IALL 2018 Recap: Special Features of Luxembourg Law, such as its Sources

By Jessica Pierucci

This year’s IALL Annual Course was hosted in the country of Luxembourg.  On October 1, 2018, attendees were treated to a fantastic discussion of special features of Luxembourg law by Gilles Cuniberti, Professor of Private International Law and Comparative Law at the University of Luxembourg. This recap summarizes these fascinating details of the laws of this small European country.

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Professor Gilles Cuniberti discusses special features of Luxembourgish law.

Luxembourg is a civil law jurisdiction, meaning that codes and non-codified statutes are the county’s primary source of law. Case law, while not an official source of law, nevertheless plays an important role in practice. Academic writing is also highly influential.

Luxembourg is a small jurisdiction. As of 2018, the county’s population of about 600,000 residents includes only 313,000 nationals. As of December 2017, the country’s judiciary includes a total of only 249 judges. Accordingly, the country has limited institutional capacity in the court system, so there are frequently few or no Luxembourg cases to refer to on a given topic.

Luxembourg was a French province until 1815 and, as such, Luxembourg law is primarily grounded in the Napoleonic codes. Although France has since reformed many of its laws, there has not been a strong desire or institutional capacity in Luxembourg to make the same reforms. As a result, understanding the law can sometimes require turning to old pre-reform French law books to help understand and interpret the current law of Luxembourg.

While much Luxembourg law is borrowed, Luxembourg uses its institutional capacity for law making in two key ways: First, to comply with international obligations and implement EU legislation and, second, to create innovative laws in banking and finance and in space law. Luxembourg is a prominent finance capital and the richest state in Europe. The space industry is a current state priority, leading to the proliferation of laws to implement this priority.

Academic literature is highly influential in the Luxembourg legal system. Luxembourg did not have its own university until the University of Luxembourg was established in 2003. As a result, judges and lawyers received their training abroad, frequently in France and Belgium, so French and Belgian scholarship is frequently cited in cases. Further, judges only practice law for two years after law school before becoming judges and often turn to academic writing, frequently from the country where they studied, to help them decide cases, particularly those based on imported law. In recent years, the Belgian influence has waned and it’s possible that, as the University of Luxembourg matures with more scholarship on Luxembourg law produced by law professors in Luxembourg, the French influence could wane with it. But given that masters programs are generally not offered in Luxembourg and university students at the University of Luxembourg are all required to partake in an Erasmus semester studying abroad, among other factors, the French influence is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

While Luxembourg is a civil law jurisdiction, case law has recently played a greater role in the Luxembourg legal system despite not being an official source of law. Judges frequently follow Belgian courts for commercial law and consider French cases generally authoritative. One example is tort law, which is an almost entirely judge-made area of law in France and that is all but missing from the codes. Luxembourg courts typically follow French torts cases, with two notable exceptions. France has rejected acceptance of risk and personal immunity of employees, but Luxembourg still has these two elements of tort law.

The worldwide influence of French case law, including on Luxembourg, may be the result of two key factors. First, judges of many Francophone countries were educated in France because the county is generally considered prestigious and welcoming, but Russia, China, and other countries are becoming more welcoming, so it’s possible this could shift in coming years. Second, the French encyclopedia Juris Classeur (LexisNexis) is available electronically and has almost become authoritative in Luxembourg, allowing an exhaustive and detailed understanding of French law.

Ultimately, Luxembourg is a small civil law jurisdiction that has imported much of its law and continues to rely on the laws of other countries in numerous ways, but the country is slowly shaping its own legal tradition as it has done with business and finance, and space law.

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