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The Path to a Harmonized Swiss Civil Code Der Weg zu einem einheitlichen Zivilgesetzbuch der Schweiz

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Abstract:

The Swiss Civil Code (SCC) as voted by Parliament in 1907, the topic of the present congress, has its roots in the past but, once existing, influenced the codified law all over the planet. This influence included the Code of Obligations (CO) from 1881; since 1912, the two Codes, still in separate presentation, constitute a unit bearing the name of SCC in its broader connotation.

a) In the area of today's Switzerland legal tradition only existed in the Cantons. Upon the establishment of the Swiss Confederation in 1848 the creation of nationwide unified private law was one of the main objects. At that time qualified lawyers had to be trained abroad and studied at the Universities of Italy, France or Germany. The most important predecessors to the SCC were the Privatrechtliche Gesetzbuch (PGB) of the Canton of Zurich of 1855 and the federal CO of 1881 (in force 1883). Amongst the persons most influencing the legal culture of the German speaking area were J. C. Bluntschli and F. L. v. Keller (both born in Zurich where they created the PGB but later made their main career in Germany) and W. Munzinger (Solothurn and Berne).

b) Munzinger, with a background of research in Roman Law and studies at German Universities as well as in Paris, and, as a professor at Berne Universitiy lecturing i.a. French Civil Law, drafted the CO which became the model to all subsequent federal legislation inclusive the SCC of 1907. He influenced the understanding of codification of private law in general. Inter alia he determined to end the separation of Civil Law and Commercial Law. Commercial Law grew as a tradition outside the Universities which focused exclusively in Roman Law. All modern codifications before Munzinger's publications followed the example of France by separating Civil law and Commercial law. The actual fading away of the said influence is shown: Italy (1942) and the new Civil Code of the Netherlands follow the Swiss example, the new laws and model laws of the EU may often not be identified as Civil or Commercial law.

c) The SCC is influenced by the example of the Roman law as represented by the Corpus Iuris of Iustinian as well as the German tradition of pandectism, then the French tradition and its Code Napoleon. The SCC and even more its CO selected from each of these sources what seemed to be most appropriate. This openness to all azimuths at its coming into existence found after that its parallel in the opposite direction: Influence all over the planet (see par. VII). The best known event is the adoption of the SCC (together with some other Swiss laws) in Turkey under Kemal Ataturk (1926). Even more important may be the impact in the Far East: The Civil Code of China as enacted in 1929/30 and covering primarily the law of Obligations and the Law of Things (Sachenrecht) shows this influence openly: Its first articles adopt verbatim the text of the SCC and its further text follows closely the SCC and the CO. The Japanese Code of 1896/98 pretended to follow the German BGB (enacted 1896, operative 1900) but its part of obligations in its scarcity is much closer to the Swiss model than to the more verbose BGB. In Thailand's Civil Code the Swiss influence is even more important (see par. VII 5). Many further codes created in the 20th century, also those of the Near East and North Africa, show that the Swiss CO and SCC had an impact not matched by any other legislation.

Document Type: Regular Paper

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1628/003372508786013269

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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