Customary Law

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Customary Law


a body of unwritten norms, called customs (rules of conduct), that have arisen spontaneously and have been sanctioned by the state. A legal system incorporates only those customs that function as legal norms—that is, those that reflect the interests and will of the economically and politically dominant class—and that the state adapts to specific political and economic conditions. Among historical law codes in which customs occupied an important place were the Code of Hammurabi, the Twelve Commandments, the Salic Law, and the Russkaia Pravda. In such Western European countries as France, customary law was important throughout the feudal period down to the formation of centralized absolute monarchies.

The development of bourgeois social relations and the expansion of production and commodity exchange required firm guarantees of the stability of these relations—a system of legal norms established by the state. In contemporary capitalist countries customary law is not of great importance, with the exception of court practice, where the norms of customary law are used to decide cases in accordance with established customs. Customary law plays a somewhat more important part in international relations, for example, in trade.

Soviet law recognizes customary law in instances where legal codes do not cover a particular social relationship. For example, custom may supplement the basic conditions of a contract, and it is used in resolving disputes over the division of property in a kolkhoz household. The Merchant Shipping Code of the USSR (arts. 134, 135, 149, and 151) states that agreements concerning such matters as the time allowed for loading operations and the payment due for delay after a ship has been loaded (demurrage) are concluded in conformity with the customs prevailing in the given port.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Many of the rules contained in these treaties have been considered as part of customary law and, as such, are binding on all those countries that have waged an illegal war on the poorest country in the Arab world.
The findings from this work are instructive in understanding post-conflict community reconstruction challenges in other settings in sub-Saharan Africa where customary law applies, such as northern Nigeria, South Sudan, and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Customary laws are still recognized in most African countries' legal frameworks, and courts also take judicial notice of customary laws in dealing with matters of a social nature.
The government said it has carried out all necessary actions to safeguard its sovereign rights and meet the obligations stemming from the Convention on the Law of the Sea and International Customary Law.
According to the Local Government Act, 2009 for South Sudan, customary law courts don't have jurisdiction to hear criminal cases unless they have customary interface and have been referred to the customary law courts by the statutory courts.
Many studies of property relations among indigenous people, Li argues, 'refer to the notion of "customary law," envisaged as an institutionalized body of rules and practices [...] that sometimes receives official recognition in formal legal codes.
The decision exposes the frequent need to render compatible the South African constitutional democracy with the traditional leaders, who in their symbolic kingdoms behave following customary law. The Economisthas pointed out: "some South Africans wondered why King Goodwill continues to be bankrolled by taxpayers given his pronouncements that clash with the Country's progressive constitution" (16).
By legal pluralism, Grenfell means the traditional customary law of community institutions and leaders that operates alongside of state legal structures and prevents the state from having a monopoly on law.
In 2011, Ndulo published "African Customary Law, Customs, and Women's Rights" in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, which examined how traditional, customary laws in many African countries were contributing to the continued oppression and abuse of women and girls.
Scholars have noted that international legal actors rarely apply the conventional test for customary law in practice.
MP Samuel Chepkong'a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary.