An Overview of the Mexican Legal System

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June 6, 2012 — 2,315 views  

While the Mexican legal structure has similarities to its American counterpart, there are many differences that make the two systems distinguishable from one another.

What is the Mexican legal system?

While the U.S. legal system bases its roots in 18th century democratic beliefs and values, the Mexican version dates back to 16th century Spanish law and pre-Colombian indigenous legislation. According to the University of Arizona, Spanish law dominated the nation's legal system for roughly 300 years. During this time, the structure emphasized private law, and was used almost exclusively in cases relating to commerce, family inheritance and property.

The 1917 Constitution dramatically altered Mexican law, establishing several federal judicial bodies and labor, military and tax courts. The document outlined each court's purpose, establishing responsibilities and regulations that are still followed today.

Additionally, the Mexican legal system borrowed features from civil law traditions, a result of the country's connection with Spain. Concepts relating to Roman, canonical, medieval common commercial, secular natural and secular positive laws are included in the current structure.

This nation's government is a federal constitutional republic that includes executive, judicial and legislative branches. The executive segment features a president, its legislative sector is a bicameral entity and its judicial branch has a Supreme Court along with federal and local courts.

This shows the nation's emphasis on history. For example, the source notes that Roman law impacted areas including inheritance, property and torts, providing a basis for legal professionals to handle cases relating to these areas. Meanwhile, tenets of the civil law tradition dealing with aspects such as legal obligations, material goods and people helped lead to some of the most important codes making up the nation's legal system.

Differences from the U.S. systems

Mexico features a civil law system, while its U.S. counterpart is often considered to be a "common law" system. The United States emphasizes case law, customs and usage, which differs greatly from the Mexican system that promotes legislative enactments. 

Case law precedent serves as the basis for much of the U.S. legal system, both at the federal and state levels. A single case could establish a legal principle that helps guide judges' decisions in future cases dealing with similar circumstances. Meanwhile, the Mexican legal system places a value on past legal decisions, but does not necessarily set precedents for judges to follow in all future cases involving related issues.  

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