Today, there are literally hundreds of online resources which contain information on Mexican law (and related subjects) with varying degrees of authoritativeness, accuracy and accessibility.
The prolific and varied universe of Mexican law freely available on the Internet may fall into these major categories:
- Official and legal information on Mexican legal materials provided by Mexico's Federal Government. This is the most reliable, accurate and authoritative source;
- Information provided by each of Mexico's thirty-one States (ranging alphabetically from Aguascalientes to Zacatecas). Most of it tends to be of an administrative and promotional nature rather than legal;
- Mexican academic information from UNAM's (National Autonomous University of Mexico) Legal Research Institute. Rich, varied and comprehensive information on the most important Mexican legal subjects, disciplines and materials;
- Information provided by U.S. governmental, research and academic institutions. It is varied, qualitatively uneven and a bit repetitive; and
- Information provided by a few international organizations, which is very limited and subject-oriented.1
Surfing the Internet looking for the best web sites on Mexican law may take long hours in front of a computer without any guarantee of finding the right answer to a Mexican law inquiry. Thus, searching for the desired or needed information may be a taxing and sterile effort, especially when one considers that most Internet sites purporting to provide information on Mexican law tend to be of a mediocre quality, with poor English translations, and legal texts that are incomplete, outdated, inaccurate, and usually have no reference to any legal source.
This electronic guide has been prepared to assist anyone interested in having prompt and expeditious access to the best Internet web sites on Mexican law. These web sites are considered to be "the best" because the legal information contained in them is accurate, reliable, relatively current and authoritative, based upon the prestige and reputation of the sponsoring entities. These entities are government agencies and major academic institutions from Mexico and the United States.
Although surfing the Internet in search of domestic and foreign legal information has become a preferred strategy among law students and legal practitioners, as far as Mexican law information is concerned, it should be noted that printed materials published by reputable companies in the United States2 and Mexico3 continue to be the best and most authoritative sources of Mexican legal materials.
1.1 An Overview of Mexico's Legal System
Mexico's contemporary legal system emerge as a result of the 1910 revolution and the subsequent promulgation of its Federal Constitution on February 5, 1917 (entering into force three months later). Although historically influenced by the legal systems of Spain, France, and the United States, Mexico has been able to structure and maintain a distinct legal system that incorporates truly unique Mexican components. Let it suffice to mention these leading examples: the institution of "Amparo," established to protect the constitutional rights of individuals and companies against violations from public authorities; the notion of "social rights" found in Article 123 of the Constitution enumerating the rights of workers as a social class; and the collective land tenure system of the "Ejido," whose original objective was altered by an amendment to Article 27 of the Constitution in 1994.
Mexico's territorial area is about three times the size of Texas (almost two million square kilometers or 761,600 square miles), inhabited today by 104 million Mexicans (Mestizos 60%, Indian 30%, Other 10%). Although this country is endowed with important and varied natural resources, about 53% of the Mexican population lives in poverty (including all of the fifty-six Indigenous ethnic groups, many of them living in abject poverty). Mexico's treatment of its Indigenous populations and a devastatingly unfair distribution of national wealth constitute two of its major social and economic problems.
Unlike the United States, Mexico has no jury trials; no application of the principle of stare decisis; no class action suits; no Bar Exam for Mexican attorneys; no professional regulation of attorneys by state or local Bar Associations; no discovery; no elected judges; legal education is at the undergraduate level and consists of five years; and "notaries" (Notarios Públicos).
Mexico is undergoing a process of modernizing its legal system, especially in the areas of foreign investment, commercial transactions and international trade. As a result of the substantial increase of business and trade since NAFTA became effective in 1994, certain Mexican legal areas, which were under the exclusive control of the Federal Government, are now being updated and privatized. This closer commercial relationship recently developed by Mexico with the United States has led some commentators to suggest that the Mexican legal system is being subject to a gradual but pervasive process of "Americanization."
A Federal Power divided into three Branches
Patterned after the United States, Mexico is a federal republic, representative and democratic, composed of thirty-one free and sovereign states in matters regarding their internal regime but united in a federation pursuant to the Federal Constitution (Art. 41, Fed Const.). The "Supreme Power of the Federation" is divided into three branches: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial (Art. 49, Fed. Const.).
A. The Legislative
The Legislative is deposited in a General Congress, divided into two chambers: one of Deputies (Diputados) and the other of Senators (Senadores). The Chamber of Deputies is formed of 500 members elected in totality every three years (last election: July 6, 2003). The Senate is formed of 128 members, renewed in totality every six years. Both deputies and senators are inviolable for their opinions (Arts. 51, 52, 56 and 61, Fed. Const.).
The Federal Congress is responsible for all the acts and regulations that govern the commercial and business activities of foreign investors and entrepreneurs in Mexico. Most of these legislative enactments are generated in the Executive. Congress has exclusive and broad authority to legislate in a very large number of areas, both in substance and scope (Art. 73, Fed. Const.).
B. The Executive
The "President of the United Mexican States" is the head of the Executive. The President is directly elected by the citizens of Mexico as mandated by the electoral laws. He initiates his office on December 1, and remains if office for six years. Mexico has no Vice-President. In Mexico, the principle of "no reelection" is of paramount importance and applies to all public officials at the federal and state levels (Arts. 80-81, Fed. Const.).
The President appoints the eighteen members (Secretarios de Estado) of his presidential cabinet. He has the exclusive power to conduct Mexico's foreign affairs in accordance with the explicit "normative principles" enunciated by the Federal Constitution (Art. 89, paras. II and X, Fed. Const.). The Executive is responsible for a large percentage (more than 80%) of the legislative bills submitted to Congress.
During a period of seventy-one years, Mexico's presidential elections were systematically won by the candidates of Mexico's official party: PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party). This undemocratic status changed in July 2000 when the presidential candidate of the major opposition party, PAN (National Action Party), Vicente Fox Quesada, was elected. Federal elections in Mexico are controlled by the IFE (Federal Electoral Institute) formed by representatives of all the officially authorized political parties. Today, Mexico has eleven political parties; the following three carry the most power and influence: PAN, PRI and PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). Presidential elections will next be held in July 2006.
C. The Judicial
The "Judicial Power of the Federation" is vested in the Supreme Court of Justice, the Electoral Tribunal, the Collegiate and Unitary Circuit Tribunals, and the District Courts (Art. 94, Fed. Const.). The Organic Act of the Judicial Power regulates the activities of the Judicial Power of the Federation.
The Supreme Court is composed of eleven Justices (Ministros) who function in Plenary sessions (En banc) and in Chambers (Salas). The President submits a list of three candidates to the Senate when there is a Supreme Court vacancy. Each Justice serves for fifteen years and may only be removed as provided by the Federal Constitution in Title IV: Responsibilities of Public Servants (Arts. 108-114, Fed. Const.).
The Federal Council of the Judiciary, with the exception of the Supreme Court, is empowered to administer, supervise and discipline the Judicial Power of the Federation.
Federal courts are exclusively empowered to exercise jurisdiction over "Amparo" cases, as directed by a reglementary federal statute derived from Articles 103 and 107 of the Federal Constitution: the Amparo Act (D.O. of January 10, 1936, as amended).
Each of the thirty-one states has its own civil and criminal courts, organized in accordance with the respective State Judicial Power Act. At the local level, appellate cases are decided by a Superior Tribunal of the State, formed by three Magistrates and located in the state capital, which is the venue of the state powers.
Cases decided by these courts apply "the law" enunciated in the State codes, containing both substantive and procedural laws, which closely resembles in substance and format the corresponding federal codes.
Federal and State courts suffer a multitude of grievous problems. These problems include: corruption of judges and administrative personnel; inefficiency and incompetency of judges and personnel; lack of sufficient and modern technical equipment due to very limited budgets; and inadequate installations. Federal judges and courts are the best and most efficient, with relatively larger budgets and modern technical equipment, due in large part to the excellent work of the Council of the Federal Judiciary.
Recently, Mexico has enacted a number of federal statutes dealing with organized crime; rights of handicapped persons, elderly people, children and teenagers; e-commerce; domestic violence; anti-discrimination; transparency and public access to government information, etc.
1.2 Mexican Law Information in Spanish
From a substantive viewpoint, the best resources are in Spanish and consist of the official web sites (i.e., electronic portals) sponsored by Mexican institutions at the official (federal and state), academic, and private levels.
The very best information on Mexican law is found in the electronic portals sponsored by the Government of Mexico at the federal level. These portals merit special recognition for their authoritativeness, attractive presentation and current legal content. All of them are easy to navigate and contain excellent legal and official information.5
Legislación Federal de México (Federal Legislation of Mexico). This site is sponsored by the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies) and gives access to the official texts of 214 federal statutes, the most important federal codes, legislative enactments for the Federal District (Mexico City), and the Federal Constitution of 1917, as amended.
Cámara de Senadores (Senate of the Republic). This site (recently updated, June 2003), is sponsored by the Mexican Senate. The sections of special legal interest are: (1) Legal Framework (Marco Jurídico). It contains a list of the "Statutes and Decrees" (Leyes y Decretos) passed between September 2000 and April 2003. The current text of the Federal Constitution is also available; (2) Legislative bills sent by the Executive to the Senate; (3) Texts of all the treaties and international conventions approved by the Senate; and (4) International Parliamentary Relations (Relaciones Parlamentarias Internacionales).
Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación. This site is sponsored by the Supreme Court of the Nation and makes available the Ejecutorias and Jurisprudencias rendered by both the Supreme Court and the Circuit Collegiate Courts from 1917 through 1996, updated monthly since 1996. In addition, this site contains federal statutes, international treaties, 367 federal legal norms, and the text of the Federal Constitution of 1917, as amended, as well as historic information about the Supreme Court, press releases and miscellaneous administrative information.
Presidencia de la República. This official and award winning site is sponsored by the Presidency of Mexico. The Spanish version is the most complete, with summaries in English and French. It is not a legal web site; however, it features the President's activities, special programs, press releases, and a historic archive of presidential speeches, both domestic and international. Occasionally, this site includes information on legal subjects, legislation, international treaties and conferences, and bilateral meetings between Mexico and the United States.
"Precisa" is an electronic clearinghouse to access federal agencies. This is not a legal web site; however, it is the most comprehensive and useful site providing access to all the numerous agencies of Mexico's Federal Public Administration. Pursuant to Article 49 of the Federal Constitution the government is divided into three branches: the Executive, the Judicial and the Legislative. This site claims to have links to 2,400 governmental agencies. The site recently added access to government public information in compliance with the Act for Transparency and Access to Public Governmental Information (Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Gubernamental).6
Diario Oficial de la Federación (Federal Official Gazette) This web site is sponsored by the Secretariat of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación) which is the federal agency empowered to publish in the Federal Official Gazette (known by its Spanish abbreviations D.O. or DOF). Each and every legislative enactment passed by the Federal Congress must be published in the D.O. in order to enter into force at a given date and thus be legally binding throughout the Republic of Mexico.
The Secretariat of the Interior (Segob) maintains an archive of all the Diarios Oficiales published by the Federal government since 1917. Access to a given legislative enactment (i.e., statute, regulations, amendment, etc.) must be conducted based on either: (1) the name or title of the enactment; or (2) the date of its publication in the D.O.
The individual web sites of each of the eighteen Secretariats of State as well as those of the Administrative Departments, which constitute Mexico's centralized public administration (Administración Pública Centralizada)7, may be consulted to access general and administrative information - not legal information on Mexican law per se - relative to the specific functions, attributions, and programs of each of these secretariats and departments.
These Mexican Secretariats compose the Presidential Cabinet (Gabinete Presidencial) and are the counterparts of the U.S. federal departments.
Turning now from the official, governmental portals, to the world of academia, the best and most complete information by a Mexican academic institution on Mexican law is available at: www.juridicas.unam.mx
This site is sponsored by the renowned Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas (Legal Research Institute or IIJ) of Mexico's National Autonomous University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México or UNAM) in Mexico City. This site makes available the texts of each of Mexico's thirty-one State Constitutions, federal statutes, Jurisprudencias, and an International Legal Navigator (Navegador Jurídico Internacional), as well as academic books, law review articles, bibliographies, etc. A rich and varied section titled: "Virtual Law Library" (Biblioteca Jurídica Virtual) on Mexican law academic materials has been recently added.8
For those legal practitioners, judges and magistrates, government officials, academicians, law students and researchers who are fluent in Spanish and are familiar with Mexico's legal and political system, these official electronic portals, as well as the IIJ's web site, are a must and should be consulted first. Unquestionably, these are the best web sites on Mexican law today.
1.3 Mexican Law Information in English
There are also resources online in the English language which provide information on Mexican law; however, the legal content of most of these sites tends to be severely limited with respect to, for example, the quality of the English translation, the accuracy and validity of the legal text, and the authoritativeness of the Mexican source.
Unfortunately for monolingual U.S. researchers, only a minimal number of Mexican legal materials are currently available in the English language, which may be considered current, reliable and authoritative. The best sites in English on Mexican law are listed in the corresponding sections of this Note.9
Thus, any Mexican law information in English which has been taken from an on line site (especially if the site is not officially sponsored by the Government of Mexico), should be handled with caution. If said information is to be utilized to prepare a legal opinion, for example, or used in relation with any judicial, criminal, or administrative proceedings; or if it is to be submitted to a U.S. authority; or be cited or analyzed in a law book, an academic work or a law review article, it is imperative to first ascertain its accuracy, validity and authoritativeness.
This article (Electronic Guide to the Best Mexican Law Web Sites) was posted in early January 2004 in the electronic website LLRX (www.llrx.com) thanks to the generosity of Ms. Sabrina I. Pacifici.