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Posts Tagged ‘Hammurabis code’

10th May 2009

On weekends, we try (sometimes successfully) to add a bit of character to this blog by discussing things of a more general interest than Thailand Law or issues from the perspective of a US Immigration lawyer in Thailand. This post looks at legal history from jurisprudence promulgated as far back as ancient Mesopotamia to laws still on the books today.

The Code of Hammurabi

Hammurabi’s code acts as an early example of legal codes enacted in modern day Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Hammurabi’s code was somewhat draconian by today’s standards, but it is important because it is one of the first recorded systems of law in the world. Hammurabi was a King in ancient Babylon who decided that Babylonians needed some form of law in order to form a more efficient society.

This code is interesting because the code’s legitimacy is based upon Hammurabi’s assertion that he was spoken to by the gods and ordered to create a system of laws in his realm. In a preface to his legal code he states: “Anu and Bel called by name: me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land.

The code of Hammurabi is especially notable for its “eye for an eye” method of dispensing justice. An example of this tit for tat legal reasoning can be seen in may sections of the code including this one:

“If a Builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.”

I would not have been a carpenter or contractor in Hammurabi’s Babylon, the liability implications would have been too steep.

Roman Law

Of all the inheritances the Romans bequeathed on modern civilization, Roman law may be the bequest that has had the most impact down to the present day. Many of the Latin terms used in many countries to this day have their roots in Roman jurisprudence. From a practical standpoint, Roman law held firm sway over modern day western Europe until the end of the Emperor Justinian’s reign in roughly 530 AD. However, Roman law still had an indirect impact upon western Europe trough the Byzantine Empire, which continued the Roman legal tradition (albeit in the Greek language) until the mid 1400′s when Constantinople was finally sacked by the Ottoman Turks. Terms such as stare decisis and habeus corpus are still widely used in legal texts around the globe.

Common Law

The common law is the system of law used in England and spread throughout the world as the English commenced rapid and expansive colonization during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. One of the major legal documents of the common law system is the Magna Carta imposed upon King John of England by his own Barons in an effort to curtail the powers of the Throne. The common law is distinguishable from the civil law system by the fact that the common law places a great deal of weight behind the previous decisions of judges. Whereas Civil law countries seem to place more weight behind the findings of legal scholars.

The common law is currently practiced and enforced in the following countries: United Kingdom, United States, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Pakistan (to name only some).

Napoleonic Code

The Napoleonic code was created and enacted at the behest of Emperor Napoleon I of France. It is often heralded as one of the greatest legal achievements in history because the code went far in instilling a tradition of the rule of law on the continent of Europe (with reverberations throughout the whole world as a result of colonization). Before the French Revolution the legal system of France was based upon a patchwork system of local customs and special privileges based upon prior royal decrees and dispensations. The system was very inefficient and confusing to the common people. The legal system of the ancien regime was also manipulated by the upper classes for their own benefit often at the expense of the lower and middle class. The Napoleonic Code represented a codified system of laws applicable to everyone equally (except for maybe Napoleon himself). It spread throughout Europe following in the wake of the Emperor’s successes on the battlefield and as a result the Napoleonic Code would undergird Continental jurisprudence long after French Armies returned to France.

An interesting side note regarding the Napoleonic Code involves the State of Louisiana. Although it is part of the United States, Louisiana has a French and Spanish legal tradition due to the fact that it was once a colonial possession of both Spain and France. Louisiana law is based heavily upon Roman legal tradition, but it was also influenced by the Napoleonic legal tradition. To this day, Louisiana has a very different legal system than any of the other 49 US states and as a result the Louisiana bar examination is one of the more difficult in America.

Thanks for Reading!

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