Sri Lankan law (like the law on other subjects) is derived from a variety of sources, as under:
  1. The Roman Dutch law;
  2. The English law;
  3. The personal law;
  4. Sri Lanka's statute law;
  5. Indigenous customs.
This is mainly due to two factors. The political history of the country is the first factor, as the country was in the last five centuries been ruled successively, by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, until it became independent. The second factor is the heterogeneous character of its population.
Roman Dutch law
The Roman Dutch law is not applicable in its entirety in the Sri Lanka but only so much thereof as may be shown to have been introduced into Sri Lanka. The Jurists most commonly referred to (in the context of Roman Dutch law) are the following authors:-
  1. Voet (who is the most respected);
  2. Grotius;
  3. Simon Van Leeuwen;
  4. Van der Keessel
  5. Van der Linden
(Weeramantry, page 38).
Roman Dutch law is regarded as the "common law" of Sri Lanka, but statute law may provide a different rule.
English Law
English law has worked its way into Sri Lanka, partly through statutes which themselves enacted rules of English law, partly by tacit adoption by judicial decisions and partly by tacit use of English legal concepts (Weeramantry, page 44).
Among the statutes directly introducing English law into Sri Lanka is the Civil Law Ordinance No. 5 of 1852 (Cap. 79), which, by sections 2 and 3, introduced the law of English and in maritime and commercial matters (unless there is a contrary provision in a statute of Sri Lanka).
Personal law
As to personal law (mentioned above), it consists of:
  1. the Kandyan law;
  2. the Thesawalamai ; and
  3. the Muslim law.
The Thesawalamai is a system of personal law, applicable to "Malabar inhabitants of the Province of Jaffna" and was codified by the Dutch in 1707.
Sri Lanka Statutes
Again specific statutes of the country have replaced Roman Dutch Law on particular matters. Thus, the age of majority in Roman Dutch law which was 25 years was replaced by the Age of Majority Ordinance (Cap. 66) which introduced the age of majority as obtaining in English Law.
Similarly the Roman Dutch institution of "Community of spouses" was abrogated in Sri Lanka by the Matrimonial Rights and Ordinance (15 of 1876).