Legal Code: Definition and Meaning

In a country with a civil law system, a code of law often fully covers the entire legal framework, including criminal and civil law. In contrast, amend the current common law in a common law nation with legislative techniques rooted in the English tradition only to the extent of its stated or implied provision, otherwise leaving the common law untouched. In a certain area, a code completely substitutes the common law, making the common law ineffective until the code is abolished.

What is the Legal Code?

Legal code refers to a set of laws or statutes that have been formally adopted by a government or other legislative body. It is the written body of laws that govern a particular jurisdiction, such as a state or country. These laws may cover a wide range of topics, including criminal and civil matters, property rights, and regulations for businesses and other organizations. Legal codes are usually created by a legislative body, such as a parliament or congress, and are enforced by the judicial branch of government.

Besides, a code of law is a standing body of statute law on a specific topic that is added to, subtracted from, or otherwise modified by individual legislative enactments, according to a third usage that is slightly different. This usage is common in the civil law system countries as well as common-law countries that have adopted similar legislative practices. However, different common law and civil law systems use codification in different ways, despite the fact that the methods and reasons for codification are comparable.

The Legal Code's History

The legal code was a common element of the ancient Middle Eastern legal systems. The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100–2050 BC), the Law Code of Eshnunna (roughly 100 years before Lipit-Ishtar), the Law Code of Lipit-Ishtar (1934–1924 BC), and the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 BC) are some of the earliest and best preserved legal codes, all coming from Sumer, Mesopotamia. The Uruk-Agina Law Code (2380-2, now Iraq).

Numerous codifications were created during the reign of the Roman Empire, including the Justinian Code and the Twelve Tables of Roman Law (first compiled in 450 BC) (429–534 AD). The Roman legal system was not fully described by these law codes, nonetheless. The Twelve Tables had a narrow reach, and most legal doctrines were created by pontiffs who "interpreted" the tables to address circumstances that were not covered by them. The Justinian Code compiled all of the then-current legal literature.

Continental legal systems have left their mark on the Americas in two different ways. Legal codes of the Continental style are common in civil law states. However, there has been a noticeable trend toward codification in common-law states. The end product of such codification is not usually a civil law jurisdiction's equivalent of a legal code. For instance, the California Civil Code differs significantly from all other civil codes in both structure and content and substantially codifies common law doctrine.

The Seven Legal Code Principles

The Constitution is based on seven fundamental ideas. They are as follows-

  • Federalism

  • Republicanism

  • Checks and balances

  • Limited government

  • Popular sovereignty

  • Separation of powers

  • Individual rights

An Example of a Legal Code

A code is a grouping of laws, rules, or regulations that are organised in a specific way. The term "code" refers to both a compilation of already-existing statutes and the unwritten law on any topic made up of contents that can be found in all sources. Examples of codes are the Uniform Commercial Code and the United States Code.

Number of Legal Codes in India

According to the online repository maintained by the Legislative Department of the Ministry of Law and Justice of India as of July 2022, there are around 839 Central laws. Additionally, the same source also contains a number of State legislation for each state.

Division of Legal Code

Civil Code

Civil law systems are often built around a civil code. The entirety of the private law system is often covered in depth by the legal code.

There are always common civil codes, these civil codes, however, sometimes consist of compilations of common law principles and several ad hoc acts; as a result, they do not aim for total logical coherence.

Criminal Code

In many legal systems, there is a criminal code or penal code. The criminal code can be codified to make it easier to access and to more democratically create and alter.


A legal code is a body of laws that a state or country has established. The Indian Penal Code, for instance, codifies and consolidates the general and permanent criminal laws of India as per subject matter. The Indian Parliament is responsible for creating and publishing the Indian Penal Code. In the meantime, common-law regimes also started to codify more frequently. For instance, a criminal code is present in several common law countries and it is still being discussed in many countries.


Q1. What was the original code of law?

Ans. The Code of Hammurabi is the earliest known written system of laws. He ruled over Babylon from 1792 BC to 1758 BC. These laws are credited with having been given to Hammurabi by Shamash, the God of Justice.

Q2. Who created a code of laws?

Ans. Hammurabi, a king of Babylon.

The Babylonian monarch Hammurabi, who ruled from 1792 to 1750 B.C., established the Code of Hammurabi, one of the first and most comprehensive written law systems. Along the Euphrates River, Hammurabi developed the city-state of Babylon to encompass all of southern Mesopotamia.

Q3. Is a code a written law?

Ans. As soon as you run a company or organisation covered by the relevant law or regulation, the mandatory code will be binding. Only after you voluntarily sign up for a code will it become enforceable.

Q4. How do laws become codified?

Ans. Codification refers to the systematic coding of laws, rules, or regulations. It is possible to codify judicial rulings or legislative actions through the codification process. This procedure merely organises current law into a code, typically by subject, without necessarily producing new legislation.

Updated on: 21-Feb-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started