Civil law refers either to the area of law that deals with the rights of persons or to a legal system based upon the codification of laws that originates from Roman Law.
Civil law, as it regards a type of law, is a branch of law that regulates the non-criminal rights, duties of persons (natural persons and legal persons) and equal legal relations between private individuals, as opposed to criminal law or administrative law. Common areas of civil law include: family law, contracts, torts, and trusts.
Civil law, as a legal system, refers to a popular way of structuring legal systems around broad codes and detailed statutes that determines the rights and obligations of individuals, without any emphasis on the role of precedent, courts, judges, and juries as in common law countries. Civil law countries typically are characterized by their emphasis on the codified law only with judges playing the main role of finding the facts and applying the law in courts. The civil law system has its roots in the rediscovery of Roman Law in the Middle Ages, with influences from many other legal systems. Today, civil law continues to be the most common legal system in the world.
For more information on the civil law system, please see this Britannica article.
[Last updated in October of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]