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International Legal Systems - Page 5

Sitting or trial judge: These judges preside over the trial in court and, though the number may vary by country, usually sit on a panel of three judges. Sitting judges can question witnesses and experts, and examine evidence. Like the proceedings before the investigating judge, the trial may take place over a period of months or years wit trial proceedings scheduled a few days at a time. The sitting judges determine the guilt of the accused.

Defense counsel: Defense counsel is generally independent of the state and the client, trained to be an impartial advocate, and plays a more limited role in criminal cases. Historically, defense counsel is not present when the judge interviews the suspect, but more recent developments have allowed for defense counsel to be present for such interviews in some countries. Even when the defense attorney is present for the suspect’s interview, counsel may only be there to make sure that the suspect is being treated legally and the attorney may not participate in the investigation. Defense counsel is normally forbidden from contacting witnesses.

Juries: Jury trials are rare under civil law systems; however, they do exist in some countries. The civil system jury’s role is the same as that of juries in common law - to determine whether a defendant is proven guilty. In some civil law countries, non-legal professionals are combined with professional judges to form a mixed jury.

Victims: In civil law systems, victims have a more central role in criminal proceedings. The victim often has the right to be represented by counsel who participates in the trial, including asking questions and presenting evidence. Some civil law countries allow individual victims the right to initiate prosecutions and/or become a co-plaintiff with the prosecutor. This enables victims’ families to have greater access to and control over information. Some countries require the victim to file a complaint before an investigation can begin, which can be very difficult for victims who don’t live in that country or who cannot afford to pay a local lawyer.

Religious Law Legal Systems – Canon Law, Islamic Law, and Talmudic Law

In traditional religious legal systems, criminal law is based mainly on religious texts and interpretations of those texts. Religious legal systems include Canon law (e.g., Roman Catholic, Anglican), Islamic law, and Talmudic (Jewish) law. Even in countries that have common or civil law systems, religious courts may exclusively hear some matters (examples: marriage, divorce and inheritance) for the followers of individual faiths if the country has different religious groups. Some countries incorporate some aspects of religious law into civil or common law systems (see Hybrid Legal Systems, below). In some countries, elements of Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, or Sikh laws may be incorporated into the legal systems.

Canon law is the body of laws and regulations made or adopted by ecclesiastical authority for the government of Christian communities. Although at the root of much of the Western legal tradition, Canon law is applied very seldom across the world today.

Islamic law2 is the religious law that applies in many Muslim communities to varying extents. Islamic law is a basic set of rules that are based on two primary sources: the Koran and the Sunnah (the model written behavior of the Prophet Muhammad), but also on a variety of legal interpretations. In some countries, Islamic law only governs family matters and all other legal issues are handled through the secular court system. Other countries

2 The term “Islamic law” is sometimes used interchangeably with “Sharia law”, but these two terms are not completely synonymous.

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Updated May 25, 2023