A Source-Book on French Law: Public Law--Constitutional and Administrative Law : Private Law--Structure, Contract

By Kahn-Freund; Lévy et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

THIS introduction is divided into two sections. The first describes some of the important features of the law in the Ancien Régime; the second attempts to prepare the reader for the great division of the French legal system into the two parts which form the bulk of this book.


Some Background Features

Almost all the texts in this work are taken from the law of post- Revolutionary France. That law, however, still shows the influence of the Ancien Régime in two ways: on the one hand much of it is a conscious rejection of the past; but, on the other hand, there are some areas which display here and there the heritage of older attitudes, assumptions, and institutions.

In order to help the reader grasp the full import of the modern texts, we set out here the main characteristics of the law of the Ancien Régime which -- for one of the two reasons given above -- are still relevant today. Out treatment is inevitably selective and deliberately superficial, since our aim is merely to sketch in the background to the main structure of the modern law. We know all too well that a true picture would be of a complexity bordering on chaos; and so, with that firmly in mind, it seems to us that the most important features are the following.

1. No common law. Until 1804 and the enactment of the Code civil, France lacked a common law in the sense of a body of rules dealing with the main areas of private law and laid down, or approved, by some central authority acting for the whole realm. In England that task had been accomplished long before, partly by the great legislation of Edward I and Henry VIII but mainly by the activities of the central courts of the kingdom. In France, by contrast, there were over sixty separate areas of customary law, each with its own rules on the details of such important matters as property, inheritance, and the family home. Naturally there were similarities in the main institutions of private law; naturally, also, the Custom of Paris exercised a growing influence throughout the

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