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Ecuador’s “civil law” vs. "common law"

You may find this interesting if you are contemplating moving to Ecuador, or even if you already live there.

Ecuador operates under “civil law,” which has implications for expats that are distinctly different from the “common law” basis used in the States. Here’s an explanation of what that means:

The US, along with the UK, Canada, Australia, India, and a few other former Commonwealth countries, are ruled by “common law,” also known as “case” or “precedent” law. Common law is a legal system in which laws are enacted by legislatures, but are developed, refined, and sometimes even transformed by lawyers, judges, and juries through the cumulative decisions rendered in court cases.

Common law is an adversarial system where opposing parties present their sides of a dispute to a judge and often a jury; the verdict in an individual case often helps determine what the law is, how it should be interpreted, or how it should be changed.

Common-law’s obligation to provide an injured or offended plaintiff with his or her ‘day in court’ in non-criminal cases creates a highly litigious legal environment where lawsuits, many of them frivolous, abound.

Ecuador, along with all of Latin America, most of Europe, all of Asia, and most of Africa, Protected content in all, operates under “civil law.” In civil-law societies, laws are written, collected, and codified by legislatures and are rarely subject to co-creation by the outcomes of lawsuits and the opinions of judges and juries. As such, the court system is inquisitorial, unbound by precedent.

Courts are composed of specially trained magistrates with limited authority to interpret the law. Court officers examine evidence and, often with the help of legal scholars, develop the arguments for both sides of a non-criminal dispute. Then they rule on the issue.

In effect, a magistrate is an investigator, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and jury all rolled into one. He’s also a mediator; after a ruling, he helps resolve the disagreements that led to the lawsuit, about such issues as contracts, property ownership, divorce, child custody, personal injury, property damage, and the like. Civil-law systems discourage the kind of blame-game lawsuits that clog common-law courts. When the system disallows you from blaming someone or something else, you’re reduced to either blaming no one or yourself. Thus, civil law makes people, in the most basic terms, responsible for themselves.

This manifests in various ways. Crossing the street is a good example. Of course, you need to have your wits about you on foot, especially on crowded city streets, if you don’t want to get run over, whether you’re in a common-law or civil-law country. And pedestrians do have certain rights in civil-law Ecuador, such as at corners, where cars are mandated to yield. That’s cute, but cars have the de facto right of way in Ecuador, and drivers act like it!

Here’s the difference: In a common-law country, you get both psychological consolation (before the fact) and, often, financial compensation (afterwards) if you’re involved as a pedestrian in a traffic mishap.

Conversely, in a civil-law country, except in the most egregious cases, no one rushes to financially reward you for what’s considered your own carelessness, obliviousness, or lack of personal responsibility, or even just some unfortunate act of God

Learn things like the above and far more in the updated Apple Books, Kindle and softcover formats of my book "Relocating to Ecuador - Eyes Wide Open: All manner of balanced facts and insights that the author wishes had been available to evaluate and facilitate his own move to Cuenca, Ecuador five (now six) years ago." (Third Edition: updated July Protected content some Protected content of new topics.)

To find the book in either Apple Books or Amazon, just search for "relocating to Ecuador".

Best regards,

The author: Terry Dean Roberts

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