While the substantive law of Switzerland is mostly federal, civil procedure law is cantonal. Each canton has its own code of civil procedure. The organisation of courts vary from one canton to another. However, some basic rules of civil procedure are applicable in all cantons.
As a rule, each canton’s procedural code provides for two court levels, the courts of first instance and the courts of appeal.
Most cantonal codes of civil procedure also provide for a court of cassation, which can cancel judgments issued by lower courts. Some civil procedure laws provide special courts for commercial, lease and labour conflicts.
The highest court of Switzerland is the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne. The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals of cantonal courts of the administrative rulings of the federal administration. The judges of the Federal Court are elected by the Federal Assembly for six-year terms.
The Federal Parliament formally enacts Swiss federal laws. Under the Federal Constitution, the cantons are given lawmaking competence, unless a specific provision confers this power to the Federal Assembly. Areas of federal control include matters of national interest such as defence and foreign affairs, fiscal policies, and rail and postal services.
Swiss law is primarily statutory law. Constitutional provisions take precedence over ordinary statutes and administrative regulations. Such statutory law can be found in the federal and cantonal corpus juris.
Decisions of a court are not binding on other courts.
The private law primarily comprises civil law and the law of obligations. Civil law, family law, estate and property law were codified at the federal level in the Swiss Civil Code in 1907.
The law of obligations covers contract law, unjust enrichment (quasi contracts), torts, partnerships, corporations and negotiable instruments. It was codified in the Swiss Code of Obligations in 1881. These laws are issued in German, French and Italian, but unofficial English translations are available.