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Selections Of Roman Legal Maxims

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“A legal maxim represents a studied effort to crystallize within its laconism a thousand past experiences in humanity’s eternal quest for what is right and just. In this the Romans excelled, because of their instinct for law and order; hence the

“A legal maxim represents a studied effort to crystallize within its laconism a thousand past experiences in humanity’s eternal quest for what is right and just. In this the Romans excelled, because of their instinct for law and order; hence the sayings of their jurists gained quick acceptance wherever men and people struggled for solutions to juridical problems. But no maxim is without exception or free from objection, and the discerning should learn to use them merely as general guide, and not as concrete definitive answers.”

Below are some of the maxims that are still being applied in the present day, and form part of the living law. In this materialistic times, one of the most valuable is Justinian’s “Non omne licet honestum est.”

  • Non omne quod licet honestum est. Not everything that is permitted is honorable.
  • Injura non excusat injuriam. One wrong does not excuse another.
  • Silent enim leges inter arma. The laws are silent in time of war.
  • Veritas simplex oratio est. The language of truth is simple.
  • Damnant quod non intelligent. They condemn what they cannot understand.
  • Veritatem laborare nimis saepe aiunt, extinguinunquam. It is said that truth is often eclipsed, but never extinguished.
  • Veritatis absolutus sermo ac simper est simplex. The language of truth is unadorned and always simple.
  • Toleratio est permission negative mali. Tolerance is the negative permission of evil.
  • Cogitationis poenam nemo meretur. No man deserves punishment for a thought.
  • Ea molestissima ferre hominess debent quae ipsorum culpa ferenda sunt. Men ought to be most annoyed by the sufferings which come from their own fault.
  • Male partum, male disperit. Badly gotten, badly spent.
  • Testimonia ponderanda sunt numeranda. Testimony is to be weighed, not counted.
  • Inops potentem dum vult imitare perit. The poor trying to imitate the rich, perish.
  • Ut cementem faciens, ita metes. As thou sowest, so shalt thou reap. (Sow the wind and reap a whirlwind).
  • Seditiosissimmus quisqui ignavus. The most seditious is the most cowardly.
  • Silentium est melius membrum de prudentia. Silence is the better part of prudence.
  • Qui approvat non reprobate. He who approves cannot repudiate.
  • Multis terribilis, caveto multos. If thou art terrible to many, then beware of many.
  • Aui primum peccat ille facit rexam. He who offends first is the one who makes quarrel.
  • Causa proxima non remota spectator. The law considers the proximate cause and not the remote one.
  • Cui prodest scelus, es fecit. He who profits from crime is guilty of it.
  • Num quam est fiselis cum potente societas. A partnership with man of power is never safe.
  • Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo. The drop hollows the stone, not by strength but by constant falling.
  • Regula pro lege, si deficit lex. In default of the law, the maxim rules.
  • Tempora mutantur et leges mutantur in illis. Time change and laws change with them.
  • Vigilantis sed non dormientibus jura in re subveniunt. The law aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights.
  • Currit tempus contra decides et sui juris contemptores. Time runs against the slothful and those who neglect their rights.
  • Nihil forum ex scena. The court has nothing to do with what is not before it.
  • Contumeliam si dices audies. If you speak insults, you will hear them also.
  • Nemo tenetur ad impossibilia. No one is bound to do things which are impossible.
  • Lucrum malum aequale dispendio. An evil gain equals a loss.
  • Invitat culpa qui delictum praeterit. He who overlooks a fault, invites the commission of another.
  • Aliud ex alio malum. One evil rises out of another.
  • Non allegata non probata. That which is not alleged cannot be proved.

Reference: Handbook Of Legal Maxims by German G. Lee, Jr., Second Revised Edition, 1998, CBPI, Quezon City, Philippines.

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