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Transplants as a Tool of Legal Reform Rechtstransplantate als Instrument der Rechtsreform und -transformation

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The term legal transplant, coined by the legal scholars Alan Watson and Otto Kahn-Freund in 1973, describes the phenomenon of reception of laws by a foreign legal system. This concept has since been used as a tool of analysis in comparative law in order to explain a number of similarities in various legal systems, in particular those having been influenced by Roman law. It is widely accepted and visible that legal systems can and do profit from adopting rules inspired by foreign legal systems.

However, the assumption of legal rules or institutions being transplantable has been attacked with the argument that legal rules are an outcome of external factors such as climate, national culture, language, economy and religion and therefore cannot be successfully transplanted to a different legal system without in fact changing their content. The metaphor of transplantation therefore is deemed to be invalid. Given the fact that numerous legal systems in the wake of the Soviet Union's breakdown as well as the legal systems of many other countries have undertaken a reform of their laws in accordance with western models, this controversy warrants an analysis of the transplantability of legal rules. A closer look at the relation of certain external factors and the law does not confirm the assumption that law is so closely related to a nation or cultural heritage that it would be inconceivable to transfer legal rules to a different national context. Contrary to some claims made, nations are too different a sociological unit to explain a total uniformity of laws for a particular legal system. To the contrary, the identity of a state and nation is a rather recent historical concept that may explain certain parallel developments in law, but does not allow a full explanation of the development of the law in a particular country. Even though certain external factors such as culture, language and political structure do strongly influence the law of a particular country, their influence does not conclusively explain how the law develops. This does, mutatis mutandis, explain why legal rules can be transferred to legal systems with a different legal, historical, economic and cultural background than that of the country of origin.

It therefore does not seem to be a forlorn strategy for reform countries to model their laws after rules adopted in other countries. However, this strategy requires a very diligent analysis of the factors relevant in the country of adoption and the country of origin of certain legal rules. Beyond the simple adoption of a certain rule in a statute, a successful transplantation has to take into account the institutional structures and conditions, the real application of the laws and the teaching of law. Otherwise, the transplantation would just be an adjustment of law in the books without having a real effect on the legal situation in the recipient country.

Countries trying to reform their legal system are therefore well-advised to look at other countries' rules in order to find efficient solutions for the legal problems they might be facing because of sudden political changes. But since not every practical solution is an appropriate means, the recipient country and the advising institution should have a close look at the political, economic and social factors which determine the transplantability of laws.

Language: ger

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2008

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