The beginning of the Roman-Dutch legal tradition

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.

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In 1809, the early modern system in the Netherland was replaced by laws based on the French civil code.


However, the Roman-Dutch law remained part of the legal systems of many other countries as they moved from Dutch to British colonial rule and then to independence. Most notably are countries like South Africa and Sri Lanka, but also Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Swaziland, and Lesotho.

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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.
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.

The Four Universal Principles
  1. Accountability - The government and private actors are accountable under the law
  2. Just Law - The law is clear, publicized, and stable and is applied evenly
  3. Open Government - The processes by which the law is adopted, administered, adjudicated, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient
  4. Accessible and Impartial Justice - Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals

The four universal principles constitute a working definition of the rule of law. These were developed in accordance to internationally accepted standards and norms.

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