With a few exceptions, the countries on the continent of Europe, the countries that were former colonies of such continental powers (e.g., the Latin American countries), and other countries that have recently adopted Western legal systems (e.g., Japan) follow civil law. It is also the foundation for the law of Quebec prov. and of Louisiana. Modern countries that do not adhere to the civil law (this includes Great Britain and all the United States except Louisiana) for the most part were colonized by England and apply the system of common law prevailing there.
In general usage, civil law also means the rules that govern private legal affairs; in this sense it contrasts with criminal law and, to a lesser degree, public law.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.