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A Comprehensive Overview of Legal Systems: 8 Things You Should Know

Legitimate public and private undertakings are enabled by the legal system’s rules, processes, and institutions. In other words, it’s a framework for applying and interpreting the law. Civil law, common law, and religious law are the three main types of legal systems in the world. Moreover, there are some important things to know about legal systems, and we will discuss them in more detail in the text below. 


The fair and efficient operation of the legal system depends on the diligent efforts of many specialists, who must each perform their part flawlessly. Legal professionals such as attorneys, judges, clerks, prosecutors, and notaries are essential to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that all parties are treated fairly. Lawyers like Reid Acree defend their clients in court and help them understand the ins and outs of the legal system in order to protect their rights. While judges sit over cases and provide rulings based on strong pieces of evidence, legal experts and academics work to advance the state of the law and its underlying principles. 


Judiciary officials hear and decide cases based on the law, and they also analyze legislation and executive orders to ensure compliance. The judiciary checks that the laws approved by the legislature do not violate people’s constitutionally protected freedoms. It also monitors the executive branch to ensure that the laws are being properly implemented. If a law is judged to be unconstitutional, it will be nullified. 

Civil law system

The Roman legal system was the inspiration for what we now call “civil law” systems. Although each country’s civil law system is unique in terms of process and substantive law, there are certain commonalities that should be taken into account when researching a particular civil law system. Countries that adhere to the civil law system have complex legal codes that are often revised. The most crucial thing to remember is that case law is a secondary source in many countries. 

Common law system

Even though they often include legislation, common law systems place a greater emphasis on precedent, or court judgments that have previously been rendered. In adversarial rather than investigative legal systems, such as those based on common law, the judge acts as a mediator between the contending parties. The legal system in the United States is based on common law, except in the state of Louisiana, which utilizes a hybrid of common law and civil law.

Customary law system

Systems of law known as “customary law” are those that are founded on established patterns of behavior (also known as “customs”) that have been institutionalized as moral or ethical standards within a given nation. In customary legal systems, the laws are often not written down and are typically delivered by elders. These laws are then handed down from generation to generation. As a result of this, research into customary law is heavily reliant on the use of secondary sources. In many instances, the application of customary law may be seen in states with a mixed legal system, where it has been blended with either civil or common law.

Sources of law

In every given community, the law may be found in a wide variety of places. Depending on the nation, the law may be codified in the Constitution, established by the legislature (often a parliament or congress), or based on centuries-old social custom.


A country’s Constitution is the guiding document that defines the roles and responsibilities of the various government agencies and their relationships with one another. Fundamental concepts, such as fundamental freedoms and rights, may also be spelled out in the Constitution. These norms are often codified into “Codes” in Civil Law systems.

A constitution is supreme above all other laws and is notoriously difficult to change. There might be a special court tasked with deciding whether or not a statute, rule, or other piece of legislation is in violation of the Constitution and consequently null and invalid.


A nation may have more than one legislative body, with the federal government, provincial or state governments, and local governments all having the ability to pass laws. The rules will specify the degree to which one legislative body has precedence over another and in what areas that precedence applies.

Powers to draft secondary legislation to implement and expand upon the principles established by primary law may be delegated to a specific ministry or regulator. An example of secondary law would be rules for how a regulatory agency created by main legislation sets its tariffs. It is often easier to adopt secondary legislation since it is not subject to the same strict rules as parliamentary examination. However, since it is often documented in ancillary papers, it might be harder to track down than major statutes.

Judicial decisions

The precedents established by the courts get codified as “case law” in certain jurisdictions. Case law is considered part of the law since it interprets and applies statutes and regulations. In some countries (often civil law states), court rulings are not a binding source of law but are instead seen as interpreters of preexisting legislation.

Dispute resolution



The purpose of mediation is for a third party to facilitate agreement among disputants. A trained mediator does not impose a solution but rather helps the disputing parties discover their shared interests and work toward a mutually agreeable one. When parties are able to express their emotions and talk through their concerns during mediation, everyone benefits.

Mediators work with disputing parties together and sometimes individually to attempt to reach a lasting, mutually agreeable, and non-binding settlement.


A neutral third party acts as a judge in arbitration and is charged with finding a solution to the conflict. The arbitrator hears arguments and evidence from both sides and makes a final, binding ruling. The parties to the dispute may decide on the rules of evidence and whether or not attorneys will be present at the arbitration hearing. Arbitrators make private, final rulings that can’t be challenged in court.


Civil litigation is the most common form of conflict resolution and often involves a defendant and a plaintiff arguing their cases before a court or a judge and a jury. The burden of deciding the case lies with the judge or jury. In most cases, the details discussed in trials and hearings become part of the official record.

Fundamental rights

It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your skin color is, or what language you speak, you still have the same basic human rights as everyone else. Each of us has inherent worth and deserves respect and protection under the law. Customary international law and other sources often express and protect universal human rights. To advance and safeguard people’s rights to life, liberty, and security, international human rights law imposes duties on states to take certain measures or abstain from others.

To appreciate the interconnectedness of these laws, codes, legal ethics, and other components of the legal system, it is necessary to understand the system as a whole. There are legal structures in place to guarantee that all people are treated fairly, regardless of their race, color, religion, nationality, or anything else that can divide us. 

Sangita Kumari
Sangita Kumari
A law student at Vinoba Bhave University.

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