Hybrid Legal System: Meaning & Significance

The legal systems of the world are divided into two main categories, namely civil-law systems based on the Justinianic Corpus iuris civilis and common-law systems derived from the predominantly judge-made English common law. Apart from these two main streams, there are so-called "mixed" systems of law that contain a mixture of civil and common law; all legal systems are to some extent mixed. The ubiquity of hybridity, both legal and normative, has important consequences for comparative law and legal theory. Most obviously, it challenges legal nationalism, positivism, centralism, and monism. More immediately, it undermines the dissection of plural and dynamic traditions into discrete, closed legal families or systems. But the study of legal and normative hybridity may permit us to create more accurate, useful, and accessible general accounts of the law.

What is Hybrid or Mixed Legal System?

Traditionally, the term "mixed" is only used to describe a relatively small group of legal systems or jurisdictions that have been shaped so significantly by both the civil law and common law traditions that they cannot be brought comfortably under either.

The Importance of Mixed Legal Systems in Globalisation

The importance of mixed legal systems in globalisation is that South African and Scots law and other genuinely mixed legal systems have demonstrated that the two main legal systems of the world, namely common law and civil law, can coexist peacefully in one united legal system. Furthermore, some of the concepts and institutions developed in mixed legal systems, like the South African and Scottish laws of trust and the Scottish standard land security that replaced the obscure and antiquated English law of mortgage, are of a truly hybrid character and thus suitable for adoption in harmonisation projects like that of European private law.

Genesis of a Mixed Legal System

South Africa, Scotland, Louisiana, Quebec, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines are examples of genuine mixed ones because they have the following three distinct characteristics −

Firstly, they consist of a genuine mixture of civil and common law with little direct influence from religious laws, customary law, or canon law. This is not the case in Turkey, for instance, whose family law has been heavily influenced by Muslim religious provisions.

Secondly, the presence of the dual elements of civil and common law is obvious to any objective observer. For example, in America, it is acknowledged that the jurisdictions of Texas and California contain elements of civil. However, they are classified as common-law jurisdictions. By contrast, it is patently clear that Louisiana is a civilian jurisdiction.

Thirdly, the structural allocation of content in these mixed jurisdictions is predominantly private civil law and public Anglo-American law.

South Africa

In 1495, three years after Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, Bartolomeu Dias was the first person to sail around the Cape. He did so en route to the Far East to obtain spices for sale on the lucrative European market. The Republic of South Africa is a mixed jurisdiction whose legal system reflects elements of both civil and common law, as well as African tribal customary law. The civilian heritage is "Roman Dutch brought to the Cape of Good Hope by the first Dutch settlers about 1652, when the colony, then under the administration of the Dutch East India Company, served primarily as a "refreshment station" for Dutch merchants and seafarers on the long journey between the Netherlands and the East Indies.

The colonial administration established a land registration system and a network of courts. Roman-Dutch legal literature was obtained via the Dutch territories in Asia and Cape Town by students studying at the Dutch University of Leiden. By 1795, the population of the Cape consisted of 17 000 colonists, 26 000 slaves imported from Mozambique, Madagascar, India, and Malaysia, and 14 000 Bushmen and Hottentots. The Zulu and Xhosa were engaged in internecine wars with the North.


Like South Africa, Scotland has a mixed legal system consisting of elements of civil law, derived mainly from Roman law, and common law, derived from English law. The Roman law that shaped the development of modern Scots law is mainly, if not exclusively, Roman law as revived and understood by the Glossators and thereafter as understood by the successive schools of Roman lawyers who applied themselves to the study and application of the texts that survived from antiquity.


Louisiana was first subjected to French edicts, ordinances, and the Custom of Paris by charters issued to companies of merchant adventurers in 1712 and 1717, which laws remained in force when the territory became a royal colony in 1731. After Louisiana’s cession to Spain in 1763, French laws remained in force until 1769, when they were officially replaced by Spanish laws and institutions, and, in default of a specific rule in a later enactment, the Siete Partidas (a compilation of laws, based on the Justinian compilation and the doctrine of the Glossators, made under King Alfonso X in 1265). Following the territory’s retrocession to France in 1800, Spanish law continued in force because France assumed sovereignty for only twenty days in 1803 before the United States took possession of Louisiana on December 20 of that year.

European Colonialism

Mixed systems and legal pluralism are closely associated with European colonial rule. The empires of the Dutch, the British, the French, the Germans, the Belgians, the Portuguese, and the Italians projected European law into territories in Africa and Asia where the indigenous peoples already had their own laws. A recurring question was whether local laws would be completely suppressed and replaced by those of the metropolis, or whether they would be retained to the extent that they did not interfere with political rule.

It is remarkable, however, that each metropole generally recognised and retained the personal statutes of the indigenous peoples they encountered, even though these emerging or emerging nation states were general adherents of the principle of territoriality. Retention of the personal law system was a technique of governance that was justified on pragmatic grounds. Thus, colonialism generally produced a host of hyphenated legal systems. The British Empire produced Anglo-customary law systems in Africa, hybrid Anglo-Hindu law systems in India, Anglo-Buddhist law in Burma, and Anglo-Muslim law in Pakistan. French colonial policy in Africa, for example, made no attempt to suppress customary law, even though French policy was often thought to be based on notions of assimilation and association with African peoples.


The process behind mixed systems is a living one that is constantly taking place around us. We are forced to recognise this when we approach the subject in a more factual way. A factual approach forces us to consider them as the norm rather than the exception, as the general pattern of legal development rather than historical accidents. For example, the extent to which the private law systems of the European Union are converging through the directive process and the quest for uniform laws and the extent to which a single civil code will Europeanize the private law systems of all Member States are questions that will determine whether Europe is or soon becomes a mixed system.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the major types of legal systems?

Ans. There are five basic types of legal systems in the world. They are civil law, common law, customary law, religious law, and hybrid or mixed systems.

Q2. What is the most common legal system in the world?

Ans. The civil law system is the most widespread system of law in the world, in force in various forms in about 150 countries.

Q3. What is the oldest legal system in the world?

Ans. The oldest written set of laws known to us is the Code of Hammurabi. He was the king of Babylon between 1792 BC and 1758 BC. 

Q4. Which country has the most complicated legal system?

Ans. Argentina retains its No. 1 ranking as the most complex jurisdiction.

Updated on: 13-Mar-2023


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