Monday, February 4, 2008

History of law

The history of law is closely connected to the development of civilizations. Ancient Egyptian law, dating as far back as 3000 BCE, had a civil code that was probably broken into twelve books. It was based on the concept of Ma'at, characterised by tradition, rhetorical speech, social equality and impartiality. Around 1760 BCE under King Hammurabi, ancient Babylonian law was codified and put in stone for the public to see in the marketplace; this became known as the Codex Hammurabi. However like Egyptian law, which is pieced together by historians from records of litigation, few sources remain and much has been lost over time. The influence of these earlier laws on later civilisations was small.
The Old Testament is probably the oldest body of law still relevant for modern legal systems, dating back to 1280 BCE. It takes the form moral imperatives, as recommendations for a good society. Ancient Athens, the small Greek city-state, was the first society based on broad inclusion of the citizenry, excluding women and the slave class from about 8th century BCE. Athens had no legal science, and Ancient Greek has no word for "law" as an abstract concept. Yet Ancient Greek law contained major constitutional innovations in the development of democracy.

Roman law was heavily influenced by Greek teachings. It forms the bridge to the modern legal world, over the centuries between the rise and decline of the Roman Empire.[67] Roman law underwent major codification in the Corpus Juris Civilis of Emperor Justinian I. It was lost through the Dark Ages, but rediscovered around the 11th century. MediƦval legal scholars began researching the Roman codes and using their concepts. In mediƦval England, the King's powerful judges began to develop a body of precedent, which became the common law. But also, a Europe-wide Lex Mercatoria was formed, so that merchants could trade using familiar standards, rather than the many splintered types of local law. The Lex Mercatoria, a precursor to modern commercial law, emphasised the freedom of contract and alienability of property.[68] As nationalism grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, Lex Mercatoria was incorporated into countries' local law under new civil codes. The French Napoleonic Code and the German became the most influential. As opposed to English common law, which consists of enormous tomes of case law, codes in small books are easy to export and for judges to apply. However, today there are signs that civil and common law are converging. European Union law is codified in treaties, but develops through the precedent laid down by the European Court of Justice.

Ancient India and China represent distinct traditions of law, and had historically independent schools of legal theory and practice. The Arthashastra, probably compiled around 100 AD (though containing some older material), and the Manusmriti(c. 100-300 AD) were foundational treatises in India, texts that were considered authoritative legal guidance. Manu's central philosophy was tolerance and Pluralism, and was cited across Southeast Asia. This Hindu tradition, along with Islamic law, was supplanted by the common law when India became part of the British Empire. Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Hong Kong also adopted the common law. The eastern Asia legal tradition reflects a unique blend of secular and religious influences. Japan was the first country to begin modernising its legal system along western lines, by importing bits of the French, but mostly the German Civil Code. This partly reflected Germany's status as a rising power in the late 19th century. Similarly, traditional Chinese law gave way to westernisation towards the final years of the Ch'ing dynasty in the form of six private law codes based mainly on the Japanese model of German law. Today Taiwanese law retains the closest affinity to the codifications from that period, because of the split between Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists, who fled there, and Mao Zedong's communists who won control of the mainland in 1949. The current legal infrastructure in the People's Republic of China was heavily influenced by Soviet Socialist law, which essentially inflates administrative law at the expense of private law rights. Today, however, because of rapid industrialisation China has been reforming, at least in terms of economic (if not social and political) rights. A new contract code in 1999 represented a turn away from administrative domination. Furthermore, after negotiations lasting fifteen years, in 2001 China joined the World Trade Organisation.

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