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Lex non cogiy ad impossibilia

Lex non cogiy ad impossibilia

Literal Meaning

The law does not compel the impossible




The doctrine literally means that the law doesn’t compel to make to do anything which is impossible. The origin of this maxim can be traced back to ancient Roman Law. In Hughey v. JMS Development, Justice Owens of the United States Court of Appeals explained that the law does not require impossibilities. The term “lex” means law, “non” means does not, “cogit” means compel, “ad” means to and “impossibilia” means impossible. Together, the maxim signifies that the law does not compel a person to achieve the impossible.

The core elements of this maxim include-

  • Practical Application- The legal principle of lex non cogit ad impossibilia is relevant in different legal situations, including contract law and administrative law. This principle guarantees that parties would not be held accountable for non-executing their duties due to uncontrollable circumstances.
  • Judicial Discretion- It is upon the court’s discretion decided whether the said application of impossibility is valid or not. There are certain factors which help in evaluating the defense of impossibility, these includes, the nature of impossibility, foreseeability of the event and the conduct of the party.
  • Fairness and Reasonableness- The Law must be just and fair and keeping this principle in mind, the legal maxim has been implemented.

Application of Lex non cogiy ad impossibilia

  • Contract Law- During the frustration of contract or in the event of imposition of force majure clause, this legal principle is applied under the Indian Contract Act, 1872. In the case of, Satyabrata Ghose v. Mugneeram Bangur & Co.[1], the Supreme Court of India held that when the performance of a contract becomes impossible due to circumstances beyond the control of the parties, the contract is rendered void under Section 56 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872.
  • Administrative Law- Under Administrative law, this legal maxim serves as a defense for the individual or public authorities that are unable to comply with the requirements due to unforeseen circumstances. In the case of the State of Rajasthan v. Shamsher Singh[2], the Supreme Court of India acknowledged that an administrative requirement that cannot be met due to practical impossibilities should not be enforced.
  • Criminal Law- Under criminal law, this legal maxim stands as a defence for those individuals who fails to perform their part of an act because they do not have the capacity to perform. In re A.K. Gopalan[3], the Supreme Court of India emphasized that penal laws should not demand the impossible and that individuals should not be held criminally liable for failing to perform acts that were impossible under the circumstances.

Criticism of Lex non cogiy ad impossibilia

  • Determining the Impossibility- Determining the impossibility of a duty can be a challenging task. There may be variable results from the decision because it frequently includes subjective judgment.
  • Foreseeability- If the impossibility was predictable and preventable, this concept does not apply. It can be difficult for the parties to prove that the impossibility was unexpected and beyond their control.
  • Principle of Abuse- One of the main limitations of this maxim, lex non cogit ad impossibilia is the possibility of abuse. Parties may rely on impossibility as a defense to the performance of legal obligations. Courts must carefully scrutinize such claims to avoid abuse.


Lex non-cogit ad impossibilia is a fundamental legal principle that supports the justice and rationality of the legal system. Recognizing that the law cannot compel the impossible, it ensures that legal obligations remain just and fair. Although there are problems with its application, such as the potential for abuse and the difficulty of determining factual impossibility, the principle remains a fundamental safeguard against unfair claims. Courts must continue to apply this principle judiciously and ensure that it fulfills its purpose of promoting fairness and justice in the administration of law.

[1] Satyabrata Ghose v. Mugneeram Bangur & Co. (1954) SCR 310

[2] State of Rajasthan v. Shamsher Singh (1985) 1 SCC 612

[3] In re A.K. Gopalan (1950) SCR 88

Also Read: 
Rights of undertrial prisoners in India
How To Send A Legal Notice In India

Sarita Gupta
Sarita Gupta
I graduated and secured Third Rank under my University. Currently, I am pursuing my post graduation in Law with dual specialization in Constitutional Law and Cyber Law.
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