"The rule of law is only recognisable where the principle of legality prevails and the decisions of independent judges are respected", acknowledged the Spanish jurist Javier Cremades on receiving the National Jurisprudence Award, one of the highest legal awards in the Spanish-speaking world, granted by the Mexican Bar Association.
In presenting the award, Víctor Oléa Peláez, president of Mexico's main bar association, highlighted the professional merits and recognised career of Cremades as one of the most important jurists in the world, who is also the current president of the World Jurist Association.
This is the second time that the National Prize for Jurisprudence, instituted in 1987, has been awarded to a foreigner whose professional merits are "indisputable, notable and eminent".
In his speech, Cremades stated that "in the world reality there are false prophets of freedom who threaten democracies based on respect for the rule of law. Populism, corruption and abuse of power are often disguised with a façade of democratic legitimacy and apparent defence of freedom, although in reality they constitute an assault against the constitutional structure that guarantees peaceful coexistence and the freedom of citizens".
"The law is the only guarantee against the abuse of power. Strict respect for the law by politicians and judges must be monitored"
The Spanish lawyer recalled that "with regard to the threats to the division of powers in Mexico, the World Jurist Association has adopted a declaration signed by more than a thousand jurists from around the world, expressing their concern about the situation in the country by virtue of the constant attacks by the Executive against the Judiciary of the Federation. The struggle for a solid rule of law and strong institutions places its defenders on the right side of history".
Cremades García holds a degree in Law from the UNED and a PhD in Constitutional Law from the University of Regensburg, Germany. He is president and founder of Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo Abogados, one of the most prominent law firms in Spain with presence in 8 countries, has been visiting professor at Stanford University and professor of constitutional law at the UNED. He is the author of 7 books on various legal topics and Doctor Honoris Causa by the International University of Valencia.
The National Jurisprudence Prize awarded annually by the Mexican Bar Association is one of the highest honours a jurist can receive and has been awarded to personalities such as Felipe Tena Ramírez, Héctor Fix Zamudio, Ignacio Burgoa Orihuela, Juventino Castro y Castro, Jesús Zamora Pierce and Donald Francis Donovan, among others.
During the gala, a video tribute was screened with the participation of some of the great legal personalities who have been part of the WJA's revival, showing the great work carried out over the last few years. Stephen Breyer, Justice Emeritus of the Supreme Court of the United States; Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; the former presidents of Latvia, Colombia, Mexico and Spain: Egil Levits, Iván Duque, Ernesto Zedillo and Felipe González; Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor, vice-president and former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; Andrew Young, American leader for Civil Rights, right-hand man of Martin Luther King; and Johann Kriegler, former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, president of the Independent Electoral Commission that achieved the end of Apartheid after Nelson Mandela's triumph, among other prominent figures took part in this video tribute.
Below is the full speech by Javier Cremades:
Dear President of the Mexican Bar, Victor Olea, Ladies and Gentlemen, authorities, friends all. Allow me, first of all, to express my gratitude to all of you, and especially to the General Meeting that was formed for this purpose, for this recognition, which is considered the most distinguished award given to a jurist in the Spanish-speaking world. In the long years of the existence of this National Jurisprudence Award, you have paid tribute, with a strict election system, to the people you have chosen to point out as references to promote the rule of law and the dignity of people through the law. Today it is my turn to pick up the baton of egregious Mexican legal scholars who are - I have been able to meet several of them - masters of law, human and intellectual references of the highest level not only in Mexico, especially all those who were nominated for this year, and in particular Don Alejandro Ogarrio, who, as I was informed, was a finalist on this occasion, and who undoubtedly has all the merits, given his collegiate, academic and professional career that place him as an incomparable reference of the Mexican legal profession. However, I am overwhelmed by the generosity that you have shown me and urged by the life commitment that it means to receive the very important distinction that I have been awarded today. This centenary house, the Mexican Bar Association, is a beloved and respected institution in the five continents. This recognition connects me in a deeply intimate way to its values, links me to its initiatives and positions that have gone around the world and wins me forever. I now feel and know myself to be one of you, my brothers and sisters, the Mexican lawyers. And I want to tell you, as you already know, that your country means to me what it means to many other Spaniards: the most attractive country in the Americas, and a family home where it is easy to feel loved. It is not only your size, that of the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, but also your character and your beautiful heart that make Mexico and Mexicans an ever-desired destination. Allow me to share some reflections on this night that for me, as I know it is for Arancha Calvo-Sotelo, my wife, my son Alvaro, and some of my friends who are with me, such as Aaron Feldman, or Luis Amodio, is going to be unforgettable.
John Locke wrote: "The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge liberty (...) where there is no law, there is no liberty". This is the cry we want to take to the whole world, the sacred duty of all of us who are dedicated to law. In English they say "rule of law", in Spanish we say "Estado de Derecho", but it is the same thing: without the rule of law there is no freedom, (...) "one of the most precious gifts that the heavens have given to men", as El Quixote said. "For freedom, as for honour, one can and must risk one's life". And that is why we are here.
I share with all of you these values, these principles, and these guidelines for action. And I would like to think that this is not an award for my personal career, but a tribute to the principles we share.
These are difficult times. No matter where you look. Ukraine, Israel, Venezuela and so many other places where the rule of law is threatened or suppressed, as is the freedom of citizens.
The World Jurist Association (WJA), which I am honoured to preside, has throughout its fruitful years of professional practice defended the Rule of Law as the only alternative to the rule of force. Only under the rule of law can human beings live in peace and freedom. If we do not submit to the law, the law of the strongest, the jaws of totalitarianism lurk and threaten to devour freedom and coexistence.
The establishment of limits to power and the definition of human dignity as the centre of social values has been a constant concern of humanity. But they have only recently become fully institutionalised values. And it has not been a linear path. We have experienced advances and setbacks, obstacles and accelerators. Because the rule of law is always in danger. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton told us.
Populism, corruption and abuse of power are entrenched evils that have historically impacted the sturdy pillar that houses and supports people's dignity. These evils are often disguised under a façade of democratic legitimacy and apparent defence of freedom, but in reality they constitute a vigorous and effective assault on the constitutional structure that guarantees the peaceful coexistence and freedom of the citizens who reside under its protection.
No matter how much progress we make, we cannot take the final triumph of civilisation for granted, even as an ideal. Let us remember the Weimar suicide, approved by the Reichstag, the great German Parliament, by means of the law of full powers, and a great campaign to intoxicate the population.
Now, in the 21st century, the lambs offered to the great Leviathan are once again human beings. The currency used by tyrants is the life, integrity and happiness of their fellow citizens. The empire of men, of a few men, works day and night and always represents a threat to the rule of the laws, which is where the dignity, freedom and equality of each person can live. That is why it is essential to maintain the intellectual honesty that allows us to detect those who consciously and unconsciously fight against the Rule of Law, and to know the plans that are being hatched against the Rule of Law.
The Rule of Law is an abstract concept, but this is not enough. The law must be clear and determined; legal certainty implies stability of laws, which helps to build confidence in the law and prohibits the retroactivity of criminal or punitive rules, the application of a new law to previous situations. Legal certainty also implies, and this is particularly important, efficient control by a judiciary, by judges, impartial and independent, whose decisions are predictable and circumscribed to the legal order and free from political influences or constraints. The review of legislation by the constitutional judiciary or by the Supreme Court, according to known models of judicial review, culminates the design of the rule of law.
In summary, we could say that the Rule of Law binds, obliges the power of the State to respect human dignity, freedom and democracy, basic values that form a functional unity and are mutually dependent elements. If one element fails, the other elements fail as well. If one element is weakened, the other elements are weakened as well. It is very important, therefore, not only to understand the concepts, but also to protect and enhance them so that it prevails.
Mexico is one of the world's great democracies. The centenary commitment of the Mexican Bar has contributed enormously to this. Mexico is the largest of the Spanish-speaking democracies, with 127 million inhabitants. It has a century-old Constitution and a long tradition of legal institutions.
Among its legal achievements, it was the first country to incorporate social rights in the current Constitution of Querétaro in 1917. It was also a pioneer in introducing the amparo trial or remedy at the constitutional level in the 19th century. This institution has been progressively incorporated in Latin American countries and in a growing number of European, Asian and African constitutions. In fact, "amparo" as an effective remedy for the protection of fundamental rights was enshrined as a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved in Paris (art. 8) in 1948, and in the American Declaration approved in the same year on the occasion of the International American Conference of Bogotá (art. XVIII), which also created the Organisation of American States (OAS).
Mexican judges and lawyers have an enormous responsibility to uphold the rule of law.
That is why the World Jurist Association (WJA), as an association that has been working for more than sixty years defending the Rule of Law at a global level, adopted a Declaration expressing its concern for the Rule of Law in Mexico. This Declaration was signed by more than a thousand jurists from all over the world, and numerous associations and institutions have adhered to it.
The Declaration recalls that the rule of law is not an immutable structure, requiring citizen participation and the due exercise of public power. The WJA called for dialogue between all levels of government, the judiciary and civil society in general, for unity to promote respect for and the supremacy of the rule of law and never the use of force.
Let me say it again: liberal democracy is not about the majority deciding the fate of a society at will. The rule of law does not mean approving any normative text adopted by a parliamentary majority. The rule of law does not exist just because it is claimed to exist. Its presence is only recognisable where the basic pillars referred to above prevail, where the principle of legality prevails and the judicial decisions of independent judges are respected.
Only then does the law provide the legal certainty that characterises it. Certainty about the consequences of one's actions, providing confidence that they will be protected if they comply with the law, and predictability with regard to the reaction of the public authorities.
The public authority cannot adopt measures that are contrary to the hope induced by the reasonable stability of its decisions, and on the basis of which individuals have taken certain decisions. Or, in other words, the virtuality of the principle must entail the annulment or ineffectiveness of an act of the executive power or of the public administration that infringes it or the recognition of the obligation of the latter to respond to the alteration produced without prior knowledge, without sufficient transitional measures to enable the subjects to adapt their conduct and without the due corrective or compensatory measures, where appropriate, for the alterations produced without respecting the usual and stable circumstances, which generate well-founded hopes of maintenance.
The rule of law thus becomes an institutional precondition for economic development. It is up to the rule of law to create the conditions for the legal system to be predictable in that it clarifies and guarantees property rights and provides institutional backing for the proper enforcement of private and public contracts. It must also provide conditions of legal stability through an effective framework for the division of public powers whose proper functioning, in particular through a judicial system, lends credibility to government policies and regulations. In short, such an institutional framework should reduce transaction costs and thereby facilitate and expand market transactions. The stability and predictability associated with the rule of law seek to create a climate in which business risk is rationally assessed and transaction costs are reduced.
There are many countries in which democracy is or has been the victim of rust and where only shock treatment and then continued vigilance can safeguard the treasure of breathing the oxygen that only the rule of law can produce.
Respecting, defending and strengthening the rule of law is in itself a call to build fairer and more inclusive societies for women, uneducated and unemployed youth, and the most fragile people in society. In an inexorably globalised society, where development depends largely on human capital, the protection of entrepreneurs and the knowledge economy, the Rule of Law represents one of the pillars that enable innovation, growth and the development of citizens.
The rule of law remains fragile in many regions of the world, characterised by vulnerabilities and continuous adaptation. Today, as a result of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the deep wounds caused by the conflict in Ukraine, Israel's war against Hamas, the growing distrust of institutions, environmental challenges and the imperative need to move towards renewable energy sources to ensure the energy sustainability of nations, new landscapes emerge that require creative and insightful responses. Once again, the rule of law is challenged to reinvent itself to avoid succumbing to contemporary temptations of populism, corruption and abuse of power.
In this constant struggle for the preservation of the Rule of Law, the Mexican Bar has the responsibility to persevere in its commitment to safeguard this legacy, which guarantees the freedom and fundamental rights of citizens.
Naturally, jurists tend to analyse these realities from the point of view of individual rights and the rest of the values that inspire modern liberal democracies. But it is also necessary to talk about the correlation between the rule of law and economic development.
A country's wealth depends not so much on its natural resources as on the quality of its institutions. Dozens of countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America have enormous natural resources that could have helped them to achieve extraordinary economic and social development. However, many of them remain at unacceptable levels of poverty. They need all kinds of help from developed countries, but, above all, they need strong institutions, advanced rule of law, real quality democracies.
By this I mean that our fight for a strong rule of law and strong institutions puts us on the right side of history. This is for moral, legal, but also economic reasons. May this idea find its way into the places where it is in crisis. May the struggle we are engaged in ever lose its meaning. May these values and principles ever be recognised as universal.
My friends, I will end now. Aristotle said that "At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst". I invite you all to renew our commitment to the values that define our legal vocation. The very existence of liberal democracies depends on it.
Many thanks to the Mexican Bar Association for this great recognition.
Many thanks to its president
Many thanks to all Mexican lawyers.
World Jurist Association
The World Jurist Association was founded in 1963 in the United States with the mission of achieving a world governed by law and not by force. It is an open forum for judges, lawyers, academics, legislators, law students and other professionals involved in the world of law and the defence of human rights. It is a Non-Governmental Organisation, in special consultative status with the United Nations, present in 85 countries.
World Law Foundation
The World Law Foundation was created as a result of the Madrid Declaration of 2019, proclaimed during the World Law Congress with the aim of reinforcing the work of promoting the rule of law as a guarantor of freedom that the World Jurist Association has been doing since 1957. The foundation promotes dialogue and harmony among nations and regions of the world, encouraging the use of law, respect and defence of individual freedoms. It also promotes and disseminates respect for the law as an instrument for defending world peace in international relations between states.