Journal of Civil Law Studies


Attila Harmathy


Hungarian civil law, change of legal system, compara-tive law and changes of law, history of Hungarian legal system, re-ception of Roman law, codification of the civil law, court practice


This article is an attempt to understand the development of law, more particularly the civil law, in a country under constant changes, addressing history, sociology, economics, political science, lan-guages, literature, arts, and, most importantly, civil law itself. The country’s history starts from the foundation of the Hungar-ian state in the 11th century, in the middle of Europe, trying to be independent between strong Western kingdoms and the Byzantine Empire, and creating legal rules based on Christian values. This aim was pursued under the domination of different empires: Tatar, Turk, Austrian, Russian, and German. Political history helps understand the slow economic and social development, the special importance of public (constitutional) law, the importance of cultural development. Over the centuries, the de-velopment of civil law was connected with legal development in other countries of Europe, yet without a formal “reception” of Ro-man law. Attempts were made to codify civil law on basis of the classical civil codes but for different (mainly political) reasons with-out success. Consequently, although special important laws were enacted, Hungary had no written Constitution until 1949 and no Civil Code until 1959. Hungarian civil law was to a great extent judge-made law, with published decisions of the Supreme Court (the Curia) since the early 19th century, having binding force under con-ditions specified by Acts of Parliament. After World War II a politically controlled and centrally di-rected planned economic system prevailed. Nevertheless, the Civil Code of 1959 reflected the previous Hungarian civil law. As a result of a slow political détente, the importance of comparative law kept growing and civil law could develop, to contribute to the profound changes in the political framework leading to a new political system in 1990. Since that time, the Hungarian civil law developed within the framework of European harmonization and Hungary became a member of the European Union in 2004. The Civil Code of 2013 was drafted in this context.

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