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Features - Electronic Guide to Mexican Law

By Francisco Avalos and Elisa Donnadieu, Published on March 1, 2002

Francisco Avalos is Foreign and International Law Librarian at the University of Arizona College of Law Library. He obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona in 1971 and his Master of Library Science in 1976. He is the author of several books and articles dealing with the legal system and history of Mexico. He has served as past President and Secretary of AALL FCIL- SIS and has made several presentations on the Mexican legal system at national conferences and conventions. He has been a special consultant to the National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade for the last ten years.

Elisa Donnadieu is a 1997 graduate of the University of Arizona, College of Law. She has worked with the Pima County Public Defender’s office since 1998 and continues to do so on a part-time basis. Currently, she is enrolled in the Library Science Master’s program at the University of Arizona and has a fellowship with the University of Arizona College of Law Library.


Table of Contents

I. A Brief History of the Mexican Legal Government
II. Federal Government
III. Major Primary Federal Legislation
IV. State Governments
V. Mexico's Legal System
VI. Mexico Government
VII. Legislative Sources
VIII. NAFTA
IX. Overall Coverage of Mexico
X. Free Translation Sites

I. Brief History of the Mexican Legal System

The Mexican legal system has historical roots that go back to 16th century Spanish law and to Pre-Colombian indigenous law. After the Spanish had conquered the Aztec Empire, they found an advanced indigenous legal system in place. The Spanish crown did not rid itself of the indigenous legal system completely, instead, kept those indigenous laws and legal institutions that did not go directly against the Spanish customs or against Church Doctrine. The Spanish Crown also introduced its own laws and legal institutions.

After Mexico finally established independence, it went through a series of different constitutions. The current Mexican Constitution is commonly referred to as the 1917 Constitution. The official name is the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States (Constitucion Politica de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos). The Federal Constitution is the most important political document in Mexico.

It is the source and origin for all Mexican law. The hierarchy of sources of law in the civil law tradition to which Mexico’s legal system belongs are, “constitution, legislation, regulation, and custom.” The constitution will override all legislation, legislation will override all regulation, and regulation will override all custom.

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II. Federal Government

A. Executive Branch

According to the Mexican Constitution, the executive many initiate only certain types of legislation; however, in practice, the executive branch initiates almost all legislation, especially any legislation on any consequence. This is the branch with the most political power.

  • President -- This is the president’s official website, which provides a translation into English. The President is elected to a six-year term with no possibility of reelection.
  • Cabinet

B. Legislative Branch

The legislative branch of the federal government is compromised of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Legislative sessions begin on September 1 and must end by December 31; although, a special session may be called by, and only by, the Permanent Committee. The Permanent Committee is composed of 15 deputies and 14 senators, and is elected by their respective chambers at the end of each regular legislative session.

  • Senate:  There are two (2) senators per state. Senators are elected by direct popular vote to a 6-year term. They cannot be reelected for an immediately succeeding term. The Senate may initiate certain legislation. Their official website is: http://www.senado.gob.mx/

  • Chamber of Deputies
    Deputies are elected to a three (3) year term and there is one deputy for every 250,000 people in a state. Three-fourths of the deputies are elected by direct popular vote, with the remaining one-fourth selected in proportion to the votes received by each political party. They also cannon be reelected for an immediately succeeding term. The Chamber of Deputies is the only branch that may initiate bills concerning loans, taxes, imposts, and the recruitment of troops. However, in practice the executive branch initiates almost all legislation.  Their official website (in Spanish) is: http://www.camaradediputados.gob.mx/

C. Judiciary Branch

The federal judiciary is governed by Articles 94 through 107 of the Constitution and the Organic Law of the Federal Judiciary. There are no elected judges in Mexico; they are all appointed.

  • Supreme Court: The Supreme Court has final appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts. It is composed of 11 Justices and one (1) Chief Justice. These are nominated by the President and the Senate may approve with a 2/3 majority; however, if the Senate fails to act within 30 days, the appointment becomes automatic. The Justices are appointed with life tenure but they may be removed by the President with the approval of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.  Their official website (in Spanish) is: http://www.scjn.gob.mx/inicial.asp

  • Appellate Courts

  • Trial Level Courts

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III. Major Primary Federal Legislation (Diarro Oficial de la Federacion)

A. Constitution

The Constitution calls for a federal democratic republic composed of free and sovereign states. All power is derived from the people. There is a centralized federal government and individual states governments. The Constitution is the source and origin of all Mexican laws. It will override all legislation, and codes/laws. Codes/laws will override all regulations and regulations will override any customs.

The Mexican Constitution is based on seven (7) basic principles; a declaration of human rights, national sovereignty, division of powers, the representative system, a federal structure, constitutional remedies, and the supremacy of the state over the church. The Constitution call for an active government that has a moral obligation to not only promote human and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights. The Constitution is seen as an instrument that should bring social change.

The Constitution is divided into nine sequential titles. The titles are subdivided into chapters, which are not sequential. The chapters are further subdivided into articles, which are sequential throughout the Constitution. The Constitution also has transitory articles. All Mexican states have their own state constitution.

The Mexican Constitution can be found in English at http://www.ilstu.edu/class/hist263/docs/1917const.html.

B. Civil Code (Codigo Civil para el Distrito Federal en Materia Comun y para Todo la Republica en Materia Federal)

The Mexican Civil Code is the most important piece of legislation after the Mexican Constitution. The scope and coverage of the Civil Code is extremely broad. The Civil Code reflects the revolutionary spirit and nationalism of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. In the Civil Code community interests over ride individual interests, private property rights are not absolute, the “less able” are protected from the “most able” (unjust enrichment) and agrarian rights are established.

The Civil Code consists of over 3,000 individual articles organized into books, titles, chapters, articles and sections. There are four books in the Code; Book 1, Persons (individuals and corporations), Book 2, Property, Book 3, Succession, Book 4, Obligations. The Code articles are numerically arranged, with each article getting a unique number. This means that all you need to find a particular provision in the Civil Code is the article number, and not the book number, title number and chapter number. The Mexican States have their own civil codes, most of which are copies or are based on the Federal Civil Code.

The civil code has been translated into English; it is not currently available on the Internet.  One website where it is available in Spanish is: www.solon.org/Statutes/Mexico/Spanish/cc-intro.html.

C. Civil Procedures Code

D. Criminal Code

E. Criminal Procedures Code

F. Case Law ("Jurisprudenica" and "Tesis Sobresalientes") - See Supreme Court Code

G. Commercial Code

The Commercial Code has wide application in Mexico. It is federal code because commercial matters fall under federal jurisdiction. Code Commercial code regulates: all commercial activity including contracts, documentary credit, credit institutions, land and water transportation, bankruptcy and arbitration. It also covers procedures for commercial litigation.

The Code is organized into 5 books. Book 1 covers Merchants, Book 2 covers Overland Commerce, Book 3 has been repealed and it covered maritime commerce, Book 4 covers Bankruptcy and Book 5 covers Mercantile Actions. The Code is further subdivided into titles, chapters and articles (over 1460 articles). There exists in Mexico further commercial legislations that is not part of the Commercial Code. The Mexican States do not have their own commercial code.

There are several versions of the Commercial Code in translations.

H. Diario Oficial de la Federacion

In Civil Law Tradition Countries all legal matters/legislation must be published in their “Official Gazette” before it can go into effect. The gazettes, which are legal newspapers, are know as “Diarios” or “Gacetas” and are published on a daily basis by the government. This is the official source for all new legislation.

The diario oficial may be found at: http://dof.terra.com.mx/default.htm, for a fee but the text is in Spanish. These are available in English for a membership fee at: http://www.natlaw.com/mexico/diario/diario.htm.  Your law library may have them depending on their international/foreign law collection. You may also purchase a subscription online.

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IV. State Governments (Boletin Oficial del Estado)

Each Mexican State has its own “Diario”. They are also known as “Gacetas” and “boletines”.

  • Aguascalientes - in Spanish. Go to “servicios”, then click on “Leyes y Reglamentos”, then go to “Legislacion del Estado de Aguascalientes”. There you will find the regulations, codes, laws, agreements, etc.
  • Baja California - in Spanish - lots of info. This website provides quite a good deal of information including information on their economy and their Financial Department - that provides information on State's financial situation and their public debt. Information on their water department, services the State government offers, how the State government is organized and a directory of the different State Agencies, the structure of the State government, and names and phone numbers of the officials.
  • Baja California Sur - in Spanish. Official State website for Baja California Sur. This site provides information on the State government’s structure and organization, provides a link to the State’s constitution and it’s laws which are made available in PDF form. There is also information on the climate and tourist attractions, and the education system in Baja California Sur.
  • Campeche - in Spanish - also available in English at www.campeche.gob.mx/sefico/ingles/; however, this website is not the same - the English site if geared towards those interested in investing in Campeche and/or commercial and industrial development. The Spanish site provides information on the government, tourism, and links to the different State governmental agencies. There is a link to the State Attorney General, once there one can access pages on how to report different crimes and on crime prevention. You can search the site - also there is a link to the legislature, which provides its history, the current legislation as well as a directory of the different commissions/committees.
  • Chiapas - in Spanish. There is a link to the Judicial Library that provides the different State laws including the State constitution and also the Federal Constitution online.
  • Chihuahua - in Spanish. This website provides information on the history, government, and tourism of the State. It also has a link to the different government agencies including the judicial branch and specifically to the Attorney General website.
  • Cholahuila - in Spanish. Official website that includes information on the government, but also the laws of the State and other legislative information.
  • Colima - in Spanish. This site provides the history of the State and its Aztec origins and information on education and tourism in State. Also provides information on the government including the judiciary and the attorney general’s office. Did not find the laws of the state; however, under the legislature does publish and make available its official reports/newspapers, which summarizes the different bills introduced and what happened.
  • Districto Federal - in Spanish - has an option to translate site into English, but not a good translation at all. Official website supplies the state’s law.
  • Durango - in Spanish. This site is not initially very user friendly; in order to find the governmental information, click on “informe.” This takes you to a boarder menu. This site is not always functioning properly.
  • Guanajuato - in Spanish; the State’s laws are available on this official website. As of 01/07/02 - site was unavailable.
  • Guerrero - in Spanish. Can access their legislative page by first clicking on “gobierno”.
  • Hidalgo - in Spanish. This site did not have the state’s laws or constitution available. The one thing it did provide is names and addresses of the different state’s agencies.
  • Jalisco - in Spanish. This is a very comprehensive site. Not only does it present a history of the law, it also makes available the different laws, the constitution, and the make up of the congress among other things.
  • Mexico State - in Spanish. This official site does supply the state’s constitution and its different laws, but one must conduct a search for “constitucion” and “leyes”, respectably. Otherwise, these are not available from the main page.
  • Michoacan - in Spanish. This site does provide the state’s codes, laws and constitution, but it is not easy to find initially. Click on “Gobierno”, “Poder Ejecutivo” then “Legislacion Estatal” and once there, go to the index (“Indice General”) this will provide you with a list of the information.
  • Morelos - in Spanish. Once at the website click on ‘gobierno” and then “nuestras leyes”- has constitution, laws, regulations and codes.
  • Narayit - in Spanish.
  • Nuevo Leon - in Spanish From this official site’s homepage, one can go directly to the state’s laws, codes, regulations and constitution by clicking on “Leyes y Reglamentos”. The documents are available in html format and PDF format.
  • Oaxaca - in Spanish
  • Puebla - in Spanish; Find laws, constitution and regulations under “Legislacion Vigente”
  • Queretaro - in Spanish. The official state website does not provide information on the laws, regulations, or the judicial branch.
  • Quintana Roo - in Spanish. Once at the homepage, click on “legislacion,” that will take you directly to the laws, constitution and regulations are posted.
  • San Luis Potosi - in Spanish. If having difficulty accessing this site, try www.congresoslp.gov.mx and search for laws or constitution. However, as of 11/01/01, this legal information was inaccessible.
  • Sinaloa - in Spanish. The laws and codes are easy to find. After entering the site, click on “informacion general,” from there you can go directly to the information. (However, the actual laws, constitution and codes were unavailable as of 11/08/01.)
  • Sonora - in Spanish. There is an English version that is currently under construction.
  • Tabasco - in Spanish. Unable to find laws, constitution, etc.
  • Tamaulipas - in Spanish. Very friendly site; there was a link to the laws and constitution on the homepage.
  • Tlaxcala - in Spanish. Also friendly; can get directly to the laws from the homepage.
  • Veracruz - in Spanish. In order to find the legal information, you need to search for “leyes” which will provide a very comprehensive list. There is an option to view the site in English; however, there is a very limited amount of information you can access in English.
  • Yucatan - in Spanish. Go to “administracion” and at the bottom of that page click on “leyes y normas,” which appears in very fine print. Not many of the laws are provided although the constitution is.
  • Zacatecas - in Spanish. Once at the homepage, go to “poder legislativo” to find the law. However, you will only find the law granting the different branches power and the constitution.

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V. Mexico's Legal System

  • www.mexonline.com; in English. This website provides an excellent basic overview of how the Mexican Legal System is set up and functions. There are overviews provided on Immigration, Criminal, Property law, etc. The site is ideal for students or lawyers who practice. It is a very good site that gives the basics, and a site that can be starting point. Also provided is “Mexican Laws in English” that includes some laws and the implementation, but not many. Also supplies a list of lawyers and links to their sites.
  • http://www.mexonline.com/lawimmigrate.htm; in English “A Mexican Legal System: Immigration Laws.”
  • http://www.mexonline.com/lawreview.htm; in English. “Mexican Legal System: Overview” - Compares Mexico’s Civil system to the United States’, brief overview of Mexican litigation and courts; and who are the key players.
  • http://www.lectlaw.com/tint.htm; in English. Provides some info on Mexican Real Estate law and the Mexican Foreign Investment Act of 1993.

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V. Mexico Government

  • http://www.trace-sc.com/govt_online.htm - This website provides links to Mexican governmental websites including the official federal ministries and federal agencies sites, state sites, etc.
  • Governments on the WWW: Mexico - This the most extensive collection of links to the Mexican Government that I have found on the net. The site is divided into: Federal Institutions, State Institutions, City Institutions and Representations in Foreign Countries. The materials are mostly in Spanish.
  • WEBESSENCE'S & LAWRESEARCH - This site is a collection of links to many federal and state government offices in Mexico. The list is extensive and list more government offices than you normally find in any one site. The site also has links to Mexican legal primary materials and secondary materials. The site has a search engines that helps a great deal to find what you may need. This site is a very good site for people interested in the Mexican Government’s structure and functions. Most links are to Spanish language links.
  • BANCOMEXT - This site contains links to Mexican Government Agencies and Information. The list of government offices is comprehensive. Some state agencies are included which adds to the value of this site. Also included are links to some of the top educational institutions in Mexico. Most all information is in Spanish.
  • http://www.members.tripod.com/clesan/clesan13.html - in Spanish, provides a list of different governmental agencies and links to their websites.

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VII. Legislative Sources

  • Institute for Legal Studies (Instituto de Investigaciones Juridicas, UNAM). The Instituto de Investigaciones Juridicas@ is the foremost legal Institute in Mexico and Latin America. The site offers a comprehensive collection of not just primary materials, but also secondary materials. The materials are in Spanish and are update on a regular basis. Mexican Federal and State legal materials are available. I highly recommend this site for all Mexican legal research. Spanish and a basic knowledge of the Mexican legal system are required to make full use of this site. The site is free.
  • Library of Congress: Global Legal Information Network. This is a very good starting point for the novice researcher of Mexican Law. The site provides links to more than legal information on Mexico (country reports, commerce guides, government guide, etc.). The values of this site are the many links that lead to primary materials. There are few documents online at this site; it is mostly made up of very useful links. The site is updated on a regular and frequent basis.
  • British and Irish Legal Information Institute. This site is a collection of valuable links to Mexican legal materials. There are some links to Mexican primary materials in translation. The site indicates which linked databases have materials in English and have search engines. The links listed provide a very comprehensive look of Mexican legal materials. The emphasis is on federal materials over state materials.
  • Biblioteca Digital del Sistema ITESM. This is a site created and run by the Law School at the Tec of Monterrey. The site is in Spanish and offers Mexican primary legal materials and secondary legal materials. There are many good legal studies available at this site. Some services are restricted to Tec Students and Tec Faculty.
  • CLESAN NET. This site is a collection of links to Mexican legal materials on the federal and state level, and more. The site has links to most government judicial and legislative bodies. There are also links to economic, business, cultural and educational sites. The site is in Spanish with a search engine. This is a very complete site on Mexico. Navigation of this site is slow because of the many graphics associated with this site.
  • Mexico Laws in English. This site has good collection of laws, regulations, decrees and standards. The main areas of the cover are; customs, maquiladoras, transportation, labor, health and the environment. The value of this site is that the materials are available in English translation. The site claims over 3,000 pages of translated materials. This is the ideal site for people that do not speak Spanish, but want to work with Mexican Law. This is not a free site, but the charges are reasonable for translation.
  • Internet Law Library: Laws of Other Nations: Mexico; Primarily in Spanish. Site has the different constitutions, the civil code, statutes.
  • http://www.austlii.edu.au/links/2077.html; in Spanish; legislation site; provides the user with the Mexican Civil Code; the Federal Constitution, its reforms and the most recent Constitution, as well as the different State constitutions; etc. This is a very comprehensive site.
  • National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade. This is the most complete Mexican Law site that I have found. The collection of primary and secondary legal materials available is comprehensive. The site has laws, regulations, decrees, standards and secondary resources. It also has access to the “Diario Oficial” on a daily basis. There are translations available at this site. Translations are also available upon request. The site has a search engine that makes for easy access to the materials. This is a one stopping store for Mexican legal materials. This site is ideal for the serious researcher, whether he/she might speak Spanish or not. This is not a free site, but the fees are very reasonable.
  • Political Parties
    • www.pan.org.mx/Index2.asp; In Spanish. Official website for the Partido Accion Nacional; includes basic information on the party, it’s history, it’s different candidates and elected officials, how to become a member of the party; the party’s views on “female politics” and issues relating to juveniles.
    • http://www.pri.org.mx/frame_up.html; in Spanish. Official website for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional. Not as user-friendly as the PAN site – more difficult to navigate. Does provide information on the party and what has been happening legislatively. It appears more like a government site rather than an
  • Political Database of the Americas. This database is mainly a collection of links to information on Mexico's political system. This database is organized around seven major subject headings: (1) Constitution, (2) Electoral System, (3) Civil Society, (4) Political Parties, (5) Executive Institutions, (6) Legislative Institutions and (7) Judicial Institutions. Most links are to primary materials in Spanish. The federal coverage is good, but the state coverage is very limited.

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VIII. NAFTA

  • American Law Sources On-line. This site is a collection links dealing with the legal systems of the NAFTA Countries. The site has introductions to the legal systems of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Mexican Federal and States legal materials are covered. This site is an excellent site for people wanting to be informed about the three NAFTA partners.
  • FASonline. This site belong to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and contains the text of the NAFTA Agreement, plus many more documents relating to NAFTA and agricultural issues. The site has a good search engine that facilitates navigating the site. This is an excellent site for agriculture matters and NAFTA.
  • PRECISA.GOB.MX. This site is dedicated to Mexican Government's Websites and to the Mexican State Governments.
  • United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce. This site is a one-stop shopping center for NAFTA materials. The coverage is comprehensive, and covers the text of the agreement, information on the Mexican Government, information on the Mexican Economy and information on studies dealing with all aspects of NAFTA. The site has an index that facilitates access to the materials that are in English and Spanish. The site also offers links to other NAFTA related sites.
  • NAFTA Facts. This site is, “designed to provide you with convenient access to current trade related documents concerning NAFTA and exporting to Mexico and Canada.” The site is organized around the following heading; North American Free Trade Agreement Series, Announcements/Reports, Doing Business in Mexico, Doing Business in Canada, NAFTA Rules of Origin and Customs Information. The information is in English and kept current. This is a comprehensive site on NAFTA.
  • NAFTA; Mexican Ministry of Economy, Embassy of Mexico, Washington D.C. This is dedicated to, “ promote exports and foreign investment in Mexico, to assist companies to do business with Mexico, and to follow up-to-date Mexico-U.S. trade relations. The site is more business related than legal, but the information is up-to-date and gives good coverage of NAFTA’s legal issues. The information is in English.
  • NAFTA Information; NAFTA Information Center; U.S. Customs Service. This site was created to,” provide the import and export community and the Customs Service with accurate information on NAFTA Agreement”. The site is trilingual and is more business related than legal.
  • United States Immigration Service Center; NAFTA. This site has comprehensive information on the immigrations issues associated with NAFTA. There is information on the procedures and requirements for temporary movement of professionals.

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IX. Overall Coverage of Mexico

  • Latin American Network Information Center. This site offers general comprehensive coverage of Mexico. It also offers a NAFTA site. Legal matters are covered, as well as many other areas of interests. This is a very good site for anyone interested in Mexico, be it legal or non-legal information. This is a very complete site on Mexico and NAFTA.
  • EULBIS; European Latin America Business Information Services. This site is organized around six major headings; Business Sites, Economic & Finance Sites, Government Sites, Infrastructure Sites, Media Sites, Reference Sites. The site offers links to government sites and private sites. Most materials are in Spanish, though there are some English language sites listed. The coverage is very complete overall, but legal materials are the emphasis.
  • Library of Congress; Federal Research Division; Country Studies. This site is not a legal site, but a general information site on Mexico. The history of Mexico is organized in the form of a detailed outline with link to the body of the text for each outline topic. The historical periods covered in the outline go from the pre-conquest of Mexico to the present. The site has a search engine that makes for easy access to the material. The site is updated on a regular and frequent basis. All on-site materials are in English.
  • Department of State; Office of Mexican Affairs. This is the official site of the United States Department of State. The site contains vast amount of information on Mexico on the following topics; Bilateral Relations, Business Information, NAFTA Information, The Mexican Government and on the many websites (links) that have Mexican legal/commercial information. The Country Reports, Commercial Guides, Travel Information Sheets and the Visa Requirements are examples of very useful information found at the site. Information is found both in English and Spanish.
  • Travel to Mexico: Mexico Online; The Online Guide to Mexico. This site is a complete guide to Mexico for tourist and business people interested in Mexico. The links listed provide coverage from legal matters to cultural events. Some of the database links listed are in English while some are in Spanish. This is a very comprehensive site on Mexico.

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X. Free Translation Sites

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