Civil code

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Countries with a collection of laws known formally or informally as 'Civil Code' Countries with a collection of laws named 'Civil Code' or similar.svg
Countries with a collection of laws known formally or informally as 'Civil Code'

A civil code is a codification of private law relating to property, family, and obligations.


A jurisdiction that has a civil code generally also has a code of civil procedure. In some jurisdictions with a civil code, a number of the core areas of private law that would otherwise typically be codified in a civil code may instead be codified in a commercial code.


The concept of codification dates back to ancient Babylon. The earliest surviving civil code is the Code of Ur-Nammu, written around 2100–2050 BC. The Corpus Juris Civilis, a codification of Roman law produced between 529-534 AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, forms the basis of civil law legal systems.

Other codified laws used since ancient times include various texts used in religious laws, such as the Law of Manu in Hindu law, the Mishnah in Jewish Halakha law, the Canons of the Apostles in Christian Canon law, and the Qur'an and Sunnah in Islamic Sharia law to some extent.

European codes and influences on other continents

The first edition of the Swiss Civil Code (around 1907). In 1911, it became the first civil code to include commercial law (Swiss Code of Obligations). Swiss civil code 1907.jpg
The first edition of the Swiss Civil Code (around 1907). In 1911, it became the first civil code to include commercial law (Swiss Code of Obligations).

The idea of codification re-emerged during the Age of Enlightenment, when it was believed that all spheres of life could be dealt with in a conclusive system based on human rationality, following from the experience of the early codifications of Roman Law during the Roman Empire.

The first attempts at modern codification were made in the second half of the 18th century in Germany, when the states of Austria, Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony began to codify their laws. The first statute that used this denomination was the Codex Maximilianeus bavaricus civilis of 1756 in Bavaria, still using the Latin language. It was followed in 1792 by a legal compilation that included civil, penal, and constitutional law, the Allgemeines Landrecht für die Preussischen Staaten (General National Law for the Prussian States) promulgated by King Frederick II the Great. In Austria, the first step towards fully-fledged codification were the yet incomplete Codex Theresianus (compiled between 1753 and 1766), the Josephinian Code (1787) and the complete West Galician Code (enacted as a test in Galicia in 1797). The final Austrian Civil Code (called Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, ABGB) was only completed in 1811 after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire under the influence of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the very first countries to follow up through legal transplants in codification was Serbia, the Serbian Civil Code (1844).

Meanwhile, the French Napoleonic code (Code Civil) was enacted in 1804 after only a few years of preparation, but it was a child of the French Revolution, which is strongly reflected by its content. The French code was the most influential one because it was introduced in many countries standing under French occupation during the Napoleonic Wars. In particular, countries such as Italy, the Benelux countries, Spain, Portugal (with the Civil Code of 1867, later replaced by the Civil Code of 1966, which is strongly influenced by the German BGB), the Latin American countries, the province of Quebec in Canada, the state of Louisiana in the United States, and all other former French colonies which base their civil law systems to a strong extent on the Napoleonic Code.

The late 19th century and the beginning 20th century saw the emergence of the School of Pandectism, whose work peaked in the German Civil Code (BGB), which was enacted in 1900 in the course of Germany's national unification project, and in the Swiss Civil Code (Zivilgesetzbuch) of 1907. Those two codes had been most advanced in their systematic structure and classification from fundamental and general principles to specific areas of law (e.g. contract law, labour law, inheritance law). While the French Civil Code was structured in a "casuistic" approach attempting to regulate every possible case, the German BGB and the later Swiss ZGB applied a more abstract and systematic approach. Therefore, the BGB had a great deal of influence on later codification projects in countries as diverse as Japan, Greece, Turkey, Portugal (1966 Civil Code) and Macau (1999 Civil Code).

Since 2002 with the First law of the Civil Code of Catalonia, Parliament of Catalonia's several laws have approved the successive books of the Civil Code of Catalonia. This has replaced most of the Compilation of the Civil Law of Catalonia, several special laws and two partial codes. Only the Sixth book, relating to obligations and contracts, has to be approved.

In Europe, apart from the common law countries of the United Kingdom and Ireland, only Scandinavia remained untouched by the codification movement. The particular tradition of the civil code originally enacted in a country is often thought to have a lasting influence on the methodology employed in legal interpretation. Scholars of comparative law and economists promoting the legal origins theory of (financial) development usually subdivide the countries of the civil law tradition as belonging either to the French, Scandinavian or German group (the latter including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea).

Civil codes in the Americas

The first civil code promulgated in Canada was that of New Brunswick of 1804, inspired by the 1800 project of the French civil code, known as the Projet de l'an VIII (project of the 8th year); nevertheless, in 1808 a Digeste de la loi civile was sanctioned.

In the United States, codification appears to be widespread at a first glance, but U.S. legal codes are actually collections of common law rules and a variety of ad hoc statutes; that is, they do not aspire to complete logical coherence. For example, the California Civil Code largely codifies common law doctrine and is very different in form and content from all other civil codes.

In 1825, Haiti promulgated a Code Civil, that was simply a copy of the Napoleonic one; while Louisiana abolished its Digeste, replacing it with the Code Civil de l'État de la Louisiane the same year.

The Mexican state of Oaxaca promulgated the first Latin American civil code in 1827, copying the French civil code.

Later on, in 1830, the civil code of Bolivia, a summarized copy of the French one, was promulgated by Andrés de Santa Cruz. The latest, with some changes, was adopted by Costa Rica in 1841.

The Dominican Republic, in 1845, put into force the original Napoleonic code, in French language (a translation in Spanish was published in 1884).

In 1852, Peru promulgated its own civil code (based on a project of 1847), which was not a simple copy or imitation of the French one, but presented a more original text based on the Castillan law (of Roman origin) that was previously in force on the Peruvian territory.

Chile promulgated its civil code in 1855, an original work in confront with the French code both for the scheme and for the contents (similar to the Castillan law in force in that territory) that was written by Andrés Bello (begun in 1833). This code was integrally adopted by Ecuador in 1858; El Salvador in 1859; Venezuela in 1862 (only during that year); Nicaragua in 1867; Honduras in 1880 (until 1899, and again since 1906); Colombia in 1887; and Panama (after its separation from Colombia in 1903).

In 1865, the Code Civil du Bas-Canada (or Civil Code of Lower Canada) was promulgated in Lower Canada (later the Canadian province of Quebec). It was replaced in 1991 by a new Civil Code of Quebec, which came into effect in 1994.

Uruguay promulgated its code in 1868, and Argentina in 1869 (work by Dalmacio Vélez Sársfield). Paraguay adopted its code in 1987, and in 1877 Guatemala adopted the Peruvian code of 1852.

Nicaragua in 1904 replaced its civil code of 1867 by adopting the Argentine code. In 1916 Brazil enacted its civil code (project of Clovis Bevilacqua, after rejecting the project by Teixeira de Freitas that was translated by the Argentines to prepare their project), that entered into effect in 1917 (in 2002, the Brazilian Civil Code was replaced by a new text). Brazilian Civil Code of 1916 was considered, by many, as the last code of the 19th century despite being adopted in the 20th century. The reason behind that is that the Brazilian Code of 1916 was the last of the important codes from the era of codifications in the world that had strong liberal influences, and all other codes enacted thereafter were deeply influenced by the social ideals that emerged after World War I and the Soviet Socialist Revolution.

Panama in 1916 decided to adopt the Argentine code, replacing its code of 1903.

Cuba had the old Civil Code of Spain until the year 1987 when the National Assembly of People's Power approved the Cuban Civil Code, Law 59.

Civil codes in Asia

The Portuguese Civil Code of 1868 was introduced in the Portuguese overseas territories of Asia (Portuguese India, Macau and Portuguese Timor) from 1870, with local modifications being latter introduced. It continued to be in effect in the former Portuguese India even after the end of the Portuguese rule in 1961. It is still in force in the present Indian territories of Goa (locally referred as the Goa civil code), Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. As Macau and Portuguese Timor were still under Portuguese rule when the Portuguese Civil Code of 1868 was replaced by that of 1966, this later was adopted by these territories. In East Timor (ex-Portuguese Timor), the Portuguese Code was replaced by the Indonesian Code when Indonesia occupied that territory in 1975. Macau adopted its own Civil Code in 1999, although this being based in the Portuguese Code of 1966. [2]

Also the civil code of Spain of 1889 would be enforced in its colony, the Philippines, and this would remain in effect even after the end of Spanish rule until the Philippines enacted its own Civil Code in 1950 after almost fifty years of U.S. rule.

Many legal systems of other countries in Asia are within the civil law tradition and have enacted a civil code, mostly derived from the German civil code; that is the case of Japan, Korea, Thailand (the Civil and Commercial Code), Taiwan and Indonesia (which is influenced by the Dutch Civil Code, Burgerlijke Wetboek).

Contents of a civil code

A typical civil code deals with the fields of law known to the common lawyer as law of contracts, torts, property law, family law and the law of inheritance. Commercial law, corporate law and civil procedure are usually codified separately.

The older civil codes such as the French, Egyptian, Austrian and Spanish ones are structured under the Institutional System of the Roman jurist Gaius and generally have three large parts:

The newer codes such as the ones of Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, Romania and Catalonia are structured according to the Pandectist System:

The civil code of the state of Louisiana, following the institutions system, is divided into five parts:

Pandectism also had an influence on the earlier codes and their interpretation. For example, Austrian civil law is typically taught according to the Pandect System (which was devised by German scholars in the time between the enactment of the Austrian and the German Codes), even though this is not consistent with the structure of the Code.

Important civil codes

The following is the list of national or regional civil codes by alphabetic order of names of countries or regions:

Country/RegionNameYear of PromulgationStatusNote
Flag of Austria.svg  Austria Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch 1812In force
Flag of Armenia.svg  Armenia Armenian Civil Code 1998In force
Flag of Bavaria (lozengy).svg  Bavaria Codex Maximilianeus bavaricus civilis 1756Defunct
Flag of Brazil.svg  Brazil Código Civil (1916 Civil Code)1916
Flag of Brazil.svg  Brazil Código Civil (2002 Civil Code)2002In force• Replaced the previous 1916 Civil Code
Flag of Cuba.svg  Cuba Código Civil (1987 Civil Code)1987* Replaced the previous Spanish Civil Code
Flag of Catalonia.svg  Catalonia Codi civil de Catalunya (Civil Code of Catalonia) [3] [4] • First Book: 2002

• Second Book: 2010

• Third Book: 2008

• Fourth Book: 2008

• Fifth Book: 2006

• Sixth Book: 2018 [5]

• Replaced most of the Compilation of the Civil Law of Catalonia, several special laws and two partial codes

• See: First Book (official consolidated text in Catalan and text in English),
• Second Book (official consolidated text in catalan and text in English),
• Third Book (official consolidated text in Catalan),
• Fourth Book (official consolidated text in Catalan and text in English),
• Fifth Book (official consolidated text in Catalan and text in English)
• and the bill of the Sixth Book (text in Catalan)

Flag of Chile.svg  Chile Código Civil (Civil Code)1855Drafted mostly by Andrés Bello and the basis of the codes of Colombia, Ecuador and other Latin American countries
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czech Republic Občanský zákoník (Civil Code)2012

• On 1 January 2014 was replaced by new Občanský zákoník (Civil Code) enacted in 2012
• Replaced an earlier code from 1964
• English translation by Ministry of Justice of Czech Republic available ()

Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 民法典, Minfadian (Civil Code)2020In Discussion, 2020 NPC

The legislation of the Civil Code of China was started in 1954, after the first Constitution was adopted. However, legislation was stopped and resumed for several times, while China adopted several civil laws instead. In 2014, the current legislation procedure started, and the first part, the General Provisions, was adopted in 2017 National People's Congress. Despite the delay of the 2020 National People's Congress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congressmen gathered in Beijing on May 22 to discuss and vote for the Civil Code, which, if passed, will be put in force after a promulgation from Xi Jinping, the President of China.

Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark Codex Holmiensis 1241Defunct
Flag of Egypt.svg  Egypt Egyptian Civil Code 1948In force
Flag of France.svg  France Code civil des Français (French Civil Code)1804Later Code Napoléon and today Code civil. Replaced the Custom of Paris.

Inspired by Justinian's sixth-century codification of Roman law. Differ with comprehensive rewrite including earlier rules, in a rational structure rather than a religious content. This made laws clearer and more accessible and superseded the conflict between royal and judges legislative power. This code prohibits judges from deciding a case by way of introducing a general rule — an exercise of legislative — thus, there is no rule of stare decisis (binding precedent) in French law, but some jurisprudence constante, to interpret the law. It might also had influenced other countries.

Flag of Germany.svg  Germany Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (Civil Code)1900
Flag of Greece.svg  Greece Αστικός Κώδικας (Civil Code)1946 [6]


Replaced the Hexabiblos and the Civil Law of 1856; also locally the 1841 Ionian Civil Code, 1899 Civil Code of Samos, and the 1904 Cretan Civil Code [7]
Flag of Italy.svg  Italy Codice Civile (Civil Code)1942 [8]
Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 民法, Minpō (Civil Code)• Parts 1-3: 1896

• Parts 4-5: 1898

Flag of South Korea.svg  South Korea 민법, Minbup (Civil Code)1958
Flag of Latvia.svg  Latvia Civillikums (Civil law)1937
Flag of Louisiana.svg  Louisiana Louisiana Civil Code 1825Replaced the Louisiana Civil Code Digest of 1808
Flag of Macau.svg  Macau Código Civil (Civil Code)1999Replaced the 1966 Portuguese Civil Code
Mesopotamia Code of Hammurabi c. 1780 BCDefunct
Flag of Nepal.svg    Nepal Muluki Ain (Civil Code) Act, 2018 (Civil Code)2018In force
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands Burgerlijk Wetboek (Civil Code of 1838)1838In forceStill in force in Indonesia since 1848, as the Indonesian Civil Code . It was also applied in Timor-Leste, de facto from 1976 to 2002 and de jure from 2002 to 2011.
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands Nieuw Burgerlijk Wetboek (Civil Code of 1992)1992Replaced the 1838 Civil Code in its entirety; came into force in 1992, replacing the Napoleonic-based code with a German-influenced code
Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines Civil Code of the Philippines 1950Replacing the Civil Code of Spain which had been in force from 1889 to 1949
Flag of Poland.svg  Poland Kodeks cywilny (Civil Code)1964 Official text in Polish
Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal Código Civil (1868 Civil Code)1868Replaced in Portugal itself by the 1966 Civil Code. However, it is still in force in the territories of the former Portuguese India (now part of the Republic of India), since it was introduced there in 1870, namely in Goa (referred as the Goa civil code), Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. It was proposed to serve as the basis for the establishment of a common uniform civil code of India.
Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal Código Civil (1966 Civil Code)1968 [9] Replaced the Civil Code of 1868 in Portugal and its overseas territories. Besides being in force in Portugal, it is also in force in Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. It also has a marked influence in the Macau Civil Code of 1999, the Brazilian Civil Code of 2002 and the Timor-Leste Civil Code of 2011.
Flag of Prussia (1892-1918).svg  Prussia Allgemeines Landrecht (General Law of the Land)1794DefunctAn incredibly casuistic, and thus unsuccessful, code of 11000 sections
Flag of Puerto Rico.svg  Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Civil Code 1930In forceReproduction of the Spanish Civil Code, with the inclusion of some articles from the Louisiana Civil Code. Title 31 of the Laws of Puerto Rico.
Flag of Quebec.svg  Quebec Civil Code of Lower Canada 1865DefunctIn force in Quebec until being replaced by the Civil Code of Quebec in 1994. Replaced the Custom of Paris.
Flag of Quebec.svg  Quebec Code civil du Québec (Civil Code of Quebec)1994In forceReplaced the former Civil Code of Lower Canada
Flag of Romania.svg  Romania Civil Code of Romania 2011Replaced the Civil Code of 1865
Flag of Serbia.svg  Serbia Грађански законик, Građanski zakonik (Civil Code)1844Drafted by Jovan Hadžić
Flag of Spain.svg  Spain Código Civil (Civil Code)1889
Flag of Switzerland.svg   Switzerland Zivilgesetzbuch (Civil Code)1907
Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand Civil and Commercial Code • Books 1-2: 1923

• Book 3: 1925

• Book 4: 1930

• Book 5: 1935

• Book 6: 1935

Flag of Ukraine.svg  Ukraine Civil Code of Ukraine 2004[ clarification needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

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