November 14th will mark the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Peruvian Civil Code. This period has been marked by rapid and deep-rooted changes. It has been a period of unprecedented changes in politics, economics (in the end, the market economy model prevailed), education, family models, the globalization of trade, the relativization of national borders, a boom in communications, and the use of technology in the different fields of knowledge and human activity, which have created a world completely different from the world that existed in the 80s.
Except for the early development of US constitutional law (thanks to John Marshall), during most part of the XIX century civil law countries used to consider that Codes, particularly Civil Codes, had greater legal value than Constitutions, which were rather regarded as political documents or as a compilation of programmatic standards. And I believe that much of said tradition is still preserved by many “privatists”. Even though many people may state that as far as the order of priority is concerned the Code comes immediately after the Constitution, this statement is just a fantasy. A Code is put into effect by a law. Not even by a constitutional law.
Notwithstanding, nobody can deny the importance and impact of the Civil Code in everyday life. And this is so because Civil Codes contain principles and rules which are particularly important to regulate relations, specifically relations between individuals, or to establish the common rights available to citizens (personal rights, rights with respect to goods, contractual rights, family rights and duties, inheritance rights, etc.).
Thirty years have gone by since the Civil Code was enacted and we can see that it has been modified several times, particularly as regards family law. But there is much more. The Civil Code should be read in keeping with constitutional principles. This statement is proven by a large number of resolutions issued by the Constitutional Court (as regards associations, ownership, contracts, and family matters). To this we should add the resolutions issued by the Court of Cassation sitting in Plenary Session and by Jurisdictional Meetings, including International Treaties (dealing with the Rights of Children, the Rights of Women, etc.) and foreign legislation which has drastically conditioned the structure of some classical institutions. To prove this statement, let us think, for instance, about urban development law and the limitations imposed on real property at the time of deciding how to use a geographical space and what height and purpose buildings should have, as in the past real property was subject to unlimited depths and heights. Obviously, to this we should add all environmental protection laws enacted so far, which are not focused on ecology alone.
In brief, these 30 years should show us that the Civil Code should be read together with a number of other rules, principles and legal sources which are different from the Civil Code but, without disregarding its importance, require some knowledge that exceeds the boundaries of the Civil Code and show that the Civil Code depends (in more than a few cases) on other regulatory instances.