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"We have guarded against the dangerous ambition of wishing to regulate and to foresee everything.

"A new question springs up. Then how is it to be decided?

"To this question is replied that the office of the law is to fix by enlarged rules the general maxims of right and wrong, to establish firm principles fruitful in

Jean-Etienne Portalis

consequences, and not to descend to the detail of all questions which may arise upon each particular topic."

So spoke Jean-Etienne Portalis, one of the authors of the historic 1804 Civil Code of France.

These words have been referred to by Halsbury in his Laws of England as well as by courts of law when, upon occasion, they explain why they decline to make too bold a statement of the law in disposing of a particular issue before it.

For example, the quotation was contained in the much-cited 1934 House of Lords case In Re Piracy Jure Gentium as an explanation why the court, after thoroughly canvassing the question, declined to offer a precise definition of the word piracy. The court wanted the term to remain flexible.