The Napoleonic Code influential in Europe

The Code was adopted in many countries occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and became the foundation of the law systems of Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and their former colonies, and Poland.

Romania also used a civic code with strong Napoleonic influences until 2011. Thus, the civil law systems of the countries of modern continental Europe have been influenced by the Napoleonic Code (except for Russia and the Scandinavian countries).

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The Napoleonic Code

The 1804 Napoleonic Code influenced civil law codes across the globe. It was very influential in developing countries outside Europe, especially in the Middle East.

  • It replaced the fragmented laws of pre-revolutionary France.
  • It recognised the principles of civil liberty, equality before the law for men (not for women in the same sense), and the state's secular character.

Before the Napoleonic Code, France did not have any set of laws. Instead, law consisted of local customs. Napoleon wanted to reform the French legal system in keeping with the French Revolution. 

During the Revolution, the last traces of feudalism were abolished. A new legal code was needed to address the changes in the French's social, economic, and political structure. The code was published in 1804 and named the Civil Code of the French but later renamed the Napoleonic Code.

  • The development of the code fundamentally changed the nature of the civil law legal system. It stressed clearly written and accessibly law.
  • The laws could be applied only if they had been promulgated and then published officially. No secret laws were authorised.
  • It prohibited laws that apply to events that happened before their introduction.
  • The codes also prevented judges from refusing justice based on insufficiency of the law, meaning they had to interpret the law.
  • It forbid judges from passing general judgments of a legislative value.

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Roman law - the basis for law codes of most countries

Roman law of ancient Rome has affected the development of law in most Western civilisation and parts of the East.

It is the foundation for law codes of most countries of continental Europe (civil law) and derivative systems elsewhere.

Roman law | Influence, Importance, Principles, & Facts

Quick Primer on the World's Legal Systems

There are generally considered to be five legal systems in the world today: 

  • Civil law
  • Common law
  • Customary law
  • Religious law
  • Mixed legal systems.

Legal Systems - Guide to International and Foreign Law Research

In the 12th century, Italian jurists rediscovered Justinian's compilation of Roman law. This started a new legal scholarship in Europe that flourished and evolved into the ius commune - a shared legal tradition that combined Roman and canon law into a common system of legal thought.

During the 17th and 18th century, the Dutch jurists created ways to incorporate the local customary law within a classical Roman framework. The Dutch system of law was exported to its colonies, where it was dominated by the Roman-Dutch tradition of the time.

The Roman-Dutch Legal Tradition | Berkeley Law

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