General principles of law

What are the general principles of law?

The general principles of Law are a series of statements that inform about the operation of legal norms. They are part of the legal system of a country, although they are not expressly included in the constitution or laws.

The general principles of law are derived from three fundamental ideas raised by the jurist Ulpiano in the second century AD, known as tria iuris praecepta, or the three precepts of Law. These principles are: live honestly (I will live honestly), do no harm to others (neminem laedere) and give each one their own (suum cuique tribuere), which refers to fulfilling the deals as agreed.

The function of the general principles of law is to describe how the legal system works, both in the values ‚Äč‚Äčthat sustain it and in the technical aspects. They are used to create new standards or to have a frame of reference when an interpretation of current standards is required.

For example, the Mexican legal system does not contain a formal list of general principles of law, but they are used in particular cases, as long as they do not contradict what the law says.

It is important to note that the fundamental precepts vary depending on the laws of each country and each branch (civil, criminal, international, labor law, etc.).

What are the general principles of law?

Principle of public interest (public res)

It is a general principle referring to the fact that every act of law must contemplate the good of society, not of the State or a part of it. This implies that collective interests are above individual rights, and public rights are above private rights.

For example, if a State studies the possibility of changing an article of the Constitution, that change must be for the benefit of the governed, not for the benefit of a political sector.

Principle of proper acts (non venire contra factum proprium)

This principle establishes that it is not possible to retract an act done previously only for one's own benefit. For example, once a contract has been signed, it is not possible to claim breach because the clauses are not favorable. It is assumed that when signing the contract the person knew the consequences of the agreement, so now he cannot go against his own act.

Principle of the autonomy of the will

It is the freedom that natural or legal persons have to enter into contracts with whoever they want, as long as the terms are agreed upon by both parties and are not contrary to the law.

For example, when a person is looking for an apartment for rent, he exercises his autonomy of will when deciding where he wants to live and agrees with the terms of the rental contract (amount to pay, means of payment, lease time, special clauses, etc.).

Principle of good faith (bona fides)

It refers to the assumption that the parties involved in an issue are acting honestly. In civil law, this applies especially in cases of acquisition of property.

For example, a person buys a wooden chair on a website, but what they receive is a plastic chair painted brown. In this case, it can be assumed that the buyer acted in good faith because he made a transaction thinking that he would receive what was expected.

Instead, the seller acted in bad faith, knowing that this was not what the buyer had asked for. This behavior can imply a sanction in case the buyer makes a complaint.

Principle of equality before the law

It is a principle of civil law that establishes that all people must be treated in the same way before the law, without distinction of gender, race, nationality, social condition, etc.This principle, in turn, is based on the right to equality envisaged in the universal declaration of human rights.

For example, the equality of women and men in marriage, or the equality of citizens to enjoy their rights and fulfill their obligations.

Principle of prohibition of enrichment without cause

It is a principle that establishes that one party cannot enrich or increase its patrimony at the expense of the impoverishment of another, without there being a justification for such fact.

For example, a person cannot become a homeowner if he usurped, invaded, or obtained it after committing a scam on the property owners.

Principle of civil liability

In civil law, liability is a general principle that is invoked when one of the parties must repair the damage caused to another. It can be of two types:

  • Contractual: when the damage is caused by the breach of a contract or agreement. For example, by not paying a mortgage payment.
  • Non-contractual: when the damage originates outside the scope of a contract. For example, a person who runs over another with his car.

Principles of burden of proof and presumption of innocence (onus probandi)

According to this general principle, a person cannot be punished if his guilt has not been proven (burden of proof). From this same principle follows the presumption of innocence, which delegates to the judiciary the responsibility of proving the guilt of the accused.

As long as guilt is not proven, the accused is presumed innocent.

For example, in a robbery case, the accused will be considered innocent until the prosecution or other sanctioning bodies can prove that there was indeed a crime.

Principle of legality (nullum crime, nulla poena sine praevia lege)

This principle means that someone cannot be punished, unless their conduct is considered a crime under the laws in force in that country.

For example, if a neighbor generates annoying noise, the neighbors can report it, but if that conduct is not classified as a crime, the authorities will not be able to do anything about it.

Typicality principle

This general principle of criminal law means that for an act to be considered a crime, it must meet the typical or characteristic elements that have been previously described in the laws.

For example, if a person is accused of robbery, the legal bodies must demonstrate that this fact meets all the characteristics established in the law of that country in order for it to be considered a crime. If any of the typical elements are missing, the person cannot be penalized.

Minimum intervention principle

This general principle establishes that criminal law should only be used as a last resort, when other instances have already been exhausted.

For example, if there is a problem between neighbors, first resort to a justice of the peace or other type of non-criminal body before making a complaint to the competent authorities.

Act principle

This general principle means that a person can only be penalized for what he does (his acts), not for what he is. Laws are made to order or sanction behavior, not the way of being or the personality.

For example, if an aggressive person hits someone, they will be punished for the crime they committed, not for their way of being.

Principle of legal good

This principle establishes that conduct cannot be punished unless it has injured or endangered a legal asset. A legal asset is a tangible or intangible asset that is protected by law, such as private property, life, health, or the right to education.

For example, the invasion of land endangers a legal asset, which is the private property of the affected person. If a pregnant woman is denied access to health, she would be putting her life and that of her baby in danger, which are considered legal assets.

Principle of the separation of powers

It is a general principle applied to administrative law, which refers to the obligation of the public power to divide itself into powers with specific functions and limitations. This guarantees the balance in the exercise of power by the State.

For example, in many democratic states, power is divided into legislative (which approves or repeals laws); executive (that executes the laws) and judicial (ensures compliance).

Principle of morality

This general principle establishes that the world of law must be governed by a moral framework that cannot be evaded. The expression of this principle requires the establishment of a set of norms that regulate both the functioning of the legal system and the behavior of officials.

An example of the principle of morality is the professional code of conduct for lawyers, established to define their duties, rights and functions.

See also:

  • Constitutional principles
  • Roman law
  • Criminal law
  • Civil law
  • Legal
  • Sources of law

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