Ignorantia juris non excusat

Ignorantia juris non excusat means "ignorance of the law excuses not." Ignorantia legis neminem excusat means "ignorance of law excuses no one." Other versions are: nemo censetur ignorare legem (nobody is thought to be ignorant of the law) and ignorantia iuris nocet (not knowing the law is harmful).

The above Latin maxims are a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content. Article 3 of the Civil Code of the Philippines adopts this principle; it says, "Ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith."

The rationale of the doctrine is that if ignorance were an excuse, a person charged with criminal offenses or a subject of a civil lawsuit would merely claim that one was unaware of the law in question to avoid liability, even if that person really does know what the law in question is. This is because knowledge and ignorance are a state of mind which, based on our current technology, cannot be proved satisfactorily.

Even if we do have the technology to get into a person's mind and know if he did have knowledge of the law at the time of its violation, certain constitutional restrictions may bar the legality of such method. It must be recalled that the rule against self-incrimination protects the accused from extractions from him of matters which are not purely mechanical in nature. Knowledge is not a purely mechanical thing.

The rule of ignorance of the law is a matter of convenience. There would be chaos if the rule were otherwise. Even if there is, occasionally, someone who really does not know the law at the time of violation, society is best preserved by presuming him knowledgeable thereof.

The law imputes knowledge of all laws to all persons within the jurisdiction no matter how transiently. Two things must be kept in mind here. First, "within the jurisdiction" means only Philippine laws because foreign laws are not laws in the Philippines. They must be proved as a matter of fact in a court of law. Second, "transiently" here means even those who merely sojourn in the Philippine Islands are charged with the knowledge of all existing laws .

Even though it would be impossible, even for someone with substantial legal training, to be aware of every law in operation in every aspect of a government's activities, this is the price paid to ensure that willful blindness cannot become the basis of exculpation. Thus, it is well settled that persons engaged in any undertakings outside what is common for a normal person, such as running a nuclear power plant, will make themselves aware of the laws necessary to engage in that undertaking. If they do not, they cannot complain if they incur liability.

The rule is not only justified by convenience and necessity but also by the fact that every person takes care of his affairs in a regular manner. A person engaged in sale of products and services should be aware of laws that regulate his trade. A person who enters into a contract of marriage should know the consequences and incidences thereof.
Here comes the big "however." The doctrine assumes that the law in question has been properly promulgated—published and distributed, for example, by being printed in a government gazette, made available over the internet, or printed in volumes available for sale to the public at affordable prices. In the Philippines, laws take effect after 15 days following the completion of their publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines, unless it is otherwise provided. (Article 2 of the Civil Code)

In the ancient phrase of Gratian, "Leges instituuntur cum promulgantur" or "laws are instituted when they are promulgated").

In order that a law obtain the binding force which is proper to a law, it must be applied to the men who have to be ruled by it. Such application is made by their being given notice by promulgation. A law can bind only when it is reasonably possible for those to whom it applies to acquire knowledge of it in order to observe it, even if actual knowledge of the law is absent for a particular individual. A secret law is no law at all.

The above paragraph is echoed by a landmark case: TaƱada v. Tuvera. In said case, the Supreme Court held: "Laws must come out in the open in the clear light of the sun instead of skulking in the shadows with their dark, deep secrets. Mysterious pronouncements and rumored rules cannot be recognized as binding unless their existence and contents are confirmed by a valid publication intended to make full disclosure and give proper notice to the people. The furtive law is like a scabbarded saber that cannot feint, parry or cut unless the naked blade is drawn." (G.R. No. L-63915)

The Court added: "The days of the secret laws and the unpublished decrees are over. This is once again an open society, with all the acts of the government subject to public scrutiny and available always to public cognizance. This has to be so if our country is to remain democratic, with sovereignty residing in the people and all government authority emanating from them." (G.R. No. L-63915)

The discussion above is based on an outline by "Ignorantia juris non excusat". From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignorantia_juris_non_excusat.

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