MAXIMS, LEGAL, a term used by members of the legal profession and writers oz. jurisprudence to denote those brief and pithy utterances, which by general consent have been accepted as embodying in proverbial form the accumulated wisdom af the past, the well-determined general principles which are the foundation of both law and equity. AS these general principles are founded on the natural law of justice, safety, and public policy, they are not liable to change by statute or local enactment; and however the legislative power may see fit to apply them in particular instances, the basis of the law is the same in all countries. Hence it follows that the utterances of ancient Roman magis trates and authors of legal treatises remain to this day of as much force and truth as when first promulgated. As the code of Justinian forms the basis of the civil law, still. in force over most countries of Europe, and as the works of all the earlier writers of our English common law were couched in the Latin language, it is not surprising that by far the largest number of these maxims are in Latin, which tongue, rnoreover, is adapted to give such maxims their needful condensation and precision. In very few instances can the maxims be traced to their original sources; many are derived from the Roman law; many are from continental jurists of the middle ages; while a very large number were enunciated by early English judges and writers, and still others are of quite modern origin. The form in which they are expressed is often varied and in many cases an abbreviated form is employed by- most lawyers in place of the full utterance. Like other expressions of the common law, the maxims derive their force and authority in the fiist ,place through the truth and justice of the principles which they enunciate, and, secondly, through the universality of their acceptance and application by courts in the past. They are not, therefore, of absolutely equal and binding authority, or rather it is impossible to. draw a line strictly dividing accepted maxims from mere expressions of opinion. While it has been said that maxims resembled both mathematical axioms and proverbs, it is true that they differ from both materially in their nature, being more the outcome of induc tive reasoning than are axioms, and more carefully framed and specifically applicable than proverbs. The number of those universally accepted as law is very large indeed. Works, devoted entirely to the consideration of the meaning and application of this fornt of law have been published by several authors. Perhaps it would be safe to put the.
number of those maxims which are properly so-called, not mere dicta, and which are in common use, as not less than two hundred. If the definition be made broader in both respects, we must add to this many hundreds. Bouvier in his Lau) Dictionary gives a very complete list, which cannot fall far short of two thousand distinct maxims. The reader will most easily understand the nature and style of this class of pithy legal say ings by examining a few which are selected from the great mass, mainly with regard to their brevity and frequent use. Such are: caveat the buy-er be on his guard— a most important principle of the law of contracts, but not to be construed too strictly; Qui facet per alzum, facit per who acts by another, acts himself—in which may be seen the main principle of the law of agency; ./Equitas sequitur kgern--equity follows the law; Ex nihito nild/ fit—from nothing comes nothing; Praus est celare con ceal a fraud is itself a fraud; A rimpossible n,ut n'est one is bound to do what is. impossible, the language being what is called " law French"; Ubi jus, ibi remedium- where tbere is a right there is a remedy; Ignorantia legis neminem excusat—ignorance of the law excuses no one; also expressed by Ignorantia facti excusat, ignorantia legis MOM excusat—ignoranee of fad, but not of law is an excuse; Prior tempore, potior jure—first in time, first in right; Id c,ertum est, quod certum reddz is certain which "may be rendered so. Among those commonly given in English may be mentioned: Acts indicate the intention; When the equities are equal the law shall prevail; When the foundations fail, all fails; Once a fraud, always a fraud.
As may be readily perceived, the difficulty- in practically employing these and the many similar maxims, is twofold; first, in correctly amplifying and expounding the extended meaning sought to be conveyed in the condensed form; and, secondly, in properly applying it to the adjudication of the particular facts of the case in question; and it is the work more especially of the writer of treatises on the various branches of law and equity to perform the first duty; while to the active practitioners and to the judges emergencies are constantly presented, calling for the exercise of the latter func tion.