– Legal dictionary

Legal Terms.

A handy dictionary from the London Times.



Abatement: The legal right to remove a nuisance following a reasonable notice period to the wrongdoer or the reduction of a legacy if the deceased has not left enough money to pay in full.

Absolute Privilege: Protects a person from being sued for defamation in certain circumstances eg a judge in court or an MP making comments in the House of Commons.

Absolute Title: Land registered with the Land Registry where the owner has a guaranteed title to the land.

Accord and Satisfaction: The payment by a debtor of a debt or part of a debt.

Acknowledgement of Service: A document whereby a defendant confirms that a claim form or other legal document has been received and that he or she intends to contest the claim.

Actual Bodily Harm: The offence of causing injury to an individual by attacking them which does not have to be a serious injury but more be more than a scratch.

Agent Provocateur: Someone who sets up an individual by provoking him or her to commit a crime in order to have this individual arrested.

Aiding and Abetting: Helping someone to commit a crime.

Amicus Curiae: A friend of the court. A lawyer who does not represent any of the parties but who contributes by giving information to the court.

Assault: The crime of behaving in a way to make someone believe they will be attacked and hurt. Assault is the threat of violence not the act.


Bankrupt: When a court declares an individual is not capable of clearing debts.

Bar Council: The body which rules English and Welsh barristers.

Barrister: A lawyer who can argue a case in one of the higher courts.

Beddoe order: A court order allowing a trustee to bring or defend an action and to recover any resulting costs from the trust property.

Breach of confidence: The release of confidential information without permission.

Bullock order: Where a claimant joins two defendants together because he is unsure who is liable, he may be able to obtain an order against the unsuccessful defendant to pay the costs.

Burden of Proof: The obligation of proving that facts alleged in court is true.


Canon law: Law from the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches which applies to priests.

Caution: A warning from a police officer warning someone not to repeat a minor crime.

Caveat emptor: Latin phrase ‘Let the buyer beware’ meaning that the buyer is responsible personally for looking after his own interests.

Chambers: Where a collection of barristers work together, sharing the same staff.

Child in care: A child in the care of the local authority social services department.

Co-respondent: A named party to divorce proceedings who has committed adultery with another person.

Collaborative Divorce: A divorce where both sets of lawyers agree with both spouses in an amicable environment the terms of the divorce before presenting it to a judge for rubber-stamping. If the parties do not agree, they both have to appoint new solicitors.

Committal: Sending someone to a court or a prison.

Committal Order: An order sending someone to prison for a contempt of court offence.

Committal Proceedings: A preliminary oral hearing of the evidence in a magistrates’ court to see if the case is serious enough to be tried before a jury in a higher court.

Conditional Fee: A fee which is only paid if the case is won.

Consequential Damage: Damage suffered through using a piece of equipment or software.

Copyright: A property right (transmissible by assignment) belonging to an author, artist, filmmaker or musician to not to have their work copied by others.


Data Protection: Protecting information such as records of people stored in a computer from being stored or used wrongly.

Debenture: A document whereby a company acknowledges it owes a debt and gives the company’s assets as security.

Dilatory plea: A plea by a defendant relating to a jurisdiction of the court which delays the action.

Discovery of documents: Disclosure of each party’s documents before a civil hearing starts.

Due Diligence: Carrying out a duty as efficiently as possible.

Duty solicitor: A solicitor on duty at a magistrates’ court who can be contacted by individuals in for questioning or under arrest at the police station or by a party appearing at that court.


Easement: A right which someone has to make use of land belonging to someone else for a purpose such as a path.

Embezzle: To steal or use illegally money which you are responsible for as part of your work.

Emergency Protection Order: A court order which gives a local authority or the NSPCC the right to remove a child from its parents for a period of eight days with the right to apply for a seven-day extension.

Equitable lien: The right of someone to hold property which legally he or she does not own until the owner pays money due.

Estoppel: A rule of evidence where someone is prevented from denying or asserting a fact in legal proceedings which he made previously.

Ex parte: Latin phrase ‘on behalf of’ meaning an application pursued by one side only.


Fair Comment: A defence to a claim for defamation, where the defendant shows the words were fir and honestly made on a matter of public interest.

Fair dismissal: Where an employee has been dismissed from employment lawfully for one of the following reasons: capability; qualifications or conduct; illegality ; redundancy or some other substantial reason.

Fair Use: Where a quotation can be used legally from a copyright text without the permission of the copyright owner.

Family Division: Deals with divorce cases and cases involving parents and children.

Federal Court: The court of law for the US, different from state courts or state laws.

Fee Simple: Freehold ownership of land with no restrictions.

Fee tail: A legal interest in land which is passed on to the owner’s direct descendants and which cannot be passed to anyone else.

Felony: A serious crime.

Fence: Someone who receives stolen goods.

Fiat justitia: ‘let justice be done’

Fiduciary: Involving trust or confidence.

Financial Provision Order: An order made on or after the granting of a decree of divorce or annulment, providing for a financial settlement between the parties.

Financial Relief: Any or all of the financial orders available during family proceedings eg maintenance pending suit orders or financial provision orders.

First degree murder: The premeditated and deliberate killing of a person.

Force majeure: Something which is out of the control of the parties who have signed a contract, for example a war, which prevents the contract being fulfilled.

Foreclosure: To take possession of a property for a debt that the owner cannot pay and for which he has used the property as security.

Forgery and Uttering: A notifiable offence of forging and then using an official document such as a prescription.

Freehold: The right to hold property for an unlimited time without paying rent.


Game licence: An official permit which allows someone to sell game.

Garden Leave: A clause in employment contracts preventing an employee going to work during the course of a notice period. During this time, they remain an employee of the company and receive a salary.

Garnish: To tell a debtor to pay his or her debts to a creditor of the creditor who has a judgement.

Garnishee: A person who owes money to a creditor and is ordered by the court to pay that money to a creditor of the creditor and not to the original creditor.

GBH: Grevious Bodily Harm.

General Lien: The holding of goods or a property until a debt has been paid.

Get: A Jewish divorce, where the husband agrees to a divorce which the wife has requested.

Gillette defence: A defence against a claim for infringement of patent, by which the defendant claims they were using the process before it was patented.

Grant of letters of administration: The giving of documents to administrators to enable them to administer the estate of a dead person who has not made a will.

Grant of probate: An official document proving that a will is genuine, given to the executors so that they can act on the terms of the will.

Gross indecency: A crime entailing unlawful sexual conduct between men or with a child which falls short of full sexual intercourse.

Gross negligence: Showing very serious neglect of duty towards other people.

Ground landlord: A person or company which owns the freehold of a property which is then leased and subleased.

Ground lease: The first lease on a freehold building.

Guardian: An adult person or an authority such as the High Court appointed by law to act on behalf of a someone such as a child who cannot act on his or her own behalf.

Guardian ad litem: A person who acts on behalf of a minor who is a defendant in a case.


Habeas corpus: A legal remedy against being wrongly imprisoned.

Head lease: The first lease given by a freeholder to a tenant.

Head licence: The first licence given by the owner of a patent or copyright to someone who will use it.

Heads of agreement: A draft agreement outlining all the key points but not the details.

Hearsay evidence: Evidence by a witness who heard it from another source but did not witness the acts personally.

Heir presumptive: An heir who will inherit if a person dies at this moment but whose inheritance may be altered in the future.

High Court: The main civil court in England and Wales based on the six circuits.

Hybrid offence: An offence which can be tried either by magistrates or by a judge and jury.


Implied contract: An agreement which is considered to be a contract because the parties or the law intended it to be a contract.

Implied malice: The intention to create grevious bodily harm on someone.

In camera: No members of the public permitted to be present.

In chambers: In the office of a judge and not a courtroom.

In flagrante delicto: ‘caught in the act of committing a crime’.

Inalienable: A right which cannot be taken away from a person or transferred to someone else.

Incorporeal chattels: Items such as patents and copyrights which have intellectual rather than physical existence.

Injunction: A court order telling someone to stop doing something or not to do something.

Inns of Court: Four societies in London, of which the members are barristers.

Insider dealing: The illegal buying or selling of shares by the staff of a company or other persons who have secret information about the company’s plans.

Intellectual Property: Something such as copyright, patent or design which someone has created or produced that no-one else can legally copy, use or sell.

Interim order: An order given which has effect while a case is still being heard.

Interlocutory Injunction: An injunction which is granted for the period until a case comes to court.

Intestacy: Dying without leaving a will.

Ipso facto: Latin phrase meaning’ by this very fact’.

Ipso jure: Latin phrase meaning ‘by the operation of the law itself’.


John Doe: A name used in fictitious cases.

Joint and several liability: A situation where two or more parties share a single liability, and each party is liable for the whole claim.

JP: Justice of the peace

Judge in chambers: A judge who hears a case in private rooms without the public being present and not in an open court.

Judgement summons: Summons by a court to enforce a court order, such as ordering a judgement debtor to pay or go to prison.

Judges’ Rules: An informal set of rules governing how the police may question a suspect.

Judical review: A review by a higher court of the actions of a lower court or of an administrative body.

Judicial separation: A decree of a court acknowledging the separation of a married couple but, as they are not divorced, neither are allowed to marry again.

Justices’ clerk: An official of a magistrates’court who gives advice to the justices on law, practice and procedure.


Kangaroo Court: An unofficial and illegal court set up by a group of people.

Kerb crawling: Driving slowly in order to importune women standing on the pavement.

Kleptomania: A mental illness which makes someone steal things.


Land Registry: The Government office where details of land and its ownership are kept.

Lands Tribunal: A court which deals with compensation claims relating to land.

Larcency: The crime of stealing goods which belong to another person.

Lay magistrate: An unpaid magistrate who is not usually a qualified lawyer.

Lease back: To sell a property or machinery to a company and then buy it back on a lease.

Leasehold: A property which is held for a period of time on the basis of a lease.

Leasehold enfranchisement: The right of a leaseholder to buy the freehold of the property which he or she is leasing.

Legal Services Commission: A body set up to run the Community Legal Service and the Criminal Defence Service.

Lessee: A person who pays rent for a property he or she leases from a lessor.

Lessor: A person who pays rent for a property he or she leases from a lessor.

Letter before action: A letter written by a lawyer giving a party the change to pay the client before he or she sues.

Letter of attorney: A document showing that someone has power of attorney.

Libel: A published or broadcast statement which damages someone’s character.

Lien: The legal right to hold someone’s goods and keep them until a debt has been paid.


M’Naghten Rules: rules which a judge applies I deciding if a person charged with a crime is insane.

Malfeasance: An unlawful act.

Malicious prosecution: The tort of charging someone with a crime out of malice and not proper reason.

Maneva Injunction: now referred to as a ‘freezing injunction’, it is a court order to freeze the assets of a person who has gone oversees or of a company based overseas to prevent them being taken out of the country.

Manslaughter: the notifiable offence of killing someone without having intended to do so, or of killing someone intentionally but with mitigating circumstances.

Marital privileges: Privilege of a spouse not to have to give evidence against the other spouse in some criminal proceedings.

Maritime lien: the right to seize a ship against an unpaid debt.

Marriage settlement: an agreement which is made before marriage where monet or property is given on trust for the benefit of the future spouse.

Matrimonial causes: proceedings concerned with rights of partners in a marriage.

Memorandum of association: a legal document setting up a limited company and giving details of its aims, capital structures and registered office.

Mens rea: Latin for ‘guilty mind’.

Moral rights: the rights of a copyright holder to be identified as the creator of the work, not to have the work subjected to derogatory treatment, and to prevent anyone else from claiming to be the author of the work.


National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS): central police department which keeps records of criminals from across the world and makes them available to police forces all over the country.

Naturalisation: the granting of citizenship of a state to a foreigner.

Negligence: failure to give a proper duty of care to something, with the result that somebody is harmed.

Nolle Prosequi: Latin for ‘do not prosecute’.

Notary public: a lawyer, usually but not always a solicitor, who has the power to draw up and witness specific types of document and so make them official.

Notifiable offence: a serious offence which can be tried in the Crown Court.


Obiter dicta: Latin for ‘things that are said in passing’.

Official Solicitor: a solicitor who acts in the High Court for parties who have no-one to act for them, usually because they are under a legal disability.

Option: an offer to someone of the right to enter into a contract at a later date.

Order of certiorari: an order which transfers a case from a lower court to the High Court for investigation into its legality.


Part 20 claim: any claim other than a claim filed by a claimant against a defendant in the particulars of a claim.

Part 36 Offer, Part 36 payment: an offer or payment made by a defendant to a claimant to settle all or part of claim after proceedings have started. This does not apply to small claims.

Particular lien: the right of a person to keep another’s property until debts relating to that property have been paid.

Particulars of claim: details of a person’s case andn the relief sought against the defendant.

Passing off: trying to sell goods by giving the impression that they have been made by someone else and using that person’s reputation to make the sale.

Patent: an official document showing that a person has the exclusive right to make and sell an invention.

Patent agent: someone who advices on patents and applies for patents on behalf of clients.

Peremptory challenge: an objective made about a junor without stating any reason.

Perjury: the notifiable offence of telling lies when you have made an oath to say what is true in court.

Prima facie: Latin meaning ‘on the face of it’.

Privilege: protection from the crown in some circumstances.

Privy Council: a body of senior advisers who advise the Queen on specific issues. It is formed of members of the cabinet and former members of the cabinet. It never meets as a group but three must be present when the Queen.

Product Liability: when a manufacturer of a product is liable for negligence as a result of a defect in the design or production of the product.

Professional Privilege: confidentiality of communications between a client and his or her lawyer.


Qualified privilege: protection from being sued for defamation which is given if it is proved that the statements were made without malice.

Queen’s Evidence: confessing to a crime and then becoming a witness against the other criminals involved in the hope of getting a lighter sentence.

Quoted company: a company whose shares are listed on the Stock Exchange.


Ratio Decidendi: Latin phrase ‘reason for deciding’ used in court judgements setting out the legal principles applicable to the case.

Receivership: administration of a company by a receiver.

Res judicata: A Latin phrase meaning ‘matter on which a judgement has been given’.

Restrictive Covenant: a clause in a contract which prevents someone from doing something.

Reversionary annuity: an annuity paid to someone on the death of another person.


Scheme of arrangement: a scheme drawn up by an individual offering ways of paying debts and so avoiding bankruptcy.

Slander: a false spoken statement which damages someone’s character.

Small claims court: a court which deals with disputes over small amounts of money up to £5000.

Statute of Limitations: a law which allows a certain amount of time for someone to start legal proceedings to claim property or compensation for damages or injury.

Stay: a temporary stopping of an order made by a court.

Subpoena: a court order requiring someone to appear in court.

Success fee: Paid to a lawyer if the case he or she has undertake has been successful for his or her client.

Summons: an official request from a court requiring someone to defend a civil action or appear in court for a criminal offence.

Supervision Order: a court order for a young offender to be placed under the supervision of the probation service.


Takeover Panel: a non-statutory body which examines takeovers.

Talaq: an Islamic form of divorce where the husband may divorce his wife unilaterally by an oral declaration made three times.

Tax avoidance: a legal attempt to minimise the amount of tax to be paid.

Tax evasion: illegal attempts to not pay tax.

Tortious: an act that damages someone.


Ultra Vires: Latin meaning ‘beyond powers’.

Undue Influence: wrongful pressure put on someone which prevents that person from acting independently.

Unfair dismissal: dismissing someone from employment in an unreasonable way.

Unless order: an order that a statement of claim will be struck out if a party does not comply with the order.


Vesting Assent: a document which vests settled land on a tenant for life.

Vexatious litigant: someone who brings a number of legal actions simply to annoy others and who is consequently barred from bringing a legal action without leave of the court.

Viva voce: Latin phrase meaning ‘orally’.


Warrant: an official document from the court giving permission to do something.

Wasted Costs Order: where a court makes a party pay the costs involved in the case because they were not prepared.

White Collar Crime: crime committed in a working environment or by business people.


There are no terms under X.


Yellow Dog contract: a contract of employment where the employee is forbidden to join a trade union.


Zero tolerance: The policy of applying laws or penalties to even minor infringements of a code in order to reinforce its overall importance.

Zipper clause: Usually found in a contract of employment where an employee is not allowed to discuss employment conditions during the lifespan of the agreement.

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