It is important for manufacturers and other businesses with any potential ties to or dealings with Mexico to have a basic understanding of the Mexican legal system. Doing business in Mexico means direct or indirect dealings with its legal apparatus, even if business activities do not actually take place within the country’s borders. If manufacturers and other business are to accomplish their goals, it is useful for them to have an awareness of how the Mexican legal system differs from the one in which they are used to conducting business.
The fundamental difference between the Mexican legal system, and that of the United States, is that Mexico is a “civil law” country while the U.S. is a “common law” country. While the US system is based on case law and statutory law from England and the early American colonies, Mexico’s system is derived mainly from Roman law as set forth in the compilation of codes and statutes called Corpus Juris Civilis and later refined in the Napoleonic Code of 1804. While the US system relies to a large extent upon the precedent of the past, case law is only sparsely consulted in Mexico.
From taxation to labor to financial service law, Mexico’s administrative law dictates that regulatory agencies frequently issue binding rulings and regulations that have the weight of case law similar to that found in the US. Becoming more and more important in Mexico, the dynamic and diverse body of Mexican administrative law is slowly overtaking the more staid institutions of Mexico’s traditional civil law system.
One advantage to the Mexican legal system is that the full body of Mexican law in any particular area is more easily defined than in US law. While lawyers and business people in the United States must supplement what a statute says by citing cases interpreting the statute a certain way, in Mexico, lawyers merely study the applicable legal provisions, as well as court decisions limited to a very specific area.
The court system in Mexico distinguishes between courts of “ordinary jurisdiction” (including, civil, commercial, and criminal jurisdiction) and administrative courts or courts of “special jurisdiction.” Courts of ordinary jurisdiction include federal courts and state courts, including the Mexican Supreme Court and circuit courts. Below these are minor courts of special jurisdiction, such as the family courts and bankruptcy courts. Administrative courts are of particular importance to manufacturers in that they hear matters pertaining to labor and workplace issues.
Litigation is for both parties in Mexico, therefore, it is limited. Mexico also does not have jury trials, and accused parties in criminal cases are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Judges handle matters such as evidence gathering and witness selection.
Concerning contract law, under the Mexican legal system, while a valid contract requires that one party receive something of value or that the other take on a responsibility, or give up an opportunity as consideration as well, in Mexico, the validity of a contract depends only on an agreement existing between the parties.
Also, while guarantee agreements can exist in the United States without a prior principal contract, as in the case of a standard security agreement, Mexico’s legal system is not quite the same. They consider contracts like these to be “secondary contracts,” because they require the prior existence of a principal contract.
Although under the Tecma Group of Companies, Mexico Shelter Manufacturing Partnership (MSMP) companies are operating within the framework of a contractual agreement executed in the United States, a basic awareness of the differences between the Mexican legal system and that of the United States can be useful to all companies doing business in Mexico.