Western law refers to the legal traditions of Western culture. Western culture has an idea of the importance of law which has its roots in both Roman law and canon law. As Western culture shares a Graeco-Roman Classical and Renaissance cultural influence, so do its legal systems.
The rediscovery of the Justinian Code in the early 10th century rekindled a passion for the discipline of law, initially shared across many of the re-forming boundaries between East and West. Eventually, it was only in the Catholic or Frankish west that Roman law became the foundation of all legal concepts and systems. Its influence can be traced to this day in all Western legal systems, although differing in kind and degree between the common (Anglo-American) and the civil (continental European) legal traditions.
The study of canon law, the legal system of the Catholic Church, fused with that of Roman law to form the basis for the refounding of Western legal scholarship. Its principles of civil rights, equality before the law, equality of women, procedural justice, and democracy as the ideal form of society formed the basis of modern Western culture.
Western legal culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Western lifestyle or European civilization, is a term used very broadly to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, and specific artifacts and technologies that have some origin or association with Europe.
Western legal culture is unified in the systematic reliance on legal constructs. Such constructs include corporations, contracts, estates, rights and powers to name a few. These concepts are not only nonexistent in primitive or traditional legal systems but they can also be predominately incapable of expression in those language systems which form the basis of such legal cultures.
As a general proposition, the concept of legal culture depends on language and symbols and any attempt to analyse non western legal systems in terms of categories of modern western law can result in distortion attributable to differences in language. So while legal constructs are unique to classical Roman, modern civil and common law cultures, legal concepts or primitive and archaic law get their meaning from sensed experience based on facts as opposed to theory or abstract. Legal culture therefore in the former group is influenced by academics, learned members of the profession and historically, philosophers. The latter group's culture is harnessed by beliefs, values and religion at a foundation level. Basically the latter group represents primacy of prejudices, myths and taboo as viable means to conduct human society.
- J.C. Smith (1968) 'The Unique Nature of the Concepts of Western Law' The Canadian Bar Review (46: 2 pp. 191-225) in Csaba Varga (ed) (1992) Comparative Legal Cultures (Dartmouth: England).