Law and Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 729-749

First online:

The Structure of Conflicts of Fundamental Legal Rights

  • David Martinez-ZorrillaAffiliated withDepartment of Law and Political Science, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya Email author 

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In recent years, the most widespread doctrine about the conflicts between fundamental (usually constitutional) legal rights could be summarized in the following three main theses: (1) The elements in conflict are legal principles, as opposed to legal rules; (2) Those conflicts are not consequences of the existence of inconsistencies or antinomies between the norms involved, but rather depend on the empirical circumstances of the case. In other words, the norms are logically consistent and the conflicts are not determinable a priori or in abstracto, but only in concreto; and (3) The classical criteria for solving conflicts between norms, such as lex superior, lex posterior and lex specialis, are not suitable to solve conflicts among fundamental legal rights. Indeed, they require a specific method known as ‘weighing and balancing’. Although all three theses could be (and indeed have been) regarded as problematic, in this paper I address mainly the second one. I try to show that there is room for a tertium genus between antinomies (deontic inconsistencies) and conflicts caused by strict empirical circumstances that I call ‘contextual antinomies’. There are situations in which the norms involved are not inconsistent but the conflict arises for logical reasons. My thesis is that many conflicts between fundamental legal rights fall in this category. I offer, in an appendix, a proposal of formalization of this kind of conflict and the elements involved in it.