Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Pacta Sunt Servanda Definition:

Latin: agreements must be kept.

In Davis v G.N. Mortgage, the court quite properly described pacta sunt servanda as a "bedrock principle of contract law."

Pacta sunt servanda is a derivative of the most comprehensive principle of pacta conventa quae neque contra leges neque dolo malo inita sunt omnimodo observanda sunt which, according to Latin for Lawyers, means:

"Compacts which are not illegal, and do not originate in fraud, must in all rescepts be observed."

According to Broom, this maxim originated with the civil law (Roman law) and is now part of the common law of contract.

Indeed, §1134 of the 2010 Civil Code of France codifies pacta sunt servanda as follows:

"Agreements lawfully entered into take the place of the law for those who have made them. They may be revoked only by mutual consent, or for causes authorized by law. They must be performed in good faith."

In international law, this maxim suffers from the application of rebus sic stantibus, which allows states to excise themselves from treaties which they had previously endorsed.

However, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) has anticipated this and provides, at §26:

"Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith."


  • Broom, H., A Selection of Legal Maxims, 10th Ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell Ltd., 1939)
  • Davis v GN Mortgage Corp., 244 F. Supp. 2d 950 (2003)
  • Latin for Lawyers, 3rd Ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, Limited, 1960).

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