Duke University School of Law

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As nationalism grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Law Merchant was incorporated into countries’ local law under new civil codes. In contrast to English common law, which consists of enormous tomes of case law, codes in small books are easy to export and easy for judges to apply. EU law is codified in treaties, but develops through de facto precedent laid down by the European Court of Justice. Civil law is the legal system used in most countries around the world today. In civil law the sources recognised as authoritative are, primarily, legislation—especially codifications in constitutions or statutes passed by government—and custom. Codifications date back millennia, with one early example being the Babylonian Codex Hammurabi.

  • Freedom of speech, freedom of association and many other individual rights allow people to gather, discuss, criticise and hold to account their governments, from which the basis of a deliberative democracy is formed.
  • Our award-winning commitment to the community provides our students opportunities that focus on impactful service and professional skill development.
  • John Locke, in his Two Treatises of Government, and Baron de Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws, advocated for a separation of powers between the political, legislature and executive bodies.
  • The sources for public international law development are custom, practice and treaties between sovereign nations, such as the Geneva Conventions.

By contrast, the classic civil law approach to property, propounded by Friedrich Carl von Savigny, is that it is a right good against the world. Obligations, like contracts and torts, are conceptualised as rights good between individuals. The idea of property raises many further philosophical and political issues.

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The most prominent economic analyst of law is 1991 Nobel Prize winner Ronald Coase, whose first major article, The Nature of the Firm , argued that the reason for the existence of firms (companies, partnerships, etc.) is the existence of transaction costs. Rational individuals trade through bilateral contracts on open markets until the costs of transactions mean that using corporations to produce things is more cost-effective. His second major article, The Problem of Social Cost , argued that if we lived in a world without transaction costs, people would bargain with one another to create the same allocation of resources, regardless of the way a court might rule in property disputes. Coase used the example of a nuisance case named Sturges v Bridgman, where a noisy sweetmaker and a quiet doctor were neighbours and went to court to see who should have to move.

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The Law News of the modern company began with the Joint Stock Companies Act 1856, passed in the United Kingdom, which provided investors with a simple registration procedure to gain limited liability under the separate legal personality of the corporation. Social security law refers to the rights people have to social insurance, such as jobseekers’ allowances or housing benefits. Writing in the early 20th century, Max Weber believed that a definitive feature of a developed state had come to be its bureaucratic support. Prominent examples of legislatures are the Houses of Parliament in London, the Congress in Washington, D.C., the Bundestag in Berlin, the Duma in Moscow, the Parlamento Italiano in Rome and the Assemblée nationale in Paris.

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The UK, Finland and New Zealand assert the ideal of parliamentary sovereignty, whereby the unelected judiciary may not overturn law passed by a democratic legislature. The third type of legal system—accepted by some countries without separation of church and state—is religious law, based on scriptures. The specific system that a country is ruled by is often determined by its history, connections with other countries, or its adherence to international standards. The sources that jurisdictions adopt as authoritatively binding are the defining features of any legal system. Yet classification is a matter of form rather than substance since similar rules often prevail. The Old Testament dates back to 1280 BC and takes the form of moral imperatives as recommendations for a good society.

Under a presidential system, the executive branch is separate from the legislature to which it is not accountable. The executive in a legal system serves as the centre of political authority of the State. In a parliamentary system, as with Britain, Italy, Germany, India, and Japan, the executive is known as the cabinet, and composed of members of the legislature. The executive is led by the head of government, whose office holds power under the confidence of the legislature. Because popular elections appoint political parties to govern, the leader of a party can change in between elections.

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