November 10, 2005

Common Law and Mixed Systems

In several previous posts, we have enjoyed a vigorous discussion on the subject of what countries are in the Anglosphere, to the extent that there can ever be a definitive concluson on that topic. India and the question of language was the focus of that discussion. One of the other criteria is the question of Common Law. Can a nation be a core member of the Anglosphere without being under Common Law?

In the course of other research, I came across this somewhat technical, but useful discussion by Canadian jurist William Tetley of "mixed systems" -- legal systems that have some characteristics of Common Law and some of Roman civil law. Of the principal civil/common mixed systems discused -- Scotland, South Africa, Quebec, and Louisiana -- three are usually thought of as part off the Anglosphere, while the fourth, Quebec, has in fact a substantial English-speaking population. Tetley (a Quebecker, and so intimately familar with the subject matter) further distinguishes betweeen codified and codified civil law; the former (like Quebec and Louisiana) having formal codification of the law, while the latter merely experienced the importation of many civil law principles over time. Generally the latter have acquired more of the characteristics of Common Law over time, although both Louisiana and Quebec had most of the fundamental protections of Common Law applied to the practice of civil law. Louisiana, once under the US Constitution, could hardly avoid jury trials in any event.

Interestingly, Tetley notes that in South Africa, the influence of Common Law was rolled back under the National party government after 1948 in parallel with the imposition of apartheid.

Altogether, this suggests that countries with mixed systems having a substantial element of Common Law shouldn't be excluded from being seen as part of the Anglosphere for that reason alone.

Claudio Véliz, in his delightful book The New World of the Gothic Fox commented that the use of "Spanglish" -- the Spanish-English mixed dialect of the American-Mexican border and urban areas -- is in and of itself a mark of Anglosphereness, since Spanish culture is oriented toward uniformity. Perhaps a parallel to this principle could be made in regard to legal sytems as well.

Posted by James C. Bennett at November 10, 2005 03:38 PM
Comments

That is a dense-looking article. I will take a look at it.

Posted by: Lex at November 11, 2005 09:50 AM

This article provides a great comparison of the civil and common law traditions. Thanks for linking to it.

I would say a nation can be part of the Anglosphere if it doesn’t have a common law tradition, but wouldn’t consider it a core member. Civil law, by its very nature, imposes order from the top down, instead of providing a system that’s both innovative and tradition-bound. Even the most activist common law judges are at least theoretically bound by stare decisis, which means they have to pay attention to what a lot of other judges have written before them, instead of a unified code written by a centralized group of codifiers. The common law is a network with many hubs, not one big hub with spokes radiating outward from it like the streets of Paris around the Arc de Triomphe. The common law is better at capturing the collective wisdom of many judges reviewing many fact patterns under differing circumstances. To borrow Mr. Veliz’s metaphor, it’s like a Gothic cathedral with many different rooms, while the civil law is a unifying dome imposed over everyone.

I wonder whether the countries with mixed systems will tend to drift closer to the common law over time. For example, will India adopt more common law principles in the next few decades, when I expect many law firms will outsource their “commodity work” (for example, trademark office actions) to workers in Bangalore and elsewhere, causing many Indians to become more familiar with American case law in the process?

Posted by: Carl Hollywood at November 12, 2005 11:29 AM

Some people have argued that the U.S. has a form of mixed system. While it is mainly English common law, the foundation of a written constitution, or rather a federal and 50 state constitutions, is the Scots influence of codified law.

Posted by: russ at November 12, 2005 02:38 PM

Carl:
The answer is no. Both will learn and influence the other but mixed system like in Canada won't become uniformed. That would contravene the Gothic fox's latitudinarism. More importantly, there's nothing intriniscally superior in either law system
Also it,s not correct to say that civil law doesn't innovate, it comes from different sources: doctrine and jurisprduence. Both will influence the legislator to incorporate them in the next update; in the meantime, the lawyers and judges will cite the innovations until then.
Common law has its own rigidities. Stare decisis has become a fetish whereby judges can eithr oinvoke it to preserve laws that they like even if these have become utterly dated or strike down laws that they don,t like.
In the end, both have their strengths and weaknesses but both are jewels of western civ

Posted by: xavier at November 12, 2005 05:52 PM

Xavier,

Thanks for your insight. It's true that common law practitioners don't have a monopoly on innovation. The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, adopted by all domain name registrars, is similar to civil law (see this case, Section 6, fourth paragraph). The UDRP works reasonably well and was viewed as a major innovation when it was developed in the late 1990's. It caused the market for Tunisian trademark registrations to plummet, but that's another story.

Posted by: Carl Hollywood at November 13, 2005 05:08 PM

The use of state and Federal written constitutions probably comes primarily from the colonists' experiences with colonial charters, which are themselves an extension of the charters of medieval corporations -- again, Anglophere institutions being further evolution of medieval constitutionnalism A secondary influence may have been the 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, since the founders adopted a number of the same solutions to similar problems, particularly in regard to autonomy of esablished churches at the state level.

Another issue is the codification movement of the 19th Century in the US. The promoters of codification promised that it would result in the law being redued to a few short documents that anybody could read. Ha! Like most rationalizing projects, it failed to deliver on that promise.

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