory statements/decisions


ambiguous, adj двусмысленный; неясный, допускаю

щий двоякое толкование

e.g. ambiguous words


inherit, n наследовать

e.g. to inherit land/property


largely, adv в значительной степени, в большой мере

e.g. The fund is largely financed through government borrowing.


refer to, v ссылаться (на к-либо, что-либо)

e.g. In his speech, he referred to his trip to Canada.



similar, adj похожий, подобный

e.g. The accident was similar to one

that happened in 1973.


intend, v предназначать; намереваться

e.g. The money is intended for food and medical supplies.


latter, adj последний (из двух названных)

e.g. Of silk and nylon the latteris cheaper.


govern, v руководить, регулировать

e.g. Marine insurance is governedby strict rules and regulations.


supplement, n дополнение, добавление; прибавка

e.g. a supplement to their basic pension


property, n собственность, имущество

e.g. stolen property



Ex.3Read the following word combinations comprising the words from the text «Legal systems of the world»and give their Russian equivalents. Use a dictionary if necessary.



To be incorporated in a new national police force; an amended law; a constitutional amendment; to amend a Bill; an important feature of a landscape; a geographical feature, partly in writing and partly in print;

the enactment of a Bill of Rights; to enact a law allowing unrestricted emigration; to overrule a claim/decision; inheritance-tax; literary supplement; a supplement to the «Times».


Ex.4Look through the text again. In each paragraph of the text find a sentence which best introduces or summarizes the information.




Ex.5Match the pairs of words which have similar ( ) or different (x) meaning.


a) -------similar – the same b)-------incorporate – include

c) -------amend – rewrite d)-------partly – wholly

e) -------influence – impact f)-------overrule – repeal

g) -------ambiguous – clear h)-------opposite – contradictory

i) -------similar – different j)-------latter – former

k) -------religious – atheistic


Ex.6Translate the following word combinations


answer private

Ambiguous { terms public

Statement movable } property




property { right




Ex. 7Give Russian equivalents to the following:


1) codifications in a constitution or statute ________________________________

2) an extensive reform of a law _________________________________________

3) civil law is interpreted rather than developed _____________________________

4) several countries have adapted the common law system into a mixed

system ______________________________________________________________

5) the doctrine of stare decisis __________________________________________

6) intended as individual moral guidance________________________________

7) several civil law institutions_________________________________________

8) Sharia law governs a number of Islamic countries __________________________


Ex.8Fill in the gaps with the propositions in brackets.


1. The three legal systems of the world consist ____ civil law, common law and religious law. 2. Each country incorporates many other features ______ the system. 3. The concept of codification dates back ____ the Code of Hammurabi in Babylon about 1790 BC. 4. Civil law systems mainly derive_____ the Roman Empire. 5. Norman law was influenced_____ aspects of Islamic law. 6. Common law was inherited ____ the Commonwealth of Nations. 7. Islamic Sharia law is based_____ legal precedent considered similar ____ law.


Ex.9Translate the sentences into Russian. Pay attention to the meaning of the italicized words.


1. Our legal system inherited laws from the English system.

2. She feared losing her inheritance to her stepmother.

3. If a decision is overruled, it means that it is incorrect or not valid.

4. The authorities have failed to enact a law allowing emigration.

5. Parliament gained certain rights of amendment.

6. The agreement allows the rebels to be incorporated into a new national police force.


Ex.10 Complete the sentences according to the text «Legal systems of the world».


1. The legal systems of the world________________________________________

2. Civil law is________________________________________________________

3. Scholars and economists divide civil law into_____________________________

4. Common law was influenced by_______________________________________

5. Common law is in practice in__________________________________________

6. Religious law refers to_____________________________________________

7. The main kinds of religious law are___________________________________

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