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When Jurisprudence Becomes Law: How Italian Colonial Judges in Libya Turned Islamic Law and Customary Practice into Binding Legal Precedent

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Abstract This paper considers the way in which Italian authorities introduced jurisprudence of the Court of Appeals as a source of law in Libya from 1911 to 1943. Aimed at resolving the tensions that resulted from the interplay between local customs, Islamic law, and the Italian legal codes, such a recourse to jurisprudence was a clear departure from Italy’s own code-based legal system. This judicial innovation was also a change from the practices introduced in British and French colonies, where the codification of a hybrid European-local law had become the norm. Divided into three parts—jurisprudence as source of law in Italy, its uses in the colonies, and jurisprudence in practice (through the analysis of the sentences on shuf ʿa, the customary right of pre-emption)—this article illustrates Italian jurisprudential law in Libya as an example of the theoretical problems and practical advantages of legal pluralism in a colonial context. Cet article examine comment les autorités italiennes ont introduit la jurisprudence émanant de la Cour d’appel en tant que source de droit en Libye de 1911 à 1943. Destiné à résoudre les tensions qui ont résulté de l’interaction entre les coutumes locales, le droit islamique et les codes juridiques italiennes, un tel recours à la jurisprudence était clairement une rupture avec le système basé sur les codes juridiques en usage en Italie. Cette innovation judiciaire était également différente des pratiques introduites dans les colonies britanniques et française, où la codification d’un hybride euro-locale était devenue la norme. Divisé en trois parties—la jurisprudence comme source de droit en Italie, ses utilisations dans les colonies, et la jurisprudence dans la pratique (à travers l’analyse des décisions sur le shuf ʿa, droit coutumier de préemption)—cet article illustre le droit jurisprudentiel italien en Libye comme un exemple des problèmes théoriques et des avantages pratiques du pluralisme juridique dans un contexte colonial.


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