Legal Standard

What is a legal norm?

A legal norm is a rule created to organize social behavior based on the duties and rights of citizens. It is characterized by its sanctioning function, that is, it must be fulfilled because otherwise it entails a sanction or punishment.

Legal norms are conceived by legitimate institutions and recognized by society (parliament, supreme court, government, mayor’s office, etc.), and are part of a larger legal system (constitution, organic laws, etc.).

In turn, legal norms are composed of two essential elements:

  • assumption of fact: is the behavior, situation or hypothetical event that needs regulation.
  • Legal consequence: is the sanction that is foreseen in the event that this hypothetical event occurs.

For example, in a municipal ordinance regulating noise pollution in nightclubs, the factual assumption would be the possibility of a nightclub generating excessive noise. While the legal consequence would be the punishment provided for that fact (fine, community work, jail, etc.).

As each State has its own regulatory frameworks, the legal norms are diverse in their content, functions and scope of application. However, they share characteristic elements.

The legal norms are characterized by being:

Bilateral. Every legal norm will always have two parts: the subject or event to whom the norm indicates, and the organism that is in charge of its fulfillment. For example, in the traffic law, those who are subject to the regulation are drivers and pedestrians, while road authorities are responsible for ensuring compliance.

heteronomous. It means that the rule is imposed by an external person or body on the subject that must comply with it, regardless of whether he agrees with it or not. For example, when a new tax is created in a country, the people or companies that are responsible for paying the tax must comply with their obligation, even if they are against that rule.

Coercible. It means that compliance with the rules is enforced through sanctions. In addition, the authorities may resort to force. An example is when a person breaks into private property. By committing this crime, he automatically has a sanction, but in addition, the police forces can evict her using force if he refuses to leave.

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Legal regulations have multiple classifications according to various criteria and authors. In 1938, the Mexican jurist and academic Eduardo García Máynez published the book Introduction to the world of lawin which he proposed a classification that remains in force in Mexican law.

For García Máynez, legal norms are classified as:

Rules according to the system to which they belong

  • Nationals: are the rules that govern within the national territory, such as the constitution.
  • foreign: are rules that apply outside the national territory.
  • uniforms: they are common norms in different legal systems, such as the universal declaration of human rights or the treaties of the European Union.

Norms according to their source

  • Legal: are those that come from the legislative power (Congress, Senate, National Assembly, etc.) and its subordinate institutions (governorships, mayors, mayors, etc.). For example, a law created by the government of a province.
  • customary: These are rules that are not written, but are considered as such due to their widespread and sustained use over time. That is, its source is custom. For example, indiscriminate attacks (without a specific military objective) are prohibited under international law, since they threaten the life and property of the civilian population.
  • Jurisprudential norms: they originate in the Supreme Court or the ordinary courts and serve to set precedents with respect to the interpretation of the legal norm. For example, a ruling issued by the Court of Justice of the European Union set the precedent that allows affected people to request the right to deindex their data from search engines (known as the law of oblivion) ​​since 2014.

Norms according to their spatial scope of validity

  • Federal: apply throughout the federal territory, such as the Federal Law on the protection of personal data, in Mexico.
  • State or provincial: they apply in the states or provinces, they are not valid in the rest of the national territory. For example, if a governor decides to implement a curfew in his state, the rule only applies in his jurisdiction.
  • municipal: they only apply within a municipality, like ordinances.

Standards according to their temporal scope of validity

  • Standing Rules: they are created to regulate behaviors or events of a permanent nature; therefore, they do not lose validity, unless a new regulation is created to replace it. An example would be fundamental rights (right to life, equality, etc.).
  • Transitional rules: regulate a temporary situation. An enabling law, for example, gives authority to the representative of a State to issue decrees based on a specific need (such as an economic crisis) without requiring the approval of the legislative power.
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Standards according to their material scope of validity

  • Public law regulations: regulate the relationship between the State and individuals, such as the rules established in criminal, constitutional, administrative or international law.
  • Private law rules: regulate relations between individuals, such as commercial and civil law.

Norms according to their personal scope of validity

  • General: apply to all subjects that are within the category contemplated by the standard. For example, labor laws apply to all workers in the country.
  • individuals: apply individually to the subject. For example, if a labor lawsuit favors a worker, the sentence applies only to him.

Norms according to their hierarchy

  • of the same rank: they are norms that have a coordination relationship with each other, because they belong to the same category or class. For example, the laws issued by Congress regulate different areas, but they are all of the same rank.
  • of different rank: they are norms with a relationship of subordination or supraordination to each other. The constitution is the rule of highest hierarchy, therefore the other laws are subordinate to it.

Rules according to your sanction

  • perfect: are those that annul the act that violates the rule. For example, a sentence that annuls the purchase of a property because the documents were false.
  • more than perfect: In addition to annulling the damage, these rules require compensation for the damage, for example, that a thief be punished with jail and also deliver what was stolen to its owner.
  • less than perfect: are the norms that do not contemplate a sanction or that only imply a disciplinary sanction, for example, that the police only call attention to people who generate disorder on public roads, without any other type of punishment.
  • imperfect: they do not imply any type of sanction, although there are mechanisms to apply them.

Standards according to their quality

  • permissive: allow the manifestation of certain behaviors. For example, some commercial codes allow debtors to select the assets that will be considered to pay the debt in case of seizure.
  • prohibitive: they prevent following behaviours. For example, when attempting against the life of another person is prohibited and condemned.

Norms according to their complementation relationships

  • primaries: they are norms that do not need others to be executed. For example, the penal code.
  • high schools: are the rules that describe the operation of the primary rules. They stipulate aspects such as the duration of a norm, its interpretation or the sanctions that it implies. For example, the rules stipulated in the civil code to execute contracts.
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Norms according to their relations with the will of individuals

  • exhaustive standards: are rules that require individuals regardless of their will to carry out the act. For example, the Spanish civil code establishes that if a guardian is required for a minor, this can be a person chosen by the child.
  • Dispositive norms: they can stop being applied if it is the will of one of the parties. For example, rental contracts.

In the 20th century, the European jurists Hans Kelsen and Herbert Hart proposed classification systems for legal norms: the Kelsen pyramid and the Hartian classification.

Kelsen’s Pyramid

Kelsen’s pyramid is a system created by the Austrian jurist Hans Kelsen, considered one of the most influential of the 20th century. According to this pyramid-shaped structure, legal norms are ordered according to their hierarchy. The most important norm is the cusp:

  1. The constitution of the State (top of the pyramid).
  2. The laws (civil, criminal, tax code, etc.).
  3. Regulations (electoral regulations, legislative, etc.).
  4. Individual legal rules, such as sentences (base of the pyramid).

Kelsen’s pyramid reflects the legitimacy of the constitution as a fundamental legal norm and shows how the rest of the norms derive from it. Therefore, there can be no rules that contradict what is stipulated in the Magna Carta, because it is considered the source of the other rules.

Hart classification

In 1961, the English jurist and legal philosopher Herbert Hart proposed in his book The concept of law a classification of legal norms into two broad categories:

  • primary standards. They are the ones that regulate human behavior. Traffic laws or the criminal code are examples of primary regulations.
  • secondary norms. They are the rules created to determine how the primary rules are to be carried out. That is, they establish the powers of the institutions in charge of creating the laws. For example, the rules that regulate the functioning of Congress.

Legal and moral norms have in common their regulatory function of social conduct. In fact, many legal norms have their origin in moral norms. Not paying debts, for example, not only has a moral penalty (loss of trust and social stigmatization), but can also lead to legal sanctions.

Although both types of regulations allow or prohibit certain behaviors, only legal regulations are mandatory to avoid a sanction. Moral norms are not mandatory, they depend on free will, and the sanction has no legal consequences.

See also:

  • Rule
  • Moral standards
  • Types of standards
  • Sanction