What does "Corpus Juris" Mean?

K. Wascher
K. Wascher
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The legal term "corpus juris" refers to the complete collection of laws that govern a particular country, nation, jurisdiction or district. The term comes from the latin phrase corpus ius, which translates to "body of law". Most nations throughout the world maintain a written corpus juris as the basis for their legal system.

In most cases, a corpus juris or body of law is composed of statutory or codified law and case law. Statutory laws are created by a country's lawmakers, but by their nature, they tend to be subjective and generally incapable of solving all legal issues without interpretation. For this reason, many nations appoint councils or judges to interpret the statutory provisions. These interpretations provide precedent for future legal questions, so they are incorporated into the country's corpus juris.

A corpus juris is also comprised of several categories of laws such as civil law, criminal law, administrative law and international policies. These categories are often broken down into subcategories. For example, civil law is often comprised of contract, tort and property law, whereas criminal law involves the basic rights of citizens or "constitutional law," the types of actions that might procure a criminal penalty and the specific procedures involved in prosecuting a defendant. A corpus juris might also pertain to more than one nation. For example, the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) is the governing body of law for numerous countries that engage in international trade.

The earliest substantial corpus juris is the Corpus Iurus Civilis. This codified body of law was created by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian in the year 529 A.D. This particular corpus juris, also referred to as the Justinian Code, was an attempt to codify the legal system that had evolved throughout the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.

Prior to the creation of the Justinian Code, the legal system in Rome lacked uniformity and organization. In the early days of the Roman Republic, government officials were sent out into individual villages to resolve disputes among the villagers. Recurring disputes were written down and used to comprise the Twelve Tables, a listing of legal norms and corresponding solutions. Justinian codified these legal norms along with judicial interpretations and his own mandates on citizen rights into a voluminous written collection. The Justinian Code was later taught to legal scholars at the University of Bologna in Italy and is believed to have had a major impact on the creation and evolution of many of the legal systems that exist throughout the world today.

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