The Past and Present Dangers of Legal Families

When I was reading up on the different ways to cluster legal systems, I came across an interesting article. In his contribution on Legal Families, Jaako Husa illuminates the origins of the legal family concept. And some of these origins are quite sobering. In particular, in 1913, Georges Sauser-Hall came up with race as a classification criteria. According to Sauser-Hall, legal systems could be divided into three groups: the Aryan or Indo-European laws, the Semitic or Mongolic laws (mostly Asian laws) and the Barbaric laws (mainly African laws).

Luckily, this kind of classification did not make it into mainstream comparative law. It illustrates, however, that comparative lawyers have to be very careful how they conduct their research. It may not be as obvious as the above-mentioned example. Nevertheless, in every lawyer there is an inherent bias towards the own law which comparative lawyers have to overcome (as much as possible). Additionally, as comparative law is most popular in Europe, there seems to be a clear focus on Western legal systems which, of course, leaves out the rich and enriching area of Asian, African, and indigenous laws in general.


Jaakko Husa, Legal Families, in ELGAR ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMPARATIVE LAW 382, 385 (Jan Smiths ed., 2006).