Glossary of Legal terms

English for lawyers


Damages- Money that a court orders to pay to party (plaintiff) who has suffered a loss by another party who caused the loss (defendant).


Declaratory judgment- One that declares the rights of the parties or expresses the opinion of the court on a question of law, without ordering anything.


Decree- A decision or order of the court. Interlocutory decree is a preliminary decree which is not final. Final decree is which fully and finally disposes of the litigation.


Defamation- The making of false derogatory statements about a person’s character, moral, abilities, business practices or financial status. Libel is written and slander is spoken.


Default- Occurs when a defendant fails to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint within the time allowed, or fails to appear at the trial.


Defendant- The accused in a criminal case; the person from whom money or other recovery is sought in a civil case.


Deferred sentence- The court retains jurisdiction to sentence the defendant at a later time.


Dependent child- A child who is homeless or without proper care without any fault of the parent or guardian.


Deposition- The statement on oath of a witness in a judicial proceeding.


Direct evidence- Evidence in the form of testimony from a witness who actually saw, heard or touched the subject of interrogation.


Equity- Fairness or natural justice done by a court.


Estate- A collective term meaning all real and personal property owned by a person.


Estoppel- A person’s own act, or acceptance of facts, which precludes later claims to the contrary.


Evidence- Testimony, records, documents, material objects or other things presented at a trial to prove the existence or non-existence of a fact.


Exclusionary rule- A rule by which evidence that was obtained illegally cannot be used in a criminal trial against a defendant.


False arrest/ imprisonment- Any unlawful physical restraint of another’s personal liberty.


Fee simple absolute- The most complete, unlimited form of ownership of real property.


Fiduciary- A person who has assumed a special relationship to another person or another person’s property, such as a trustee, administrator, executor, lawyer or guardian.


Fine- A sum of money paid as part of a penalty for a particular offence.


Foundation- In a trial, a foundation must be laid to establish the basis for the admissibility of certain types of evidence.


Fraud- An intentional perversion of truth with intent to deprive another of property or other right.


Guardian- A guardian has the authority to consent, on behalf of an infant, child or incompetent, to marriage, enlistment in the armed force, or major medical, surgical or psychiatric treatment including legal custody.


Harmless error- An error committed by a lower court during a trial, but not prejudicial to the rights of the party.


Hearing- A formal proceeding with definite issues of law or of fact to be heard.


Hearing de novo- a full new hearing.


Hearsay- Generally consisting of a witness’ testimony that he heard someone else say something.


Hostile witness- A witness who displays antagonism toward the party who called him to testify.


Immunity- Legal protection from liability.


Impeachment of witness- An attack on the credibility of a witness.


Inadmissible/ incompetent witness- Information which is so unreliable it cannot be admitted under the established rules of evidence.


In camera- In a judge’s chamber; in private.


Incest- The crime of sexual intercourse between a male and a female who are so closely related they would not legally be allowed to marry.


Information- The first paper filed in criminal prosecution which states the crime of which the defendant is accused.


Judgment- The official decision of a court disposing of a case.


Jurisdiction- The legal authority of a court to hear a case or conduct other proceedings.


Jurisprudence- Formal study of the principles on which legal rules are based and the means by which judges guide their decision making.


Malfeasance- Unlawful conduct.


Malicious prosecution- A merit less action instituted solely to harass the defendant. Such misuse of the judicial process may be the basis for an action against the original plaintiff.


Malpractice- A lawsuit brought against a profession person, for injury or loss caused by the defendant’s negligence in providing professional service.


Manslaughter- The crime of unlawful homicide: (a) where death is caused accidentally by an unlawful act or by culpable negligence; (b) where death is caused by an act done in the heart of passion as a result of provocation.


Material evidence- Evidence which is relevant to the issues in a case.


Negligence- Failure to exercise the care that an ordinarily prudent person would exercise in the same circumstance.


No-fault divorce- A kind of divorce in which the parties need not cast blame on one another for the failure of the marriage.


Nominal party- One who is joined as a party or defendant merely because the technical rules of pleading require his presence in the record.


Not guilty plea- Complete denial of guilt.


Not guilty by reason of insanity- The judge must determine that the defendant, because of mental disease, could not form the intent required to commit the offence.


Objection- The act of taking exception to some statement or procedure in trial or other proceeding.


Opinion evidence- If a witness is an expert in a particular field, he may be allowed to state an opinion as an expert based on certain facts.


Order to show cause- Court order requiring a party to appear and show cause why the court should not take a particular course of action.


Ordinance- Rules or Act promulgated by the President when the Parliament is not in session is known as ordinance.


Original jurisdiction- The court in which a matter must first be filed.


Protective custody- In child abuse and neglect cases, the emergency removal of child from his home if he is imminent danger if allowed to remain with the parents.


Protective supervision- A court order following a judgment on the ground of neglect or abuse, whereby a child is permitted to remain in his home under the supervision to correct the neglect or abuse.


Proximate cause- An act or omission of the defendant which is a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury or loss.


Public defender- Lawyers regularly employed by the government to represent people accused of crimes who cannot afford to hire their own.


Punitive damages- Money awarded to an injured person in order to punish the person who hurt him.


Self-defence- The protection of one’s person or property against some injury attempted by another.


Sentence- The judgment of a criminal case, imposing a punishment upon the defendant.


Suspended sentence- A sentence ordered by the court but not imposed, which gives the defendant an opportunity to complete probation.


Separate maintenance- Allowance ordered to be paid by one spouse to the other for support while the spouses are living apart but not divorced.


Wilful- Which is done intentionally.


With prejudice- A dismissal ‘with prejudice’ bars the right to bring or maintain another action on the same claim or cause.


Without prejudice- A dismissal ‘without prejudice’ allows a new suit to be brought on the same cause of action.


Witness- One who testifies under oath to what he has seen, heard or otherwise observed.


Writ- A petition to a court for some extraordinary relief, such as taking the court to release a defendant from imprisonment.


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