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The Evolution of the Legal System

The legal system of any country is a complex combination of tradition and recent court rulings. It descended from the primitive trial by combat to a more equitable legal structure that keeps our society together. Other than its intricacies, did you ever wonder how it evolved?

Some of the laws focused on punishment, while some concentrated on the victim’s compensation. Our current legislation applies both to deter crime and to redress the loss that the plaintiff suffered. How did our ancestors manage to develop their laws? Was it a response to rampant violent acts? Let us travel through time to discover the evolution of the current legal system.

Code of Ur-Nammu

Scholars consider this as the oldest legal code surviving today. It hailed from the City of Ur, which is in modern-day Iraq. Its rulers obsessively recorded every transaction that took place. This compulsion led to the creation of the Code of Ur-Nammu.

This legal code may be the basis for what most car accident lawyers study. The Code of Ur-Nammu might be the foundation for why the law often grants hefty sums to those who fall prey to a collision. It focuses on the compensation of the victim than the punishment of the perpetrator.

Of course, the hefty fine is an incentive to follow traffic laws. This concept may have kept the citizens of Ur on their feet. One example is the compensation set by the code for those who commit bodily injury. The perpetrator will pay ten shekels if he cut another man’s foot.

The Code of Ur-Nammu even established how much prospective father-in-law has to pay for throwing out a suitor. It also set a fine for those who commit perjury.

Code of Hammurabi

Several centuries later, Hammurabi developed his written laws. As was mentioned earlier, it focuses on the punishment. It was the first legal system to assume that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. The  Mosaic law closely resembles it.

Hammurabi ascended as a leader of a small state. But he successfully consolidated several neighboring kingdoms to make a vast empire. He was also triumphant in his campaign to crush a rebellion in the northern part of his domain. Thus, Hammurabi united Mesopotamia under his rule.

The creation of his legal code overshadowed his military conquests.  He ordered that these laws be put in a conspicuous place for everyone to see. In 1901, an archaeologist discovered one of these stone slabs and placed it in Louvre.

Sadly, his empire began to crumble when his son took over. But during his reign, Hammurabi carried out several public works, such as strengthening the city walls and creating temples. He became a beloved leader; that his subjects worshipped him as a god during his lifetime.

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Draconian Constitution

We must recognize this ancient legal system. Although it is harsh in comparison to current standards, Draco developed it to protect the rights of ordinary Athenian citizens. The aristocrats of the city-state exploited the existing laws. This manipulation led to feuds.

In response to this injustice, Draco created a constitution that other city-states copied. Those who carried out a vendetta in the name of justice became criminals. He also introduced a law regarding suffrage. It allowed hoplites to assume political office.

The Athenians eventually repelled the Draconian constitution due to its harsh nature. The laws promulgated by Solon replaced it.

Canon Law

Scholars consider this as the oldest continuously operating legal system. It governs the Catholics’ way of living with concern to the mission of the Roman Catholic Church. It has four periods, namely:

  • Jus Antiquum – This period started from the birth of the Roman Catholic Church to the Decretum Gratiani, which is a compilation of rules. At the beginning of the Christian Church, there was no uniform guiding system. Later on, the Western Church (Church of Rome) adopted ecclesiastical canons.
  • Jus Novum – We previously mentioned the Decretum Gratiani. Gratian, a Benedictine monk, collected these principles in 1140. His work sparked the start of the Jus Novum. This period ended during the Council of Trent.
  • Jus Novissimum – The Council of Trent was a response of the Catholic Church to Protestantism. Other than condemning Protestantism, this assembly made crucial statements about the doctrines of the Church.
  • Jus Codicis – The First Vatican Council and the Second Vatican Council marked this period. The former was a response to the request of several bishops to the codification of the numerous ecclesiastical rules. The result of the latter would rule how Catholics conduct themselves concerning the Church.

Several aspects of canon law intertwine with state laws. The most obvious is the matter of abortion. Sadly, this matter has split the country into two.

The history of the legal system is as fascinating as the constitution itself. It is a witness of how man has evolved from his primitive self to his current complex being. Lawmakers promulgate these rules as a response to modern times. Let us continue to move forward.

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