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History And Use Of Legal Maxim In Law

Legal maxims and terms are an established principles or prepositions of law or a legal policy usually stated in Latin form.[1] These are used on a regular basis in the legal domain due to their precise and accurate meaning especially by the judges in order to ensure a tactile base in the judgments. They serve as a legal jargon due to their confined application and understanding among the individuals of the legal system. Maxims and legal terms usually do not have the dogmatic authority of statutes neither they are normally considered as law except to their application in the adjudicated matters to a certain extent and in some cases are incorporated by the legislature while framing laws.

Origin of the most of the Latin maxims can be traced in the European states of medieval era that used Latin as their legal language.[2] With the expansion of commerce and industry during the 16th and 17th century, English courts were faced with novel cases for which the judges felt the need for broad authoritative principles in order to support their judgments because the rules of the medieval common law proved of little or no significance while deciding those cases.[3]

The problem of judges and the attitude of early English philosophers like Thomas Hobbes who in his book Doctor and Student stated that:
Legal maxims are of the same strength as that of acts and statutes[4] and Francis Bacon who in the preface to his book collection of maxims stated that maxims would be used in deciding doubts, and helping soundness of judgment, but, further, in gracing argument, in correcting unprofitable subtlety, and reducing the same to a more sound and substantial sense of law, in reclaiming vulgar errors, and, generally, in the amendment in some measure of the very nature and complexion of the whole law[5] lead to the evolution of legal maxims.

Several eminent lawyer philosophers and jurists came up with the compilation of legal terms and maxims like the writings of English jurist Sir Edward Coke were crammed with Latin aphorisms where some were borrowed from the Roman law while some were invented further the English Lawyer and philosopher Francis Bacon composed a collection of the maxims of the common law in Latin with an elaborate commentary on each.

Such collection of legal terms and maxims followed by explanatory comments and references to the illustrative cases continued to appear during the next three centuries in England and United States and even the Indian legal system being subject to British rule for centuries has extensively opted the legal terms and maxims as a part of the legal jargon.
Indian courts witness and interpret large number of legal maxims and terms some of them are as follows:
  • Actio Personalis Moritur Cum Persona:
    This maxim means that a personal right of action dies with person. According to it a person cannot opt for a legal recourse once he is dead however the Supreme Court of India has limited its scope to certain actions like actions for damages for defamation, actions for assault, and actions for other personal injuries not causing the death of the party. Supreme Court in Girja Nandini Devi & Ors. Vs Bijendra Narain Choudhury held that an action for account is not an action for damages ex delicto, and does not fall within the enumerated classes.

    Nor is it such that the relief claimed being personal could not be enjoyed after death, or granting it would be nugatory.[6]  The above maxim plays a significant role in determining the rights of a person who no longer exists and reduces the burden of courts to reinterpret those rights repeatedly in every individual case.
  • Nemo debet essex in propria sua causa:
    This maxim means that:
    No one ought to be judge in its own case. It is human tendency to lean towards personal benefit whenever possible hence a person presiding over a matter that involves his personal interest will definitely pass an order or decree that will help to achieve its personal benefit and in order to avoid such happenings and to ensure that justice is rendered in real sense it is necessary to ensure the implementation of this maxim in due course of legal proceedings in order to ensure justice to the victim.

    Application of this maxim is also essential in order to ensure the sanctity of the judicial process among the masses that is else exposed to criticism as witnessed recently in the Indian system when the former Chief Justice of India resided over his own case where he was accused of sexual harassment by one of his employee, Hence in order to ensure free and impartial trial and to prevent the judicial proceedings from being subject of criticism its essential to ensure the proper implementation of the aforesaid maxims.

Other than the legal maxims there are plenty of legal terms that we witness in legal jargon like Corpus Juris (compendium of law), Guardian Ad Litem (a legal guardian appointed by the court during the course of litigation to protect the interests of infant or mentally incompetent person involved in litigation), Amicus curie (friend of court), Contract (an agreement between two parties that are enforceable or otherwise recognizable at law), judicial ( concerning the process of judging) and countless others.

From the above discussion we can conclude that legal terms and maxims are of higher importance among the people of legal arena because it not only helps the judges to support their judgments but it also makes the judicial process a bit more conducive and short due to their precise nature. It saves a lot of time of people involved in the judicial proceedings and also helps in stipulating ideas and avoids excess verbal arguments involved. With time they have evolved as an indispensable part of the judicial system and is also getting common among the folks.

  1. Minakshee Orga Mukherjee, Legal Maxims used by courts in India,, Khurana & Khurana Advocates and IP Attorneys, June 02 2020, ( Accessed April 1,2021)
  2. Legal Maxim, Wikipedia,,was%20one%20of%20unmingled%20adulation.&text=26)%2C%20they%20are%20described%20as,in%20the%20law%20as%20statutes. (Accessed April 1, 2021)
  3. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Legal maxim." Encyclopedia Britannica, May 5, 2009.
  4. Aritra Sarkar, Legal Maxims: Meaning and Importance, Legal bites, February 4,2020, (Accessed April 2, 2021)
  5. Ibid
  6. Girja Nandini Devi & Ors. Vs Bijendra Narain Choudhury, MANU/SC/0287/1966: AIR 1967 SC 1124: 1967 (1) SCR

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