The legal system of any state reflects objective laws of the development of society, as well as, its historical, national and cultural peculiarities. The Republic of Belarus, like any other state, has its own legal system which has both common features with the legal systems of other countries and its own special characteristics.
Analysis of the origination and development of the legal system of the Republic of Belarus demonstrates the fact that the content and the dynamics of this system are being affected not only by politics and political culture but also by the entire cultural wealth of society: religion, philosophy, morals, artistic culture and science. It goes without saying that the evolution of the legal system of Belarus has a tight connection with economic factors - such as, the development of productive forces and labour-management relations, as a result of appearance of market economy. Needless to say that, the continuing development of legal systems outside Belarus influences the formation of the legal system in our country, for example, our traditional legal values interact with new legal values taken from foreign legal systems. Undoubtedly, interaction of our legal system with others will make progress.
It's generally known that all legal systems can be categorized into groups ("law families") depending on some common features. The legal system of the Republic of Belarus, as well as, legal systems of the other states of continental Europe belongs to the Roman-Germanic Law Family. Roman Law (jurisprudence of Ancient Rome) is the primary source of this law family. The main characteristics of the Roman-Germanic Law Family are: optimal generalization of the rule of law, the division of law into public and private law. A normative legal act is the main legal source in countries with legal systems based on the Roman-Germanic Law Family unlike those countries with legal systems based on the Common Law Family.
Although the first steps of state system formation in the Belarus were made only at the beginning of the 20th century, the legal system of our country has profound historical roots. The sources of Belarusian Feudal Law rank high among the world's other famous ancient legal sources, (such as the Code of Hammurabi, the Law of the Twelve Tables, the Justinian Code, and the Napoleonic Code). The aforesaid statement refers to the famous Statutes of the Grand Duchy Litovskae of 1529, 1566 and 1588 years. The Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania of 1588 used to be the enforced law and the entire legal system of Belarus and Lithuania was based on the Status within these statutes for 250 years. The Polish Constitution of 1791 also should be mentioned here as a remarkable legal document, significant in the history of the development of the Belarusian legal system. This Constitution along with American and French Constitutions can be described as the most progressive documents of 18th century.
The legal system of the Republic of Belarus was essentially influenced by those states, which influenced our country in particular historical periods (Poland - during the 17th-18th centuries and Russia - during the 19th-20th centuries). During the most part of the 20th century, Belarus was a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and this fact surely affected the legal system of today's Belarus (its legal culture, formation of the branches of law, etc.) After the break-up of the USSR, the legal system of the Republic of Belarus segregated from the Socialist Law Family.
The structure of the legal system of the Republic of Belarus contains three groups of legal elements ("legal phenomena"). The first group includes legal norms, legal principles and legal institutes (normative aspect). The second group contains a complex of legal institutions (organizational aspect). And the third group is formed with a combination of legal views, opinions, and conceptions being unique for Belarusian society and standard of legal development.
The first group of legal elements can be described as the system of law of Belarus which is historically formed and objectively exists outside the structure of law. The structure is defined by the character of regulated social relations and appears in the unity and coherence of interrelated legal norms and their division into branches of law (sub-branches of law) and legal institutes.
A branch of law is the basic structural division of the system of law of Belarus. Our republic, as well as the other countries of the former USSR, inherited this structure of the system of law, which was formed during the soviet era.
Belarus’ system of law currently consists of the following branches: constitutional law, civil law, administrative law, criminal law, labour law, family law, land law, financial law, law of criminal procedure, law of civil procedure, law of execution of criminal punishment, etc.
Legal norms, as a component of the first group of elements, are formed in the process of lawmaking by competent state authorities of the Republic of Belarus. These norms include legal acts of the Republic of Belarus as fundamental sources of law. All the legal acts of the Republic of Belarus are divided into two big groups: legislative acts and secondary legislation. The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Belarus, having supreme legal force. Legislative acts are laws enacted by the Parliament and decrees and edicts of the President, which have legal force in accordance with the Constitution. Decisions of the Government, as well as legal acts of ministries, other governmental departments and acts of the Local Councils of Deputies and Local Executive Committees are the most important acts of secondary legislation.
The complex of legal institutions is the second group of elements of the structure of the legal system. These are state authorities empowered by the Constitution and by other laws implemented by the National Assembly (Parliament), the President, the Council of Ministers (Government), ministries, state committees, Local Councils of Deputies and Local Executive Committees of the Republic of Belarus. Legal institutions also cover law-enforcement bodies (judicial bodies, prosecutor’s offices and bodies of internal affairs), public law-protection organizations (Belarusian Community of Consumers, Confederacy of Lawyers of Belarus), etc.
The third group of elements composing the structure of the legal system of the Republic of Belarus covers sense of justice (such as, one of forms of public consciousness) and standards of legal development. Sense of justice is a system of legal theories, views, ideas, conceptions, notions, estimations, dispositions and feelings expressing the attitudes of individual persons, social groups and the entire Belarusian society towards existing legislation and desirable legislation, different legal phenomena, the behavior of people and activities of the state in the field of law. Standards of legal development characterize the levels of individual and public sense of justice and reflect a degree of functioning for the whole Belarusian legal system.
In the 1990s, the legal system of the Republic of Belarus reached an absolutely new phase of its development. Our country obtaining independence and the status of an equal member of the world community, adopting the Constitution which declares individual rights, freedoms and guarantees for their attainment as the supreme goal and value of society and the state, the appearance of new possibilities of the development of the Belarusian economy in accordance with market canons - all these factors allow expected step-by-step development of the legal system of the Republic of Belarus according to the standards of a law-abiding state and civil society.
However, the process of forming the legal system of any democratic state requires a transformation period. A great number of economic, political and historical factors hamper this evolution process. For Belarus these are the prolonged domination of an anti-democratic regime, the uniqueness of the character of Belarusian society and the breach of former economic relations that were formed during the soviet period.
Therefore each of the elements composing the structure of the legal system has essential deficiencies. The first of these is the low standard of legal development of Belarusian society, legal nihilism of the people, and lack of desire to obey the law (a low level of sense of justice of Belarusian society).
Imperfections in the system of legal institutions are being revealed. For example, though the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus determines the principle of separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, it can in fact be noted, that some merging of these branches exists. An illustration of this is the legislative executive branches, where the democratic principle of checks and balances doesn't yet function properly regarding the legal system of the Republic of Belarus.
Finally, the system of law of the Republic of Belarus, with its branches of law, legal institutes and legal norms, is far from being perfect: there are imperfections of different legal rules including constitutional norms, lack of clear hierarchy and contradiction of legal acts.
There are a variety of legal systems in the contemporary world. At the same time trend can be clearly observed, which evidences the closeness of processes between different countries, unification of their legislation and conformity in the practical application of law in different spheres, especially in the regulation of market economies, protection of the environment and others. The trend in Belarus is revealing in the constitutionally proclaimed universal principles of international law, as well as, in continuous activity on concluding different international treaties and participating in various international organizations (United Nations, Commonwealth of Independent States).
Presently the legal system of the Republic of Belarus is closely interacting with the legal system of Russia. Pursuant to Article 2 of the Treaty between Belarus and Russian Federation "On Creation of the Union State" dated 8 December 1999, the development of a unified democratic legal system is foreseen as one of the objectives of the Union State being created. Time will show the real extent of the vitality of this legal system.