Legal maxim
A legal maxim is an established principle or proposition. The Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 term, apparently a variant on maxima, is not to be found in Roman law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

 with any meaning exactly analogous to that of a legal maxim in the Medieval or modern sense of the word, but the treatises of many of the Roman jurists on Regular definitiones, and Sententiae juris are, in some measure, collections of maxims. Most of the Latin maxims developed in the Medieval era in European countries that used Latin as their language for law and courts.

The attitude of early English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 commentators towards the maxims of the law was one of unmingled adulation. In Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

, Doctor and Student (p. 26), they are described as of the same strength and effect in the law as statutes. Not only, observes Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 in the Preface to his Collection of Maxims, will the use of maxims be in deciding doubt 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.

A similar note was sounded in Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

; and it has been well observed that a glance at the pages of Morrisons Dictionary or at other early reports will show how frequently in the older Scots law questions respecting the rights, remedies and liabilities of individuals were determined by an immediate reference to legal maxims.

In later times, less value has been attached to the maxims of the law, as the development of civilization
Civilization is a sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally...

 and the increasing complexity of business relations have shown the necessity of qualifying the propositions which they enunciate. But both historically and practically, they must always possess interest and value.

The principal collections of legal maxims are:
English Law,
  • Francis Bacon, Collection of Some Principal Rules and Maxims of the Common Law (1630);
  • Noy, Treatise of the principal Grounds and Maxims of the Law of England (1641, 8th ed., 1824);
  • Wingate, Maxims of Reason (1728);
  • Francis, Grounds and Rudiments of Law and Equity (2nd ed. 1751);
  • Lofft (annexed to his Reports, 1776);
  • Broom, Legal Maxims (yth ed. London, 1900).

Scots Law:
  • Lord Trayner, Latin Maxims and Phrases (2nd ed., 1876);
  • Stair, Institutions of the Law of Scotland, with Index by More (Edinburgh, 1832).

American Treatises
  • A. I. Morgan, English Version of Legal Maxims (Cincinnati, 1878);
  • S. S. Peloubet, Legal Maxims in Law and Equity (New York, 1880).
  • John Bouvier
    John Bouvier
    John Bouvier , American jurist and legal lexicographer, was born in Codognan, France.In 1802 his family, who were Quakers , emigrated to America and settled in Philadelphia. In 1808, he began a printing business, and in 1810, he wed Elizabeth Widdifield, with whom he had one daughter, Hannah Mary...

    , A Law Dictionary: Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, Revised Sixth Edition, 1856. A long list of maxims is contained in the section for the letter "M".
  • Anonymous, Latin for Lawyers, Chapter II, "A Collection of over one thousand Latin maxims, with English translations, explanatory notes, and cross-references", Sweet and Maxwell, 1915.
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