Legal Glossary

Legal Glossary


Acquittal. Finding the accused not guilty of a criminal charge

Act of Parliament. Legislation having progressed from a Bill via approval of Parliament and Royal Assent
Administrative law. The body of law which deals with the rights and duties of the state and the limits of its powers over individuals.
ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution). Methods (other than by court hearing) of settling disputes between parties.
Adversarial. The nature of a hearing where all the issues and arguments are presented by the litigants or their representatives.
Appeal. Application to a higher court to reconsider either the facts or the law of a decision (c.f. judicial Review).
Arbitration. A method of ADR where the parties appoint an independent person to determine the dispute.
Arraignment. The process whereby the accused is called to the Bar of the court to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against him.
Arrest. The Legal step of depriving another of liberty with a view of bringing before a court.


Bail. The release of an accused with a promise to return into custody at a later time, often supported by a financial commitment.
Barrister. A member of one of the four Inns of Court.
Bill. A draft Act of Parliament (prior to approval of Parliament and Royal Assent).
Bill of Rights. A statement of the basic rights which a citizen can expect to enjoy.


Case Management. The arrangements and timetable for steps in litigation (often undertaken by a Judge).
Case stated. Under the proceedings, a person who was a party to a proceeding before the magistrates (or the Crown Court when it is hearing an appeal from the magistrates) may question the proceeding of the court on the ground that there was an error of law or the court had acted outside its jurisdiction. The party asks the court to state a case for the opinion of the High Court on the question of law or jurisdiction.
Caution. 1. A warning to an accused person administered on arrest or before police questioning. Since the abolition, by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, of the right of silence, the correct wording is: ‘You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’
2. A formal warning given to an offender about what he has done, designed to make him see that he has done wrong and deter him from further offending. This process is used instead of proceeding with the prosecution.
Certiorari. An order quashing an ultra vires decision.
Chambers. The offices of a barrister.
Community sentence. This means a sentence that will be served in the community.
Conciliation. A method of ADR where the parties use an independent person to explore possible methods to resolve the dispute.
Conditional Fee Agreements. Agreement between solicitor and client where payment will be enhanced but only upon success.
Constitution. A set of rules and customs which detail a country’s system of government; in most cases it will be a written document but in some countries, including Britain, the constitution cannot be found written down in one document and is known as an unwritten constitution.
Contempt of Court. Conduct interfering with the administration of justice punishable by the Court.
Contingency fee. A fee payable to a lawyer (who has taken on a case on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis) in the event of him/her winning the case.
Convention. 1. A long-established tradition which tends to be followed although it does not have the force of law.
2. A treaty with a foreign power.
Corporation aggregate. This term covers groups of people with a single legal personality (e.g. a company, university or local authority).
Corporation sole. This is a device which makes it possible to continue the official capacity of an individual beyond their lifetime or tenure of office: e.g. the Crown is a corporation sole; its legal personality continues while individual monarchs come and go.
Counsel’s opinion. A barrister’s advice.
Cracked trial. A criminal case where the verdict is changed to guilty at the last minute.
Crown Prosecution Service. The organisation now responsible for prosecuting most criminal cases.
Custody. Confinement in a prison or police station.
Custom. ‘Such usage as has obtained the force of law’ (Tanistry Case (1608)).


Delegated Legislation. Laws (such as Statutory Instruments) made by an individual under powers devolved by Parliament.
Discharge. Release of the members of a jury from continuing to serve on that jury.
Duty of Care. The responsibility of one individual to another in tort.


Ejusdem generis rule. General words which follow specific ones are taken to include only things of the same kind.
Enforcement. Taking steps to secure obedience with the court’s ruling.
Equity. In law it is a term which applies to a specific set of legal principles which were developed by the Chancery Court and add to those provided in the common law.
Evidence. Matter proving or disproving fact or opinion.


Fettering Discretion. Acting in a way which restricts the future exercise of a discretion (usually public authorities).
Fixed Penalty Fines. Fines imposed by Police without creating a criminal record.


Habeas corpus. This is an ancient remedy which allows people detained to challenge the legality of their detention and, if successful, to get themselves quickly released.
He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. This means that a claimant who has been in the wrong in some way will not be granted an equitable remedy.
He who seeks equity must do equity.Anyone who seeks equitable relief must be prepared to act fairly towards their opponent.


Indictable offences.These are the more serious offences, such as rape and murder. They can only be heard by the Crown Court. The indictment is a formal document containing the alleged offences against the accused, supported by brief facts.
Inquisitorial. (C.f. adversarial) The nature of a hearing where the court can explore of its own volition all the issues and arguments.


Judicial Review. (C.f. Appeal) Application to a higher court to review the jurisdiction or method of adjudication.
Jury. A panel of (usually 12) lay persons to determine issues of fact.
Jury Vetting. The examination of the attributes of each juror.
Justices of the Peace. Lay magistrates who dispense justice (usually in local criminal courts).


Law Officers. They are the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General.
Lawyer. This is a general term which covers both branches of the legal profession, namely barristers and solicitors, as well as many people with a legal qualification.
Leapfrog procedure.This is the procedure provided for in the Administration of Justice Act 1969, whereby an appeal can go directly from the High Court to the House of Lords, missing out the Court of Appeal.
Leave. Permission (to appeal or issue proceedings).
Legal Aid. Financial support offered by the state (with or without contribution from those assisted).
Legal Executives. Members of the Institute of Legal Executives usually undertaking unsupervised specialist legal work.
Licensed Conveyancers. Members of the Institute of Licensed Conveyancers usually undertaking solely conveyancing.


Mediation. A method of ADR where the parties use an independent person to communicate with each other with the view of resolving the dispute.
Miscarriage of Justice. A failure of the justice system to deliver a safe judgement or verdict.


Natural law. A kind of higher law, to which we can turn for a basic moral code. Some, such as St Thomas Aquinas, see this higher law as coming from God, others see it simply as the basis of human society.
Negotiation. A method of ADR where the parties communicate with each other with the view of resolving the dispute.
Noscitur a sociis. The meaning of a doubtful word may be ascertained by reference to the meaning of words associated with it.


Obiter dicta. Words in a judgment which are said ‘by the way’ and were not the basis on which the decision was made. They do not form part of the ratio decidendi and are not binding on future cases, but merely persuasive.
Ombudsman. An independent investigator who examines system (or case) failures (usually the administrative system).


Parliament. Consists of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Monarch.
Partnership. A group of individuals (typically solicitors) working together with a view to mutual benefit and profit.
Per incuriam. Where a previous decision has been made in ignorance of a relevant law it is said to have been made per incuriam.
Perverse Verdicts. A jury verdict of acquittal which is inconsistent with an objective view of the facts.
Plea bargaining. This is the name given to negotiations between the prosecution and defence lawyers over the outcome of a case: e.g. where a defendant is choosing to plead not guilty, the prosecution may offer to reduce the charge to a similar offence with a smaller maximum sentence in return for the defendant pleading guilty to that offence.
Practice Direction. An official announcement by the court laying down rules as to how it should function.
Pre-action Protocols. Standard procedures and processes to be fulfilled before issuing civil proceedings.
Privy Council. (In judicial context) A panel of Law Lords making recommendations to the Crown on cases referred to it.
Prohibition. An order prohibiting a body from acting unlawfully in the future: e.g. it can prohibit an inferior court or tribunal from starting or continuing proceedings which are, or threaten to be, outside their jurisdiction, or in breach of natural justice.
Puisne judges. High Court judges are also known as puisne judges (pronounced puny) meaning junior judges.


Qualifying Law Degree. Law degree recognised by the Law Society and the Bar Council as satisfying the academic stage of professional training as a barrister or solicitor.


Ratio decidendi. The legal principle on which a decision is based.
Relator action. A proceeding whereby a party, who has failed to prove locus standi, can choose to permit the action to be brought in the name of the Attorney General.
Remand. A court order instructing an individual to be held pending a further hearing.
Right to silence. The right not to self incriminate.
Rights of Audience. Right to address a court as of right.


Separation of Powers. The avoidance of overlap of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
Silks. Senior barristers (Queens Counsel).
Small Claims Track. This is a procedure used by the county courts to deal with claims under £5,000.
Solicitor. A lawyer admitted to the Roll of the Supreme Court.
Sovereignty of Parliament.This has traditionally meant that the law which Parliament makes takes precedence over that from any other source, but this principle has been qualified by membership of the EU.
Stare decisis. Abiding by precedent: i.e. in deciding a case a judge must follow any decision that has been made by a higher court in a case with similar facts. As well as being bound by decisions of courts above them, some courts must follow their own previous decisions.
Statutory Instrument. (Delegated legislation) made by an individual under powers devolved by Parliament.
Summary offences. These are most minor crimes and are only triable summarily in the magistrates’ courts. ‘Summary’ refers to the process of ordering the defendant to attend court by summons, a written order usually delivered by post, which is the most frequent procedure adopted in the magistrates’ court.


Tariff. The method of calculating a prison sentence in accordance with agreed principles.
Training Contract. The period of training a prospective solicitor undertakes.
Treaty. An international agreement (between nations).
Tribunal. An adjudicative body established usually under statute.


Ultra vires. Outside their powers.


Wednesbury principle. This principle, which was laid down in Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation (1948), is that a decision will be held to be outside a public body’s power if it is so unreasonable that no reasonable public body could have reached it.


Youth court. Young offenders are usually tried in youth courts (formerly called juvenile courts), which are a branch of the magistrates’ court. Youth courts must sit in a separate courtroom, where no ordinary court proceedings have been held for at least one hour. Strict restrictions are imposed as to who may attend the sittings of the court.



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