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DUHAIME'S LEGAL DICTIONARY


Duhaime Lawisms
"Wherever the law ends,
tyranny begins." John Locke.

Researched, written in plain language and provided free


of charge by lawyer Lloyd Duhaime. Please select the
first letter of the legal term you wish to research.

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Duhaime Lawisms
"Fragile as reason is and
limited as law is as the
institutionalized medium of
reason, that's all we have
standing between us and the
tyranny of mere will and the
cruelty of unbridled,
undisciplined feeling." Justice
Felix Frankfurter.

Abatement
A reduction in some amount that is owed, usually
granted by the person to whom the debt is owed.
For example, a landlord might grant an
abatement in rent. In estate law, the word may
refer more specifically to a situation where
property identified in a will cannot be given to the
beneficiary because it had to be sold to pay off
the deceased debts. Debts are paid before gifts
made in wills are distributed and where a specific
gift has to be sold to pay off a debt, it is said to
"abate" (compare with " ademption").
Abbacinare
A barbaric form of corporal punishment meted out
in the middle ages where persons would be
permanently blinded by the pressing of hot irons
to the open eyes.
Abduction
To take someone away from a place without that
person's consent or by fraud. See also "
kidnapping".
Abet
The act of encouraging or inciting another to do a
certain thing, such as a crime. For example, many
countries will equally punish a person who aids or
abets another to commit a crime.
Ab initio
Latin: from the start.
Acceleration clause
A clause in a contract that states that if a
payment is missed, or some other default occurs
(such as the debtor becoming insolvent), then the
contract is fully due immediately. This is a typical
clause in a loan contract; miss one payment and
the agreement to pay at regular intervals is
voided and the entire amount becomes due and
payable immediately.
Acceptance
One of three requisites to a valid contract under
common law (the other two being an offer and
consideration). A contract is a legally binding
agreement between two or more parties which
starts with an offer from one person but which
does not become a contract until the other party
signifies an unequivocal willingness to accept the
terms of that offer. The moment of acceptance is
the moment from which a contract is said to
exist, and not before. Acceptance need not
always be direct and can, in certain
circumstances, be implied by conduct (see
acquiescence below).
Accord and Satisfaction
A term of contract law by which one party, having
complied with its obligation under a contract,
accepts some type of compensation from the
other party (usually money and of a lesser value)

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in lieu of enforcing the contract and holding the


other party to their obligation. This discharges the
contract. The definition cited by lawyers is usually
that found in British Russian Gazette & Trade
Outlook Ltd. v. Associated Newspapers Ltd.
(1933) 2 K.B. 616: "Accord and satisfaction is the
purchase of a release from an obligation arising
under contract or tort by means of any valuable
consideration, not being the actual performance
of the obligation itself. The accord is the
agreement by which the obligation is discharged.
The satisfaction is the consideration which makes
the agreement operative."
Accretion
The imperceptible and gradual addition to land by
the slow action of water. Heavy rain, river or
ocean action would have this effect by either
washing up sand or soil or by a permanent retreat
of the high water mark. The washing up of soil is
often called avulsion although the latter term is
but a variety of accretion.
Acquiescence
Action or inaction which binds a person legally
even though it was not intended as such. For
example, action which is not intended as a direct
acceptance of a contract will nevertheless stand
as such as it implies recognition of the terms of
the contract. For example, if I display a basket of
fruit in a marketplace and you come by, inspect
an apple and then bite into it, you have
acquiesced to the contract of sale of that apple.
Acquiescence also refers to allowing too much
time to pass since you had knowledge of an event
which may have allowed you to have legal
recourse against another, implying that you waive
your rights to that legal recourse.
Act
A bill which has passed through the various
legislative steps required for it and which has
become law, as in "an Act of the Commonwealth
of Australia." Synonymous to statute, legislation
or law.
Act of God
An event which is caused solely by the effect of
nature or natural causes and without any
interference by humans whatsoever. Insurance
contracts often exclude "acts of God" from the list
of insurable occurrences as a means to waive
their obligations for damage caused by
hurricanes, floods or earthquakes, all examples of
"acts of God".
Ad colligendum bona
When a person dies and there is no apparent
executor or administrator, a person can be
appointed by Court order and for the limited and
sole purpose of collecting, inventorizing and
preserving the assets of the deceased until an
appropriate full-fledged administrator can be
found or appointed. Known then as an
administrator ad colligendum, this person is a
agent of the Court and does not have the true or
full authority of an administrator of an estate.
Ad damnum
Latin: refers to the parts or sections of a petition
that speaks to the damages that were suffered
and claimed by the plaintiff. The ad damnum part

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of a petition will usually suggest an amount in


dollars that the plaintiff asks the court to award.
Addendum
An attachment to a written document. For
example, affidavits may be addendums to a
petition as a petition may be an addendum to a
writ.
Ademption
When property identified in a will cannot be given
to the beneficiary because it no longer belonged
to the deceased at the time of death. For
example, the particular gift may have been
destroyed, sold or given away between the time
of the will and the time of death. Compare this
with " abatement".
Adhesion contract
A fine-print consumer form contract which is
generally given to consumers at point-of-sale,
with no opportunity for negotiation as to it's
terms, and which, typically, sets out the terms
and conditions of the sale, usually to the
advantage of the seller.
Ad hoc
Latin: for this purpose; for a specific purpose. An
ad hoc committee, for example, is created with a
unique and specific purpose or task and once it
has studied and reports on the matter, it stands
disbanded (compare with standing committee).
Ad infinitum
Latin: forever; without limit; indefinitely.
Ad litem
Latin: for the suit. A person appointed only for
the purposes of prosecuting or defending an
action on behalf of another such as a child or
mentally-challenged person. Also called a
guardian ad litem.
Administrative law
Synonymous with "natural justice." Administrative
law is that body of law which applies for hearings
before quasi-judicial or administrative tribunals.
This would include, as a minimum, the principles
of natural justice as embodied in audi alteram
partem and nemo judex in sua causa. Many quasijudicial organizations or administrative tribunals
supplement the rules of natural justice with their
own detailed rules of procedure.
Administrative tribunal
Hybrid adjudicating authorities which straddle the
line between government and the courts.
Between routine government policy decisionmaking bodies and the traditional court forums
lies a hybrid, sometimes called a "tribunal" or
"administrative tribunal" and not necessarily
presided by judges. These operate as a
government policy-making body at times but also
exercise a licensing, certifying, approval or other
adjudication authority which is " quasi-judicial"
because it directly affects the legal rights of a
person. Administrative tribunals are often
referred to as "Commission", "Authority" or
"Board."
Administrator
A person who administers the estate of a person
deceased. The administrator is appointed by a
court and is the person who would then have
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power to deal with the debts and assets of a


person who died intestate. Female administrators
are called "administratrix." An administrator is a
personal representative.
ADR

Abbreviation for alternative dispute resolution.


Adultery
Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married
person and another person who is not their
married spouse. In most countries, this is a legal
ground for divorce. The person who seduces
another's spouse is known as the "adulterer." In
old English law, this was also known as criminal
conversation.
Adverse possession
The possession of land, without legal title, for a
period of time sufficient to become recognized as
legal owner. The more common word for this is
"squatters." Each state has its own period of time
after which a squatter can acquire legal title.
Some states prohibit title by mere prescription or
possession.
Affidavit
A statement which before being signed, the
person signing takes an oath that the contents
are, to the best of their knowledge, true. It is also
signed by a notary or some other judicial officer
that can administer oaths, to the effect that the
person signing the affidavit was under oath when
doing so. These documents carry great weight in
Courts to the extent that judges frequently accept
an affidavit instead of the testimony of the
witness.
Agent
A person who has received the power to act on
behalf of another, binding that other person as if
he or she were themselves making the decisions.
The person who is being represented by the agent
is referred to as the " principal."
Aggravated damages
Special and highly exceptional damages awarded
by a court where the circumstances of the
tortious conduct have been particularly
humiliating or malicious towards the plaintiff/
victim.
Alimony
An amount given to one spouse to another while
they are separated. Historically, the word
"alimony" referred to monies paid while spouses
were legally separated but stilled wedlocked.
Where they were divorced, the monies payable
were then referred to as " maintenance" but this
distinction is now in disuse.
Alliance
A military treaty between two or more states,
providing for a mutually-planned offensive, or for
assistance in the case of attack on any member.
Alienate
To sell or give completely and without reserve; to
transfer title to somebody else. A voluntary
conveyance of property, especially real property.
Allodial
A kind of land ownership that is unfetterred,
outright and absolute. It is the opposite of the

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feudal system and supposes no obligation to


another (ie. a lord).
Allonge
A piece of paper which has been attached to a
contract, a check or any promissory note, on
which to add signatures because there is not
enough room on the main document.
Alternative dispute resolution
Also known as "ADR"; methods by which legal
conflicts and disputes are resolved privately and
other than through litigation in the public courts,
usually through one of two forms: mediation or
arbitration. It typically involves a process much
less formal than the traditional court process and
includes the appointment of a third-party to
preside over a hearing between the parties. The
advantages of ADR are speed and money: it costs
less and is quicker than court litigation. ADR
forums are also private. The disadvantage is that
it often involves compromise.
Amalgamation
The merging of two things together to form one
such as the amalgamation of different companies
to form a single company.
Ambassador
A citizen that has been officially asked by their
country to live in another country in order to
legally represent it. For example, the USA has
sent ambassadors to live, and represent the USA,
in almost all other countries.
Ambulatory
Something which is not cast in stone; which can
be changed or revoked, such as a will.
Amend
To change, to revise, usually to the wording of a
written document such as legislation.
Amicus curiae
Latin: friend of the court. Refers more specifically
to persons asking for permission to intervene in a
case in which they are neither plaintiff or
defendant, usually to present their point of view
(or that of their organization) in a case which has
the potential of setting a legal precedent in their
area of activity. This is common, for example, in
civil rights cases and, in some instances, can only
be done with the permission of the parties or the
court.
Animus contrahendi
Latin: an intention to contract.
Annulment
To make void; to cancel an event or judicial
proceeding both retroactively and for the future.
Where, for example, a marriage is annulled, it is
struck from all records and stands as having
never transpired in law. This differs from a
divorce which merely cancels a valid marriage
only from the date of the divorce. A marriage
annulled stands, in law, as if never performed.
Antedate
To date back; retroactively. To date a document
to a time before it was written.
Antenuptial
An event or document which pre-dates a
marriage. For example, an "antenuptial
agreement" is one which is signed before
marriage. A antenuptial gift is a gift given by one

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spouse to the other before marriage.


Anti-trust
(USA)"Anti-trust" legislation is designed to
prevent businesses from price-setting or other
secret collaboration which circumvents the
natural forces of a free market economy and
gives those engaging in the anti-trust conduct, a
covert competitive edge. Also known as "anticombines" or "competition" legislation.
Appeal
To ask a more senior court or person to review a
decision of a subordinate court or person. In
some countries such as Canada, the USA and
Australia, appeals can continue all the way up to
the Supreme Court, where the decision is final in
that it can no longer be appealed. That is why it is
called "supreme" (although, in Australia the
supreme court is called the High Court ).
Appearance
The act of showing up in court as either plaintiff,
defendant, accused or any other party to a civil or
criminal suit. It implies that you accept the power
of the court to try the matter (i.e. "jurisdiction").
Appearances are most often made by lawyers on
their clients behalf and any appearance by a
lawyer binds the client. You can make a limited
appearance called a "special appearance" in which
your presence is not to imply acceptance of the
court's jurisdiction but, rather, to challenge the
jurisdiction of the court. An example of the
usefulness of a "special appearance" would be
where you want to raise the fact that you were
never properly served with the court papers.
Apportionment
The division and distribution of something into
proportionate parts; to each according to their
share. For example, if a court ordered
apportionment of a contract, the party would be
required to perform only to a extent equal to the
performance of the other side.
Appurtenance
Something that, although detached, stands as
part of another thing. An attachment or
appendage to something else. Used often in a
real estate context where an "appurtenance" may
be, for example, a right-of-way over water,
which, although physically detached, is part of the
legal rights of the owner of another property.
Arbitration
A alternative dispute resolution method by which
an independent, neutral third person
("arbitrator") is appointed to hear and consider
the merits of the dispute and renders a final and
binding decision called an award. The process is
similar to the litigation process as it involves
adjudication, except that the parties choose their
arbitrator and the manner in which the arbitration
will proceed. The decision of the arbitrator is
known as an "award." Compare with mediation.
Arraignment
In USA criminal law, the formal appearance of an
accused person to hear, and to receive a copy of,
the charge against him or her, in the presence of
a judge, and to then enter a plea of guilty or not
guilty. The arraignment is the final preparatory
step before the criminal trial.

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Arrears
A debt that is not paid on the due date adds up
and accumulates as "arrears". For example, if you
do not pay your rent, the debt still exists and is
referred to as "arrears". The same word is used to
describe child or spousal maintenance or support
which is not paid by the due date.
Arson
Some countries define "arson" as the intentional
setting of a fire to a building in which people live;
others include as "arson" the intentionally setting
of a fire to any building. In either case, this is a
very serious crime and is punishable by a long jail
sentence.
Assault
The touching of another person with an intent to
harm, without that person's consent.
Assign
To give, to transfer responsibility, to another. The
assignee (sometimes also called "assigns") is the
person who receives the right or property being
given and the assignor is the person giving.
Attorn or Attornment
To consent, implicitly or explicitly, to a transfer of
a right. Often used to describe a situation where
a tenant, by staying on location after the sale of
the leased property, accepts to be a tenant of the
new landlord; or where a person consents to
("attorns to") the jurisdiction of a court which
would not have otherwise had any authority over
that person.
Attorney
An alternate word for lawyers or " barrister &
solicitor", used mostly in the USA. A person that
has been trained in the law and that has been
certified to give legal advice or to represent
others in litigation.
Audi alteram partem
Latin: a principle of natural justice which prohibits
a judicial decision which impacts upon individual
rights without giving all parties in the dispute a
right to be heard. Habeas corpus was an early
expression of the audi alteram partem principle.
In more recent years, it has been extended to
include the right to receive notice of a hearing
and to be given an opportunity to be represented
or heard.
Autrefois acquit
French word now part of English criminal law
terminology. Refers to an accused who cannot be
tried for a crime because the record shows he has
already been subjected to trial for the same
conduct and was acquitted. If the accused
maintains that the previous trial resulted in
conviction, he or she pleads "autrefois convict."
"Autrefois attaint" is another similar term;
"attainted" for a felony, a person cannot be tried
again for the same offence.
A vinculo matrimonii
Latin: of marriage. The term is now used to refer
to a final and permanent divorce.
Avulsion
Land accretion that occurs by the erosion or
addition of one's land by the sudden and
unexpected change in a river stream such as a
flash flood.
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Avunculus
Latin: a mother's brother. "Avuncular" refers to
an uncle.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"There is no jewel in the world
comparable to learning; no
learning so excellent as
knowledge of laws." Sir Edward
Coke.

Bad faith
Intent to deceive. A person who intentionally tries
to deceive or mislead another in order to gain
some advantage.
Bail
Criminal law: a commitment made (and possibly
secured by cash or property) to secure the
release of a person being held in custody and
suspected of a crime, to provide some kind of
guarantee that the suspect will appear to answer
the charges at some later date.
Bailee
The person who receives property through a
contract of bailment, from the bailor, and who
may be committed to certain duties of care
towards the property while it remains in his or her
possession.
Bailment
The transfer of possession of something (by the
bailor) to another person (called the bailee) for
some temporary purpose (eg. storage) after
which the property is either returned to the bailor
or otherwise disposed of in accordance with the
contract of bailment.
Bailor
The person who temporarily transfers possession
of property to another, the bailee, under a
contract of bailment.
Bankruptcy
The formal condition of an insolvent person being
declared bankrupt under law. The legal effect is to
divert most of the debtor's assets and debts to
the administration of a third person, sometimes
called a " trustee in bankruptcy", from which
outstanding debts are paid pro rata. Bankruptcy
forces the debtor into a statutory period during
which his or her commercial and financial affairs
are administered under the strict supervision of
the trustee. Bankruptcy usually involves the
removal of several special legal rights such as the
right to sit on a board of directors or, for some
professions that form part of the justice system,
to practice, such as lawyers or judges.
Commercial organizations usually add other nonlegal burdens upon bankrupts such as the refusal
of credit. The duration of "bankruptcy" status
varies from state to state but it does have the
benefit of erasing most debts even if they were
not satisfied by the sale of the debtor's assets.
Bare trust
A trust that has become passive for the trustee
because all the duties the settlor may have
imposed upon the trustee have been performed
or any conditions or terms have come to fruition,
such as there is no longer any impediment to the
transfer of the property to the beneficiary.

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Barrister
A litigation specialist; a lawyer that restricts his or
her practice to the court room. In England and
some other Commonwealth jurisdictions, a legal
distinction is made between barristers and
solicitors, the latter with exclusive privileges of
advising clients, providing legal advice, and the
former with exclusive privileges of appearing in a
court on behalf of a client. In other words,
solicitors don't appear in court on a client's behalf
and barristers don't give legal advice to clients. In
England, barristers and solicitors work as a team:
the solicitor would typically make the first contact
with a client and if the issue cannot be resolved
and proceeds to trial, the solicitor would transfer
the case to a barrister for the duration of the
litigation. Lawyers in some states, such as
Canada, sometimes use the title "barrister and
solicitor" even though, contrary to England, there
is no legal distinction between the advising and
litigating roles. Canadian lawyers can litigate or
give legal advice, as is the case in the USA, where
lawyers are referred to as "attorneys."
Bastard
An illegitimate child, born in a relationship
between two persons that are not married (ie. not
in wedlock) or who are not married at the time of
the child's birth.
Bench
A judge in court session.
Beneficiary
In a legal context, a "beneficiary" usually refers to
the person for whom a trust has been created.
May also be referred to as a " donee" or, for legal
tecchies, as a cestui que trust. Trusts are made to
advantage a beneficiary ( ie. A settlor (also called
a " donor") transfers property to a trustee, the
profits of which are to be given to the
beneficiairy).
Berne Convention
An international copyright treaty called the
Convention for the Protection of Literary and
Artistic Works signed at Berne, Switzerland in
1886 (amended several times and as late as
1971) and to which now subscribe 77 nations
including all major trading countries including
China, with the notable exception of Russia. It is
based on the principle of national treatment.
Bigamy
Being married to more than one person at the
same time. This is a criminal offence in most
countries.
Bill of exchange
A written order from one person (the payor) to
another, signed by the person giving it, requiring
the person to whom it is addressed to pay on
demand or at some fixed future date, a certain
sum of money, to either the person identified as
payee or to any person presenting the bill of
exchange. A check is a form of bill of exchange
where the order is given to a bank.
Bill of lading
A document that a transport company possesses
acknowledging that it has received goods, and
serves as title for the purpose of transportation.
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Blind trust
A trust set up by a settlor who reserves the right
to terminate the trust but other than that, agrees
to assert no power over the trust, which is
administered without account to the beneficiary/
settlor or the retention of any other measure of
control over the trust's administration. In Canada,
for example, it is common for government
ministers to vest all their investment property to
a blind trust to avoid any conflict of interest.
Bona vacantia
Property that belongs to no person, and which
may be claimed by a finder. In some states, the
government becomes owner of all bona vacantia
property.
Born out of wedlock
Born of parents who were not married at the time
of birth.
Breach of contract
The failure to do what one promised to do under
a contract. Proving a breach of contract is a
prerequisite of any suit for damages based on the
contract.
Breach of trust
Any act or omission on the part of the trustee
which is inconsistent with the terms of the trust
agreement or the law of trusts. A prime example
is the redirecting of trust property from the trust
to the trustee, personally.
Buggery
Synonymous with sodomy and referring to
"unnatural" sex acts, including copulation, either
between two persons of the same sex or between
a person and an animal (the latter act also known
as "bestiality"). Most countries outlaw bestiality
but homosexual activity is gradually being
decriminalized.
Burden of proof
A rule of evidence that makes a person prove a
certain thing or the contrary will be assumed by
the court. For example, in criminal trials, the
prosecution has the burden of proving the
accused guilt because innocence is presumed.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

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Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Duhaime's Canadian Law Dictionary : B

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"Fragile as reason is and
limited as law is as the
institutionalized medium of
reason, that's all we have
standing between us and the
tyranny of mere will and the
cruelty of unbridled,
undisciplined feeling." Justice
Felix Frankfurter.

Canon law
The law of the Christian Church. Has little or no
legal effect today. Canon law refers to that body
of law which has been set by the Christian Church
and which, in virtually all places, is not binding
upon citizens and has virtually no recognition in
the judicial system. Some citizens resort to canon
law, however, for procedures such as marriage
annulments to allow for a Christian church
marriage where one of the parties has been
previously divorced. Many church goers and
church officers abide by rulings and doctrines of
canon law. Also known as "ecclesiastical law."
Capital punishment
The most severe of all sentences: that of death.
Also known as the death penalty, capital
punishment has been banned in many coutries. In
the United States, an earlier move to eliminate
capital punishment has now been reversed and
more and more states are resorting to capital
punishment for serious offenses such as murder.
Case law
The entire collection of published legal decisions
of the courts which, because of stare decisis,
contributes a large part of the legal rules which
apply in modern society. If a rule of law cannot
be found in written laws, lawyers will often say
that it is a rule to be found in "case law". In other
words, the rule is not in the statute books but can
be found as a principle of law established by a
judge in some recorded case. The word
jurisprudence has become synonymous for case
law.
Caveat
Latin: let him beware. A formal warning. Caveat
emptor means let the buyer beware or that the
buyers should examine and check for themselves
things which they intend to purchase and that
they cannot later hold the vendor responsible for
the broken condition of the thing bought.
Certiorari
A writ of certiorari is a form of judicial review
whereby a court is asked to consider a legal
decision of an administrative tribunal, judicial
office or organization (eg. government) and to
decide if the decision has been regular and
complete or if there has been an error of law. For
example, a certiorari may be used to wipe out a
decision of an administrative tribunal which was
made in violation of the rules of natural justice,
such as a failure to give the person affected by
the decision an opportunity to be heard.
Cestui que trust or cestui que use
The formal Latin word for the beneficiary or
donee of a trust.
Ceteris paribus

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Latin" all things being equal or unchanged.


Champerty
When a person agrees to finance someone else's
lawsuit in exchange for a portion of the judicial
award.
Chaste
A person who has never voluntarily had sexual
intercourse outside of marriage such as
unmarried virgins.
Chattel
Moveable items of property which are neither land
nor permanently attached to land or a building,
either directly or vicariously through attachment
to real property. A piano is chattel but an
apartment building, a tree or a concrete building
foundation are not. The opposite of chattel is real
property which includes lands or buildings. All
property which is not real property is said to be
chattel. "Personal property" or "personalty" are
other words sometines used to describe the
concept of chattel. The word "chattel" came from
the feudal era when "cattle" was the most
valuable property besides land.
Chattel mortgage
When an interest is given on moveable property
other than real property (in which case it is
usually a "mortgage"), in writing, to guarantee
the payment of a debt or the execution of some
action. It automatically becomes void when the
debt is paid or the action is executed.
Check or cheque
A form of bill of exchange where the order to pay
is given to a bank which is holding the payor's
money.
Chose in action
A right of property in intangible things or which
are not in one's possession, enforceable through
legal or court action . Examples may include
salaries, debts, insurance claims, shares in
companies and pensions.
Circumstantial evidence
Evidence which may allow a judge or jury to
deduce a certain fact from other facts which have
been proven. In some cases, there can be some
evidence that can not be proven directly, such as
with an eye-witness. And yet that evidence may
be essential to prove a case. In these cases, the
lawyer will provide the judge or juror with
evidence of the circumstances from which a juror
or judge can logically deduct, or reasonably infer,
the fact that cannot be proven directly; it is
proven by the evidence of the circumstances;
hence, "circumstantial" evidence. Fingerprints are
an example of circumstantial evidence: while
there may be no witness to a person's presence
in a certain place, or contact with a certain
object, the scientific evidence of someone's
fingerprints is persuasive proof of a person's
presence or contact with an object.
Citation
An order of a court to either do a certain thing or
to appear before it to answer charges. The
citation is typically used for lesser offences (such
as traffic violations) because it relies on the good
faith of the defendant to appear as requested, as
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opposed to an arrest or bail. The penalty for


failing to obey a citation is often a warrant for the
arrest of the defendant.
Civil law
Law inspired by old Roman Law, the primary
feature of which was that laws were written into a
collection; codified, and not determined, as is
common law, by judges. The principle of civil law
is to provide all citizens with an accessible and
written collection of the laws which apply to them
and which judges must follow.
Clandestine
Something that is purposely kept from the view
or knowledge of others either in violation of the
law or to conduct or conceal some illegal purpose.
A "clandestine marriage" would be one which
does not comply with laws related to publicity.
Class action
When different persons combine their lawsuits
because the facts and the defendant are so
similar. This is designed to save Court time and to
allow one judge to hear all the cases at the same
time and to make one decision binding on all
parties. Class action lawsuits would typically
occur after a plane or train accident where all the
victims would sue the transportation company
together in a class action suit.
Clayton's Case
An English case which established a presumption
that monies withdrawn from a money account are
presumed to be debits from those monies first
deposited; first in, first out. The proper citation is
Devaynes v. Noble (1816) 1 Mer. 572) and the
presumption is not applicable to fiduciaries, who
are presumed to withdraw their own money first,
and not trust money.
Clean hands
A maxim of the law to the effect that any person,
individual or corporate, that wishes to ask or
petition a court for judicial action, must be in a
position free of fraud or other unfair conduct.
Client-solicitor privilege
A right that belongs to the client of a lawyer that
the latter keep any information or words spoken
to him during the provision of the legal services
to that client, strictly confidential. This includes
being shielded from testimony before a court of
law. The client may, expressly or impliedly, waive
the privilege and, exceptionally, it may also be
waived by the lawyer if the disclosure of the
information may prevent a serious crime.
Codicil
An amendment to an existing will. Does not mean
that the will is totally changed; just to the extent
of the codicil.
Collateral
Property which has been committed to guarantee
a loan.
Collateral descendant
A descendant that is not direct, such as a niece or
a cousin.
Collateral source rule
A rule of tort law which holds that the tortfeasor
is not allowed to deduct from the amount he or
she would be held to pay to the victim of the tort,
any goods, services or money received by that
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victim from other "collateral" sources as a result


of the tort (eg. insurance benefits).
Collusion
A secret agreement between two or more
persons, who seem to have conflicting interests,
to abuse the law or the legal system, deceive a
court or to defraud a third party. For example, if
the partners in a marriage agree to lie about the
duration of their separation in order to secure a
divorce.
Commission
A formal group of experts brought together on a
regular or ad hoc basis to debate matters within
that sphere of expertise, and with regulatory or
quasi-judicial powers such as the ability to license
activity in the sphere of activity or to subpoena
witnesses. Commissions usually also have
advisory powers to government. The
organizational form of a commission is often
resorted to by governments to exhaustively
investigate a matter of national concern, and is
often known as a "commission of inquiry." This
legal structure can be contrasted with a council,
the latter not enjoying quasi-judicial or regulatory
powers.
Committee
A term of parliamentary law which refers to a
body of one or more persons appointed by a
larger assembly or society, to consider,
investigate and/or take action on certain specific
matters. A committee only has those powers
which have been assigned to it by the constituent
assembly. Most are merely created to study
matters in detail and to then report to the larger
group. This saves the larger assembly time when
it meets and allows it to review and approve a
greater number of items, relying on the
committee's report and recommendations.
Committees are either standing or ad hoc (this
latter kind is also known as a "special
committee).
Common law
Judge-made law. Law which exists and applies to
a group on the basis of historical legal precedents
developed over hundreds of years. Because it is
not written by elected politicians but, rather, by
judges, it is also referred to as "unwritten" law.
Judges seek these principles out when trying a
case and apply the precedents to the facts to
come up with a judgement. Common law is often
contrasted with civil law systems which require all
laws to be written in a code or written collection.
Common law has been referred to as the
"common sense of the community, crystallized
and formulated by our ancestors". Equity law
developed after the common law to offset the
rigid interpretations medieval English judges were
giving the common law. For hundreds of years,
there were separate courts in England and its
dependents: one for common law and one for
equity and the decisions of the latter, where they
conflicted, prevailed. It is a matter of legal debate
whether or not common law and equity are now
"fused." It is certainly common to speak of the
"common law" to refer to the entire body of

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English law, including common law and equity.


Common share
The basic share in a company. Typically, common
shares have voting rights and a pro rata right to
any dividends declared. They differ from
preferred shares which, by definition, carry some
kind of right or privilege above the common
shares (eg. first to receive any dividends).
Company
A legal entity, allowed by legislation, which
permits a group of people, as shareholders, to
create an organization, which can then focus on
persuing set objectives, and empowered with
legal rights which are usually only reserved for
individuals, such as to sue and be sued, own
property, hire employees or loan and borrow
money. Also known as a "corporation." The
primary advantage of a company structure is that
it provides the shareholders with a right to
participate in the profits (by dividends) without
any personal liability (the company absorbs the
entire liability of the business).
Comparative negligence
A principle of tort law which looks at the
negligence of the victim and which may lead to
either a reduction of the award against the
defendant, proportionate to the contribution of
the victim's negligence, or which may even
prevent an award altogether if the victim's
negligence, when compared with the defendant,
is equal to or greater in terms or contributing to
the situation which caused the injury or damage.
Condition precedent
A contractual condition that suspends the coming
into effect of a contract unless or until a certain
event takes place. Many residential real estate
contracts have a condition precedent which states
that the contract is not binding until and unless
the property is subjected to an professional
inspection, the results of which are satisfactory to
the purchaser. Compare with "condition
subsequent".
Condition subsequent
A condition in a contract that causes the contract
to become invalid if a certain event occurs. This is
different from a condition precedent. The
happening of a condition subsequent may
invalidate a contract which is, until that moment,
fully valid and binding. In the case of a condition
precedent, no binding contract exists until the
condition occurs.
Condonation
Divorces can be obtained by showing a fault of
the other spouse, such as adultery or cruelty. But
a court will refuse to grant a divorce based on
these grounds if there has been "condonation",
which is the obvious or implied forgiveness of the
fault. For example, if the "injured" spouse
resumes cohabitation with the "guilty" spouse
after being informed of the adultery, and for a
long period or time, the "injured" spouse may be
barred from divorce on the grounds of adultery
because of "condonation".
Confession
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A statement made by a person suspected or


charged with a crime, that he (or she) did, in fact,
commit that crime.
Consensus
A result achieved through negotiation whereby a
hybrid solution is arrived at between parties to an
issue, dispute or disagreement, comprising
typically of concessions made by all parties, and
to which all parties then subscribe unanimously
as an acceptable resolution to the issue or
disagreement.
Consensus ad idem
Latin term meaning an agreement, a meeting of
the minds between the parties where all
understand the committments made by each.
This is a basic requirement for each contract.
Consideration
Under common law, there can be no binding
contract without consideration, which was defined
in an 1875 English decision as "some right,
interest, profit or benefit accruing to the one
party, or some forbearance, detriment, loss or
responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by
the other". Common law did not want to allow
gratuitous offers, those made without anything
offered in exchange (such as gifts), to be given
the protection of contract law. So they added the
criteria of consideration. Consideration is not
required in contracts made in civil law systems
and many common law states have adopted laws
which remove consideration as a prerequisite of a
valid contract.
Consign
To leave an item of property in the custody of
another. A item can be consigned to a
transportation company, for example, for the
purpose of transporting it from one place to
another. The consignee is the person to receive
the property and the consignor is the person who
ships the property to the consignee.
Conspiracy
An agreement between two or more persons to
commit a criminal act. Those forming the
conspiracy are called conspirators.
Constitution
The basic law or laws of a nation or a state which
sets out how that state will be organized by
deciding the powers and authorities of
government between different political units, and
by stating and the basic principles of society.
Constitutions are not necessarily written and may
be based on aged customs and conventions, as is
the case in England and New Zealand (the USA,
Canada and Australia all have written
constitutions).
Construction
The legal process of interpreting a phrase or
document; of trying to find it's meaning. Whether
it be a contract or a statute, there are times when
a phrase may be unclear or of several meanings.
Then, either lawyers or judges must attempt to
interpret or "construct" the probable aim and
purpose of the phrase, by extrapolating from
other parts of the document or, in the case of
statutes, referring to a interpretation law which
gives legal construction guidelines. Generally,
there are two types of construction methods:
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literal (strict) or liberal.


Constructive dismissal
Under the employment law of some states,
judges will consider a situation where there has
been a fundamental violation of the rights of an
employee, by the employer, so severe that the
employee would have the right to consider
himself as dismissed, even though, in fact, there
has been no act of dismissal on the part of the
employer. For example, if an employer tries to
force an employee to accept a drastic demotion,
the employee might have a case for constructive
dismissal and would be able to assume that the
employment contract has been ended and seek
compensation from a court.
Constructive trust
A trust which a court declares or imposes onto
participants of very specific circumstances such
as those giving rise to an action for unjust
enrichment, and notwithstanding the lack of any
willing settlor to declare the trust (contrast with
express trusts and resulting trusts).
Contempt of court
A act of defiance of court authority or dignity.
Contempt of court can be direct (swearing at a
judge or violence against a court officer) or
constructive (disobeying a court order). The
punishment for contempt is a fine or a brief stay
in jail (i.e. overnight).
Contingency fee
A method of payment of legal fees represented by
a percentage of an award. Lawyers get paid in
one of two ways: either you pay a straight hourly
rate as you might pay a plumber (eg. $400 an
hour) or the lawyer might "gamble" (i.e.
"contingency" fee) and agree to only get paid if
the claim is successful and by taking a portion
(eg. one-third) of any award that comes after the
filing of the claim. For example, if you go and see
a lawyer because, after a medical emergency,
your health insurance company refuses to pay
your medical bills in violation of their policy, the
law firm might say: "no money down. In fact, we
don't get paid a cent unless you do. And then, we
take one-third off the top of any award you might
get." This allows the client to receive legal
services without putting any money down and it
allows the lawyer to advertise "we don't get paid
unless you do." The lawyer associations in some
counties prohibit contingency fee arrangements.
In those countries that allow them, they are very
prevalent in personal injury cases.
Contract
An agreement between persons which obliges
each party to do or not to do a certain thing.
Technically, a valid contract requires an offer and
an acceptance of that offer, and, in common law
countries, consideration.
Contract law
That body of law which regulates the enforcement
of contracts. Contract law has its origins
thousands of years as the early civilizations
began to trade with each other, a legal system
was created to support and to facilitate that
trade. The English and French developed similar

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contract law systems, both referring extensively


to old Roman contract law principles such as
consensus ad idem or caveat emptor. There are
some minor differences on points of detail such as
the English law requirement that every contract
contain consideration. More and more states are
changing their laws to eliminate consideration as
a prerequisite to a valid contract thus contributing
to the uniformity of law. Contract law is the basis
of all commercial dealings from buying a bus
ticket to trading on the stock market.
Contributory negligence
The negligence of a person which, while not being
the primary cause of a tort, nevertheless
combined with the act or omission of the primary
defendant to cause the tort, and without which
the tort would not have occurred.
Conversion
The action of conversion is a common law legal
proceeding for damages by an owner of property
against a defendant who came across the
property and who, rather than return the
property, converted that property to his own use
or retained possession of the property or
otherwise interfered with the property. The
innocence of the defendant who took the property
is not an issue. It is the conversion that gives rise
to the cause of action. This common law action
replaced the old action of trover by English law
dated 1852. Compare with detinue.
Conveyance
A written document which transfers property from
one person to another. In real-estate law, the
conveyance usually refers to the actual document
which transfers ownership, between persons
living (i.e. other than by will), or which charges
the land with another's interest, such as a
mortgage.
Conviction
The formal decision of a criminal trial which finds
the accused guilty. It is the finding of a judge or
jury, on behalf of the state, that a person has,
beyond reasonable doubt, committed the crime
for which he, or she, has been accused. It is the
ultimate goal of the prosecution and the result
resisted by the defense. Once convicted, an
accused may then be sentenced.
Coparcenary
An obsolete co-ownership mechanism of English
law where property, if there was no will, always
went to the eldest son. If there was no male heir,
the property went to all the female children
collectively as a form of co-ownership.
Copyright
The exclusive right to produce or reproduce
(copy), to perform in public or to publish an
original literary or artistic work. Many countries
have expanded the definition of a "literary work"
to include computer programs or other
electronically stored information.
Coroner
A public official who holds an inquiry into violent
or suspicious deaths. A coroner has the power to
summon people to the inquest.
Corporal punishment

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A punishment for some violation of conduct which


involves the infliction of pain on, or harm to the
body. A fine or imprisonment is not considered to
be corporal punishment (in the latter case,
although the body is confined, no punishment is
inflicted upon the body). The death penalty is the
most drastic form of corporal punishment and is
also called capital punishment. Some schools still
use a strap to punish students. Some countries
still punish habitual thieves by cutting off a hand.
These are forms of corporal punishment, as is any
form of spanking, whipping or bodily mutilation
inflicted as punishment.
Corporate secretary
Officer of a corporation responsible for the official
documents of the corporation such as the official
seal, records of shares issued, and minutes of all
board or committee meetings.
Corporation
A legal entity, allowed by legislation, which
permits a group of people, as shareholders (forprofit companies) or members (non-profit
companies), to create an organization, which can
then focus on pursuing set objectives, and
empowered with legal rights which are usually
only reserved for individuals, such as to sue and
be sued, own property, hire employees or loan
and borrow money. Also known as a "company."
The primary advantage of for profit corporations
is that it provides its shareholders with a right to
participate in the profits (by dividends) without
any personal liability because the company
absorbs the entire liability of the organization.
Costs
This is a term often used in judgments as in "the
defendant will pay costs." When a person is
condemned to "costs" it means that he has to pay
all the court costs such as the fees for bringing
the action, witness fees and other fees paid out
by the other side in bringing the action to justice.
A court can also condemn a losing party to
"special costs" but this is considered punitive as it
would include the other side's lawyer bill. The rule
in most places is that "costs follows the event"
which means that the loser pays. In most states,
the court has the final say on costs and may
decide not to make an order on costs.
Council
A formal group of experts brought together on a
regular basis to debate matters within that sphere
of expertise, and with advisory powers to
government. For example, Canada has a
'Standards Council of Canada" which debates and
proposes standards policies and is able to make
recomendations to the government of Canada. It
can be contrasted with a commission which,
although also a body of experts, is typically given
regulatory powers in addition to a role as advisor
to the government.
Court martial
A military court set up to try and punish offenses
taken by members of the army, navy or air force.
Court of admiralty
A rather archaic term used to denote the court
which has the right to hear shipping, ocean and
sea legal cases. Also known as "maritime law".
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Covenant
A written document in which signatories either
commit themselves to do a certain thing, to not
do a certain thing or in which they agree on a
certain set of facts. They are very common in real
property dealings and are used to restrict land
use such as amongst shopping mall tenants or for
the purpose of preserving heritage property. For
example, a coventor to a mortgage commits
themself to pay the mortgage if the mortgagor
defaults.
Creditor
A person to whom money, goods or services are
owed by the debtor.
Crime
An act or omission which is prohibited by criminal
law. Each state sets out a limited series of acts
(crimes) which are prohibited and punishes the
commission of these acts by a fine, imprisonment
or some other form of punishment. In exceptional
cases, an omission to act can constitute a crime,
such as failing to give assistance to a person in
peril or failing to report a case of child abuse.
Criminal conversation
Synonymous with adultery. In old English law,
this was a claim for damages the husband could
institute against the adulterer.
Criminal law
That body of the law that deals with conduct
considered so harmful to society as a whole that
it is prohibited by statute, prosecuted and
punished by the government.
Cross-examination
In trials, each party calls witnesses. Each party
may also question the other's witness(es). When
you ask questions of the other party's witness
(es), it is called a "cross-examination" and you
are allowed considerably more latitude in crossexamination then when you question your own
witnesses (called an "examination-in-chief"). For
example, you are not allowed to ask leading
questions to your own witness whereas you can in
cross-examination.
Crown
The word refers specifically to the British
Monarch, where she is the head of state of
Commonwealth countries. Prosecutions and civil
cases taken (or defended) by the government are
taken in the name of the Crown as head of state.
That is why public prosecutors are referred to, in
Canada, as "Crown" prosecutors and criminal
cases take the form of "The Crown vs. John Doe"
or "Regina vs. John Doe", Regina being Latin for
"The Queen."
Cuius est solum, ejus est usque ad caelum et ad inferos
Latin: who owns the land, owns down to the
center of the earth and up to the heavens. This
principle of land ownership has been greatly
tempered by case law which has limited
ownership upwards to the extent necessary to
maintain structures. Otherwise, airplanes would
trespass incessantly.
Culpa lata
Latin for gross negligence. It is more than just
simple negligence and includes any action or an

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omission in reckless disregard of the


consequences to the safety or property of
another.
Curtilage
The yard surrounding a residence or dwelling
house which is reserved for or used by the
occupants for their enjoyment or work. Curtilage
may or may not be inclosed by fencing and
includes any outhouses such as stand-alone
garages or workshops. It is a term one might
come across in a search warrant which calls for a
search of the residence its' curtilage of a
particular person.
Custody
Means the charge and control of a child including
the right to make all major decisions such as
education, religious upbringing, training, health
and welfare. Custody, without qualification
usually refers to a combination of physical
custody and legal custody. For other varieties of
custody, see joint custody, split custody and
divided custody.
Cy-pres
"As near as may be": a technical word used in the
law of trusts or of wills to refer to a power that
the courts have to, rather than void the
document, to construct or interpret the will or a
trust document "as near as may be" to the actual
intentions of the signatory, where a literal
construction would give the document illegal,
impracticable or impossible effect.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook
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Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to

Duhaime's Canadian Law Dictionary : C

the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"Tis much more prudence to
acquit two persons, though
actually guilty, than to pass
sentence of condemnation on
one that is virtuous and
innocent." Voltaire.

Damages
A cash compensation ordered by a court to offset
losses or suffering caused by another's fault or
negligence. Damages are a typical request made
of a court when persons sue for breach of
contract or tort.
Death penalty
Also known as capital punishment, this is the
most severe form of corporal punishment as it is
requires law enforcement officers to kill the
offender. Forms of the death penalty include
hanging from the neck, gassing, firing squad and
has included use of the guillotine.
de bonis non
Latin and short for de bonis non administratis. A
word used exclusively in estate matters and
refers to situations where an estate is
abandonoed by an administrator only partially
administered and someone must be appointed to
complete the administration of the residue of the
estate; those assets not yet administered.
Debtor
A person who owes money, goods or services to
another, the latter being referred to as the
creditor.
Decapitation
The act of beheading a person, usually instantly
such as with a large and heavy knife or by
guillotine, as a form of capital punishment. This
form of capital punishment is still in use in some
Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia.
Decree absolute
The name given to the final and conclusive court
order after the condition of a decree nisi is met.
Decree nisi
A provisional decision of a court which does not
have force or effect until a certain condition is
met such as another petition brought before the
court or after the passage of a period time, after
which it is called a decree absolute. Although no
longer required in many jurisdictions, this was the
model for divorce procedures wherein a court
would issue A decree nisi, which would have no
force or effect until a period of time passed (30
days or 6 months).
Deed
A written and signed document which sets out the
things that have to be done or recognitions of the
parties towards a certain object. Under older
common law, a deed had to be sealed; that is,
accompanied not only by a signature but with an
impression on wax onto the document. The word
deed is also most commonly used in the context
of real estate because these transactions must
usually be signed and in writing.
Deem

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To accept a document or an event as conclusive


of a certain status in the absence of evidence or
facts which would normally be required to prove
that status. For example, in matters of child
support, a decision of a foreign court could be
"deemed" to be a decision of the court of another
for the purpose of enforcement.
De facto
Latin: as a matter of fact; something which, while
not necessarily lawful or legally sanctified, exists
in fact. A common law spouse may be referred to
a de facto wife or de facto husband: although not
legally married, they live and carry-on their lives
as if married. A de facto government is one which
has seized power by force or in any other
unconstitutional method and governs in spite of
the existence of a de jure government.
Defalcation
1. Defaulting on a debt or other obligation such to
account for public or trust funds. Usually used in
the context of public officials. 2. Defalcation has
another legal meaning referring to the setting-off
of two debts owed between two people by the
agreement to a new amount representing the
balance. I owe you $7 and you owe me $3; we
agree to "defalk"; the result is that I owe you $4.
This is a type of novation.
Defamation
An attack on the good reputation of a person, by
slander or libel.
Defeasance
A side-contract which contains a condition which,
if realized, could defeat the main contract. The
common English usage of the word "defeasance"
has also become acceptable in law, referring to a
contract that is susceptible to being declared void
as in "immoral contracts are susceptible to
defeasance."
Defendant
The person, company or organization who
defends a legal action taken by a plaintiff and
against whom the court has been asked to order
damages or specific corrective action redress
some type of unlawful or improper action alleged
by the plaintiff.
Dehors
French for outside. In the context of legal
proceedings, it refers to that which is irrelevant or
outside the scope of the debate.
De jure
Latin: "of the law." The term has come to
describe a total adherence of the law. For
example, a de jure government is one which has
been created in respect of constitutional law and
is in all ways legitimate even though a de facto
government may be in control.
Delegatus non potest delegare
One of the pivotal principles of administrative
law: that a delegate cannot delegate. In other
words, a person to whom an authority or decisionmaking power has been delegated to from a
higher source, canot, in turn, delegate again to
another, unless the original delegation explicitly
authorized it.
Demand letter
A letter from a lawyer, on behalf of a client, that

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demands payment or some other action, which is


in default. Demand letters are not always
prerequisites for a legal suit but there are
exceptions such as legal action on promissory
notes or if the contract requires it. Basically, a
demand letter sets out why the payment or action
is claimed, how it should be carried out (eg.
payment in full), directions for the reply and a
deadline for the reply. Demand letters are often
used in business contexts because they are a
courtesy attempt to maintain some goodwill
between business parties and they often prompt
payment, avoiding expensive litigation. A demand
letter often contains the "threat" that if it is not
adhered to, the next communication between the
parties will be through a court of law in the form
of formal legal action.
Demarche
A word coined by the diplomatic community and
referring to a strongly worded warning by one
country to another and often, either explicitly or
implicitly, with the threat of military consequence.
Demarches are often precursors to hostilities or
war. In September, 1996, for example, US
President Clinton issued a demarche to Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein when intelligence
reports showed troops massing along the border
of Kurd communities.
De minimis non curat lex
Latin: a common law principle whereby judges
will not sit in judgement of extremely minor
transgressions of the law. It has been restated as
"the law does not concern itself with trifles".
Demurrer
This is a motion put to a trial judge after the
plaintiff has completed his or her case, in which
the defendant, while not objecting to the facts
presented, and rather than responding by a full
defence, asks the court to reject the petition right
then and there because of a lack of basis in law
or insufficiency of the evidence. This motion has
been been abolished in many states and, instead,
any such arguments are to be made while
presenting a regular defence to the petition.
De novo
Latin: new. This term is used to refer to a trial
which starts over, which wipes the slate clean and
begins all over again, as if any previous partial or
complete hearing had not occurred.
Deportation
The removal of a foreign national under
immigration laws for reasons such as illegal entry
or conduct dangerous to the public welfare. The
grounds for deportation varies from country to
country.
Deposition
The official statement by a witness taken in
writing (as opposed to testimony which where a
witnesses give their perception of the facts
verbally). Affidavits are the most common kind of
depositions.
Descendant
Those person who are born of, or from children
of, another are called that person's descendants.
Grandchildren are descendants of their
grandfather as children are descendants of their
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natural parents. The law also distinguishes


between collateral descendants and lineal
descendants.
Detinue
A common law action similar to conversion and
also involving the possession of property by the
defendant but belonging to the plaintiff but in
which the plaintiff asks the court for the return of
the property, although the plaintiff may also ask
for damages for the duration of the possession.
Devastavit
Latin for "he has wasted." This is the technical
word referring to a personal representative who
has mismanaged the estate and allowed an
avoidable loss to occur. This action opens the
personal representative to personal liability for
the loss.
Devise
The transfer or conveyance of real property by
will.
Dicta or dictum
Latin: an observation by a judge on a matter not
specifically before the court or not necessary in
determining the issue before the court; a side
opinion which does not form part of the judgment
for the purposes of stare decisis. May also be
called "obiter dictum."
Diplomat
An official representative of a state, present in
another state for the purposes of general
representation of the state-of-origin or for the
purpose of specific international negotiations on
behalf of the diplomat's state-of-origin.
Disbursement
Miscellaneous expenses other than lawyer fees
and court costs (i.e. filing fees) which paid on
behalf of another person and for which
reimbursement will eventually be demanded of
that person. In a personal liability case, for
example, typical disbursements might be expert
medical reports, private investigator reports,
photocopying and courier costs and the like.
Discretionary trust
A trust in which the settlor has given the trustee
full discretion to decide which (and when)
members of a group of beneficiaries is to receive
either the income or the capital of the trust.
Disrate
A term of maritime law where an officer or other
seaman is either demoted in rank or deprived of a
promotion.
Dissent
To disagree. The word is used in legal circles to
refer to the minority opinion of a judge which
runs contrary to the conclusions of the majority.
Dissolution
The act of ending, terminating or winding-up a
company or state of affairs. For example, when
the life of a company is ended by normal legal
means, it is said to be "dissolved". The same is
said of marriage or partnerships which, by
dissolution, ends the legal relationship between
those persons formally joined by the marriage or
partnership.
Distraint
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The right of a landlord to seize the property of a


tenant which is in the premises being rented, as
collateral against a tenant that has not paid the
rent or has otherwise defaulted on the lease, such
as wanton disrepair or destruction of the
premises. A common way to "distrain" against a
tenant is by changing locks and giving notice to
the tenant. A legal action to reclaim goods that
have been distrained is called replevin.
Dividend
A proportionate distribution of profits made in the
form of a money payment to shareholders, by a
for-profit corporation. Dividends are declared by a
company's board of directors.
Divorce
The final, legal ending of a marriage, by Court
order.
DNA
Abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. A
chromosome molecule which carries genetic
coding unique to each person with the only
exception of identical twins (that is why it is also
called "DNA fingerprinting"). Through laboratory
process, DNA can be extracted from body tissue
such a strand of hair, semen, blood and matched
against DNA discovered at a crime scene or on a
victim to scientifically implicate an accused. Can
also be used to match DNA between parents in a
paternity suit.
Docket
An official court record book which lists all the
cases before the court and which may also note
the status or action required for each case.
Doctrine
A rule or principle or the law established through
the repeated application of legal precedents.
Domicile
The permanent residence of a person; a place to
which, even if he or she were temporary absent,
they intend to return. In law, it is said that a
person may have many residences but only one
domicile.
Dominant tenement
Used when referring to easements to specify that
property (i.e. tenement) or piece of land that
benefits from, or has the advantage of, an
easement.
Dominion directum
Latin: the qualified ownership of a landlord, not
having possession or use of property but retaining
ownership. Used in feudal English land systems to
describe the King's ownership of all the land,
even though most of it was lent out to lords for
their exclusive use and enjoyment.
Dominion utile
Latin: the property rights of a tenant. While not
owning the property in a legal sense, the tenant,
as having dominion utile, enjoys full and exclusive
possession and use of the property.
Donatio mortis causa
A death-bed gift, made by a dying person, with
the intent that the person receiving the gift shall
keep the thing if death ensues. Such a gift is
exempted from the estate of the deceased as
property is automatically conveyed upon death.
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Donee

In most jurisdictions, real property cannot be


transferred by these death-bed gifts.
Another word to describe the beneficiary of a
trust. Also used to describe the person who is the
recipient of a power of attorney; the person who
would have to exercise the power of attorney.

Donor

The person who donates property to the benefit


of another, usually through the legal mechanism
of a trust. The law books of some countries refer
to the trust donor as a "settlor." Also used to
describe the person who signs a power of
attorney.
Duces tecum
Latin: bring with you. Used most frequently for a
species of subpoena (as in "subpoena duces
tecum") which seeks not so much the appearance
of a person before a court of law, but the
surrender of a thing (eg. a document or some
other evidence) by its holder, to the court, to
serve as evidence in a trial.
Due process
A term of US law which refers to fundamental
procedural legal safeguards of which every citizen
has an absolute right when a state or court
purports to take a decision that could affect any
right of that citizen. The most basic right
protected under the due process doctrine is the
right to be given notice, and an opportunity to be
heard. The term is now also in use in other
countries, again to refer to basic fundamental
legal rights such as the right to be heard.
Dum casta
Latin: for so long as she remains chaste.
Separation agreements years ago used to contain
dum casta clauses which said that if the women
were to start another relationship, she forfeited
her entitlement to maintenance.
Dum sola
Latin: for so long as she remains unmarried.
Dum vidua
Latin: for so long as she remains a widow.
Duplex
A house which has separate but complete
facilities to accommodate two families as either
adjacent units or one on top of the other.
Duress
Where a person is prevented from acting (or not
acting) according to their free will, by threats or
force of another, it is said to be "under duress".
Contracts signed under duress are voidable and,
in may places, you cannot be convicted of a crime
if you can prove that you were forced or
threatened into committing the crime (although
this defence may not be available for serious
crimes).

Suggested Legal Reference Books

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Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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"Fragile as reason is and
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undisciplined feeling." Justice
Felix Frankfurter.

Easement
A right of passage over a neighbor's land or
waterway. An easement is a type of servitude.
For every easement, there is a dominant and a
servient tenement. Easements are also classified
as negative (which prevents the servient land
owner from doing certain things) or affirmative
easements (the most common, which allows the
beneficiary of the easement to do certain things,
such as a right-of-way). Although right-of-ways
are the most common easements, there are many
others such as rights to tunnel under another's
land, to use a washroom, to emit smoke or
fumes, to pass over with transmission towers, to
access a dock and to access a well.
Ecclesiastical law
Synonymous to canon law: the body of churchmade law which binds only those persons which
recognize it, usually only church officers, and
based on aged precepts of canon law.
Emancipation
Term used to describe the act of freeing a person
who was under the legal authority of another
(such as a child before the age of majority) from
that control (such as child reaching the age of
majority). The term was also used when slavery
was legal to describe a former slave that had
bought or been given freedom from his or her
master. When Abraham Lincoln outlawed slavery
he did so in a law called the "emancipation
proclamation".
Embargo
This is an act of international military aggression
where an order is made prohibiting ships or goods
from leaving a certain port, city or territory and
may be enforced by military threat of destroying
any vehicle that attempts to break it or by trade
penalties. The word has also come to refer to a
legal prohibition of trade with a certain nation or
a prohibition towards the use of goods or services
produced by or within a certain nation.
Embezzle
The illegal transfer of money or property that,
although possessed legally by the embezzler, is
diverted to the embezzler personally by his or her
fraudulent action. For example, an employee
would embezzle money from the employer or a
public officer could embezzle money received
during the course of their public duties and
secretly convert it to their personal use.
Eminent domain
USA: The legal power to expropriate private land
for the sake of public necessity.
Emolument
A legal word which refers to all wages, benefits or
other benefit received as compensation for
holding some office or employment.

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Emphyteusis
Civil law: a long-term (many years or in
perpetuity) rental of land or buildings including
the exclusive enjoyment of all product of that
land and the exercise of all property rights
typically reserved for the property owner such as
mortgaging the property for the term of the
emphyteusis or permitting a right of way.
Emptio or emtio
Latin for "purchase" or the contract in which
something is bought.
Enactment
A law or a statute; a document which is published
as an enforceable set of written rules is said to be
"enacted".
Endorsement
Something written on the back of a document. An
alternate spelling, in some English jurisdictions, is
"indorsement." In the laws of bills of exchange,
an endorsement is a signature on the back of the
bill of exchange by which the person to whom the
note is payable transfers it by thus making the
note payable to the bearer or to a specific person.
An endorsement of claim means that if you want
to ask a court to issue a writ against someone,
you have to "endorse" your writ with a concise
summary of the facts supporting the claim,
sometimes called a statement of claim.
Endowment
The transfer of money or property (usually as a
gift) to a public organization for a specific
purpose, such as medical research or
scholarships.
Entrapment
The inducement, by law enforcement officers or
their agents, of another person to commit a crime
for the purposes of bringing charges for the
commission of that artificially-provoked crime.
This technique, because it involves abetting the
commission of a crime, which is itself a crime, is
severely curtailed under the constitutional law of
many states.
Equity
A branch of English law which developed
hundreds of years ago when litigants would go to
the King and complain of harsh or inflexible rules
of common law which prevented "justice" from
prevailing. For example, strict common law rules
would not recognize unjust enrichment, which
was a legal relief developed by the equity courts.
The typical Court of Equity decision would prevent
a person from enforcing a common law court
judgment. The kings delegated this special
judicial review power over common law court
rulings to chancellors. A new branch of law
developed known as "equity", with their decisions
eventually gaining precedence over those of the
common law courts. A whole set of equity law
principles were developed based on the
predominant "fairness" characteristic of equity
such as "equity will not suffer a wrong to be
without a remedy" or "he who comes to equity
must come with clean hands". Many legal rules, in
countries that originated with English law, have
equity-based law such as the law of trusts and

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mortgages.
Escheat
Where property is returned to the government
upon the death of the owner, because there is
nobody to inherit the property. Escheat is based
on the Latin principle of dominion directum as
was often used in the feudal system when a
tenant died without heirs or if the tenant was
convicted of a felony.
Escrow
When the performance of something is
outstanding and a third party holds onto money
or a written document (such as shares or a deed)
until a certain condition is met between the two
contracting parties.
Estate law
A term used by the law to decribe that part of the
law which regulates wills, probate and other
subjects related to the distribution of a deceased
person's "estate".
Estoppel
A rule of law that when person A, by act or
words, gives person B reason to believe a certain
set of facts upon which person B takes action,
person A cannot later, to his (or her) benefit,
deny those facts or say that his (or her) earlier
act was improper. A 1891 English court decision
summarized estoppel as "a rule of evidence which
precludes a person from denying the truth of
some statement previously made by himself".
Euthanasia
The putting to death, by painless method, of a
terminally-ill or severely debilitated person
through the omission (intentionally withholding a
life-saving medical procedure, also known as
"passive euthanasia") or commission of an act
("active euthanasia'). See also living will.
Evidence
Proof of fact(s) presented at a trial. The best and
most common method is by oral testimony;
where you have an eye-witness swear to tell the
truth and to then relate to the court (or jury)
their experience. Evidence is essential in
convincing the judge or jury of your facts as the
judge (or jury) is expected to start off with a
blank slate; no preconceived idea or knowledge of
the facts. So it is up to the opposing parties to
prove (by providing evidence), to the satisfaction
of the court (or jury), the facts needed to support
their case. Besides oral testimony, an object can
be deposited with the court (eg. a signed
contract). This is sometimes called "real
evidence." In other rarer cases, evidence can be
circumstantial.
Ex aequo et bono
Latin for "in justice and fairness." Something to
be decided ex aequo et bono is something that is
to be decided by principles of what is fair and
just. Most legal cases are decided on the strict
rule of law. For example, a contract will be
normally upheld and enforced by the legal system
no matter how "unfair" it may prove to be. But a
case to be decided ex aequo et bono, overrides
the strict rule of law and requires instead a
decision based on what is fair and just given the
circumstances.
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Examination-in-chief
The questioning of your own witness under oath.
Witnesses are introduced to a trial by their
examination-in-chief, which is when they answer
questions asked by the lawyer representing the
party which called them to the stand. After their
examination-in-chief, the other party's lawyer can
question them too; this is called "crossexamination".
Exculpate
Something that excuses or justifies a wrong
action.
Executor
A person specifically appointed by a testator to
administer the will ensuring that final wishes are
respected (i.e. that the will is properly
"executed"). An executor is a personal
representative.
Exhibit
A document or object shown to the court as
evidence in a trial. They are each given a number
or letter by the court clerk as they are introduced
for future reference during the trial. For example,
weapon are frequently given as exhibits in
criminal trials. Except with special permission of
the court, exhibits are locked up in court custody
until the trial is over.
Ex parte
Latin: for one party only. Ex parte refers to those
proceedings where one of the parties has not
received notice and, therefore, is neither present
nor represented. If a person received notice of a
hearing and chose not to attend, then the hearing
would not be called ex parte. Some jurisdictions
expand the definition to include any proceeding
that goes undefended, even though proper notice
has been given.
Ex patriate
A person who has abandoned his or her country
of origin and citizenship and has become a
subject or citizen of another country.
Ex post facto
Latin: after the fact. Legislation is called ex post
facto if the law attempts to extend backwards in
time and punish acts committed before the date
of the law's approval. Such laws are
constitutionally prohibited in most modern
democracies. For example, the USA Constitution
prohibits "any ex post facto law".
Expropriation
Canada: the forced sale of land to a public
authority. Synonymous to the USA doctrine of
"eminent domain".
Express trust
A trust which is clearly created by the settlor,
usually in the form of a document (eg. a will),
although they can be oral. They are to be
contrasted with trusts which come to being
through the operation of the law and which do not
result from the clear intent or decision of any
settlor to create a trust (eg. constructive trust).
Expunge
To physically erase; to white or strike out. To
"expunge" something from a court record means
to remove every reference to it from the court

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Ex rel

file.

An abbreviation of "ex relatione", Latin for "on the


relation of." Refers to information or action taken
that is not based on first-hand experience but is
based on the statement or account of another
person. For example, a criminal charge "ex rel"
simply means that the attorney general of a state
is prosecuting on the basis of a statement of a
person other than the attorney general himself
(or herself.)
Extortion
Forcing a person to give up property in a thing
through the use of violence, fear or under
pretense of authority.
Extradition
The arrest and delivery of a fugitive wanted for a
crime committed in another country, usually
under the terms of a extradition treaty.
Ex turpi causa non oritur actio
Latin: "Of an illegal cause there can be no
lawsuit." In other words, if one is engaged in
illegal activity, one cannot sue another for
damages that arose out of that illegal activity. A
example is an injury suffered by a passenger in a
stolen car, which that passenger knew to be
stolen and was a free participant in the joyriding.
If vehicle crashes injuring the passenger, there is
no action in tort against the driver under the ex
turpi causa non oritur actio principle.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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one being made." Otto von
Bismarck.

Fair market value


The hypothetical most probable price that could
be obtained for a property by average, informed
purchasers.
Fee simple
The most extensive tenure allowed under the
feudal system allowing the tenant to sell or
convey by will or be transfer to a heir if the owner
dies intestate. In modern law, almost all land is
held in fee simple and this is as close as one can
get to absolute ownership in common law.
Fee tail
A form of tenure under the feudal system that
could only be transferred to a lineal descendant.
If there were no lineal descendants upon the
death of the tenant, the land reverted back to the
lord.
Felony
A serious crime for which the punishment is
prison for more than a year or death. Crimes of
less gravity are called misdemeanours. This term
is no longer used in England or other
Commonwealth countries but remains a major
distinction in the United States. Historically, in
England, the term referred to crimes for which
the punishment was the loss of land, life or a
limb.
Feudal system
A social structure that existed throughout much
of Europe between 800 and 1400 and that
revolved around a multi-level hierarchy between
lords (who held land granted under tenure from
the king), and their tenants (also called "vassals").
Tenants would lease land from the lord in
exchange for loyalty and goods or services, such
as military assistance or money. In exchange, the
tenant would be protected from attack.
Fiduciary
Normally, the term is synonymous to a trustee,
which is the classic form of a fiduciary
relationship. A fiduciary has rights and powers
which would normally belong to another person.
The fiduciary holds those rights which he or she
must exercise to the benefit of the beneficiary. A
fiduciary must not allow any conflict of interest to
infect their duties towards the beneficiary and
must exercise a high standard of care in
protecting or promoting the interests of the
beneficiary. Fiduciary responsibilities exist for
persons other than trustees such as between
solicitor and client and principal and agent.
Fieri facias
A writ of fieri facias commands a sheriff to take
and sell enough property from the person who
lost the law suit, to pay the debt owed by the
judgment.

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Force majeure
French for an act of God; an inevitable,
unpredictable act of nature, not dependent on an
act of man. Used in insurance contracts to refer
to acts of nature such as earthquakes or
lightning.
Foreclosure
The technical meaning of the word is to wipe out
a right of redemption on a property. Generally,
this is what happens when someone does not pay
their mortgage. Even though there has been no
payments, the borrower retains a equitable right
of redemption if, some day, he or she were able
to find the money and try to exercise their right
of redemption. To clear the title of this potential,
a lender goes to court, demonstrates the default,
requests that a date be set where the entire
amount becomes payable after which, in the
absence of payment, the lender is automatically
relieved of the requirement to redeem the
property back to the borrower; the debtor's right
of redemption is said to be forever barred and
foreclosed. This cancels all rights a borrower
would have in the property and the property then
belongs entirely to the lender, who is then free to
possess or sell the property. The word is
frequently used to generally refer to the lender's
actions of repossessing and selling a property for
default in mortgage payments.
Fraud
Deceitful conduct designed to manipulate another
person to give something of value by (1) lying,
(2) by repeating something that is or ought to
have been known by the fraudulent party as false
or suspect or (3) by concealing a fact from the
other party which may have saved that party
from being cheated. The existence of fraud will
cause a court to void a contract and can give rise
to criminal liability.
Freehold
A special right granting the full use of real estate
for an indeterminate time. It differs from
leasehold, which allows possession for a limited
time. There are varieties of freehold such as fee
simple and fee tail.
Freeholder
A person who owns freehold property rights (i.e.
in a piece of real estate; either land or a
building).
Fugitive
One who runs away to avoid arrest, prosecution
or imprisonment. Many extradition laws also call
the suspect a "fugitive" although, in that context,
it does not necessarily mean that the suspect was
trying to hide in the country from which
extradition is being sought.
Functus officio
Latin: an officer or agency whose mandate has
expired either because of the arrival of an expiry
date or because an agency has accomplished the
purpose for which it was created.
Fungibles
Goods which are comprised of many identical
parts such as a bushel of grain or a barrel of
apples or oil, and which can be easily replaced by

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other, identical goods. If the goods are sold by


weight or number, this is a good sign that they
are fungible.
Furiosi nulla voluntas est
A Latin expression that mentally impaired persons
cannot validly sign a will.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"Fragile as reason is and
limited as law is as the
institutionalized medium of
reason, that's all we have
standing between us and the
tyranny of mere will and the
cruelty of unbridled,
undisciplined feeling." Justice
Felix Frankfurter.

Garnishment
The seizing of a person's property, credit or
salary, on the basis of a law which allows it, and
for the purposes of paying off a debt. The person
who possesses the assets of the debtor and is the
subject of the seizure is called a "garnishee". This
is frequently used in the enforcement of child
support where delinquent debtors will be
subjected to salary garnishment. A percentages
of their wages is subtracted directly off their paycheck and directed to the person in need of
support (the employer being the garnishee).
Gavel
A wooden mallet used by a judge to bring
proceedings to a start or to an end or to
command attention in his or her court.
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
Multilateral international treaty first created in
1947 and frequently amended (most recently in
1994) to which 125 countries subscribe. GATT
provides for fair trade rules and the gradual
reduction of tariffs, duties and other trade
barriers. The 1994 amendment created a World
Trade Organization, which oversees the
implementation of the GATT.
General counsel
The senior lawyer of a corporation. This is
normally a full-time employee of the corporation
although some corporations contract this position
out to a lawyer with a private firm.
Gift over
A device used in wills and trusts to provide for the
gift of property to a second recipient if a certain
event occurs, such as the death of the first
recipient. For example, I give you my car but on
your death you must give it to your child; that is
a gift over to the benefit of your child.
Goodwill
An intangible business asset which includes a
cultivated reputation and consequential attraction
and confidence of repeat customers and
connections.
Grand Jury
An American criminal justice procedure whereby,
in each court district, a group of 16-23 citizens
hold an inquiry on criminal complaints brought by
the prosecutor and decide if a trial is warranted,
in which case an indictment is issued. If a Grand
Jury rejects a proposed indictment it is known as
a "no bill"; if they accept to endorse a proposed
indictment it is known as a "true bill".
Gross negligence
Any action or an omission in reckless disregard of
the consequences to the safety or property of
another. Sometimes referred to as "very great
negligence" and it is more then just neglect of
ordinary care towards others or just inadvertence.

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Also known as the Latin term culpa lata.


Guarantor
A person who pledges collateral for the contract
of another, but separately, as part of an
independently contract with the obligee of the
original contract. Compare with "surety."
Guardian
An individual who, by legal appointment or by the
effect of a written law, is given custodyof both the
property and the person of one who is unable to
manage their own affairs, such as a child or
mentally-disabled person.
Guardian ad litem
A guardian appointed to assist an infant or other
mentally incapable defendant or plaintiff, or any
such incapacitated person that may be a party in
a legal action.
Guillotine
A device developed in France to inflict the death
penalty through decapitation by the dropping of a
weighted and sharp metal blade onto the
restrained neck of a convict.

H
Habeas corpus
Latin: a court petition which orders that a person
being detained be produced before a judge for a
hearing to decide whether the detention is lawful.
Habeas corpus was one of the concessions the
British Monarch made in the Magna Carta and has
stood as a basic individual right against arbitrary
arrest and imprisonment.
Habitual offender
A person who is convicted and sentenced for
crimes over a period of time and even after
serving sentences of incarceration, such as
demonstrates a propensity towards criminal
conduct. Reformation techniques fail to alter the
behaviour of the habitual offender. Many
countries now have special laws that require the
long-term incarceration, without parole, of
habitual offenders as a means of protecting
society in the face of an individual that appears
unable to comply with the law.
Harassment
Unsolicited words or conduct which tend to
annoy, alarm or abuse another person. An
excellent alternate definition can be found in
Canadian human rights legislation as: "a course
of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or
ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome."
Name-calling ("stupid", "retard" or "dummy") is a
common form of harassment. (See also sexual
harassment.)
Hearsay
Any evidence that is offered by a witness of which
they do not have direct knowledge but, rather,
their testimony is based on what others have said
to them. For example, if Bob heard from Susan
about an accident that Susan witnessed but that
Bob had not, and Bob attempted to repeat
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Susan's story in court, it could be objected to as


"hearsay." The basic rule, when testifying in
court, is that you can only provide information of
which you have direct knowledge. In other words,
hearsay evidence is not allowed. Hearsay
evidence is also referred to as "second-hand
evidence" or as "rumor." You are able to tell a
court what you heard, to repeat the rumor, and
testify that, in fact, the story you heard was told
to you, but under the hearsay rule, your
testimony would not be evidence of the actual
facts of the story but only that you heard those
words spoken.
Holograph will
A will written entirely in the testator's handwriting
and not witnessed. Some states recognize
holograph wills, other do not. Still other states
will recognize a will as "holograph" if only part of
it is in the testator's handwriting (the other part
being type-written).
Homicide
The word includes all occasions where one human
being, by act or omission, takes away the life of
another. Murder and manslaughter are different
kinds of homicides. Executing a death-row inmate
is another form of homicide, but one which is
excusable in the eyes of the law. Another
excusable homicide is where a law enforcement
officer shoots and kills a suspect who draws a
weapon or shoots at that officer.
Hostile witness
During an examination-in-chief, a lawyer is not
allowed to ask leading questions of their own
witness. But, if that witness openly shows
hostility against the interests (or the person) that
the lawyer represents, the lawyer may ask the
court to declare the witness "hostile", after which,
as an exception of the examination-in-chief rules,
the lawyer may ask their own witness leading
questions.
Hung jury
A jury is required to make a unanimous or near
unanimous verdict. When the jurors, after full
debate and discussion, are unable to agree on a
verdict and are deadlocked with differences of
opinion that appear to be irreconcilable, it is said
to be a "hung jury". The result is a mistrial.
Husband-wife privilege
A special right that married persons have to keep
communications between them secret and even
inaccessible to a court of law. While this privilege
may have been varied in some states, it has
always been held to be lifted where one spouse
commits a crime on the other. Similar to the
client-solicitor privilege.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

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Duhaime's Canadian Law Dictionary : G-H

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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"Wherever the law ends,
tyranny begins." John Locke.

Immunity
An exemption that a person (individual or
corporate) enjoys from the normal operation of
the law such as a legal duty or liability, either
criminal or civil. For example, diplomats enjoy
"diplomatic immunity" which means that they
cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed
during their tenure as diplomat. Another example
of an immunity is where a witness agrees to
testify only if the testimony cannot be used at
some later date during a hearing against the
witness.
Incorporeal
Legal rights which are intangible such as
copyrights or patents.
Incorporeal hereditament
An incorporeal right which is attached to property
and which is inheritable. Easements and profits `
prendre are examples of incorporeal
hereditaments as are hereditary titles such as
those common in the United Kingdom.
Indefeasible
A right or title in property that cannot be made
void, defeated or canceled by any past event,
error or omission in the title. For example,
certificates of title issued under a Torrens land
titles system is said to be "indefeasible" because
the government warrants that no interest burdens
the title other than those on the certificate. This
makes long and expensive title searches
unnecessary.
Indictable offence
An offence which, in Canada, is more serious than
those which can proceed by summary conviction.
This is the Canadian equivalent to the USA
"felony". Murder and treason are examples of
crimes committed in Canada which would be
indictable offences. These crimes are usually tried
by federally-appointed judges and carry heavy
sentences.
Indictment
USA: a formal accusation returned by a Grand
Jury, that charges a person with a serious crime.
It is on the basis of an indictment that an accused
person must stand trial.
Infanticide
Murder of an infant soon after its birth.
Injunction
A court order that prohibits a party from doing
something (restrictive injunction) or compels
them to do something (mandatory injunction).
In limine
Latin: at the beginning or on the threshold. A
motion "in limine" is a motion that is tabled by
one of the parties at the very beginning of the
legal procedures.
In pari delicto

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Latin: both parties are equally at fault. Actually,


the usual use of this phrase is "in pari delicto,
potior est conditio possidentis" which means that
where both parties in a dispute are equally at
wrong, the person in possession of the contested
property will retain it (ie. the law will not
intervene).
In personam
Latin: All legal rights are either in personam or in
rem. An in personam right is a personal right
attached to a specific person. In rem rights are
property rights and enforceable against the entire
world.
In rem
Latin: All legal rights are either in personam or in
rem. In rem rights are proprietary in nature;
related to the ownership of property and not
based on any personal relationship, as is the case
with in personam rights.
Insolvent
A person not able to pay his or her debts as they
become due. "Insolvency" is a prerequisite to
bankruptcy.
Inter alia
Latin: "among other things", "for example" or
"including". Legal drafters would use it to precede
a list of examples or samples covered by a more
general descriptive statement. Sometimes they
use an inter alia list to make absolutely sure that
users of the document understand that the
general description covers a certain element
(which was covered in the general description
anyway) without, in any way, restricting the
scope of the general element to include other
things that were not singled out in the inter alia
list.
Interim order
A temporary court order; intended to be of
limited duration, usually just until the court has
had an opportunity of hearing the full case and
make a final order.
Interlineation
An addition of something to a document after it
has been signed. Such additions are ignored
unless they are initialed by the signatories and, if
applicable, witnesses (eg. wills).
Interlocutory
Proceedings taken during the course of, and
incidental to a trial. Examples include procedures
or applications made which are to assist a case in
preparing its case or of executing judgment once
obtained (eg. garnishment or judicial sale). These
decisions intervene after the start of a suit and
decide some issue other than the final decision
itself.
Interlocutory injunction
An injunction which lasts only until the end of the
trial during which the injunction was sought.
Interloper
A person who, without legal right, runs a business
(eg. without mandatory licenses), or who
wrongfully interferes or intercepts another's
business.
International law
A combination of treaties and customs which
regulates the conduct of states amongst
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Duhaime's Canadian Law Dictionary : I

themselves. The highest judicial authority of


international law is the International Court of
Justice and the administrative authority is the
United Nations.
Inter partes
Latin: between parties.
Intestate
Dying without a will.
Inter vivos
Latin: from one living person to another living
person. For example, an inter vivos trust is one
which the settlor sets up to take effect while he or
she is still alive. It can be contrasted with the
testamentary trust, which is to take effect only
upon the settlor's death. Another example is the
sale of a life estate which can only occur between
persons living; i.e. inter vivos.
Inure
To take effect, to result; to come into operation.
Islamic law
The law according to the Muslim faith and as
interpreted from the Koran. Islamic law is
probably best known for deterrent punishment,
which is the basis of the Islamic criminal system
and the fact that there is no separation of church
and state. Under Islamic law, the religion of Islam
and the government are one. Islamic law is
controlled, ruled and regulated by the Islamic
religion. Islamic law purports to regulate all public
and private behavior including personal hygiene,
diet, sexual conduct, and child rearing. Islamic
law now prevails in countries all over the middle
east and elsewhere covering twenty per cent of
the world's population.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

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Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Duhaime's Canadian Law Dictionary : I

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"Tis much more prudence to
acquit two persons, though
actually guilty, than to pass
sentence of condemnation on
one that is virtuous and
innocent." Voltaire.

Jactitation
A false boast designed to increase standing at the
expense of another. This used to form the basis
of an ancient legal petition called "jactitation of
marriage" wherein a person could be ordered by
the courts to cease claims of being married to a
certain person when, in fact, they were not
married. The tort of slander of title is a form of
jactitation.
J. D.
Abbreviation for "juris doctor" or "doctor of
jurisprudence" and the formal name given to the
university law degree in the United States. It is a
prerequisite to most bar admission exams.
Joint and several liability
Liability of more than one person for which each
person may be sued for the entire amount of
damages done by all.
Joint custody
A child custody decision which means that both
parents share joint legal custody and joint
physical custody. This is not very common and
many professionals have taken to referring to
"joint legal custody but sole maternal physical
custody" as "joint custody".
Joint tenancy
When two or more persons are equally owners of
some property. The unique aspect of joint
tenancy is that as the joint tenancy owners die,
their shares accrue to the surviving owner(s) so
that, eventually, the entire share is held by one
person. A valid joint tenancy is said to require the
"four unities": unity of interest (each joint tenant
must have an equal interest including equality of
duration and extent), unity of title (the interests
must arise from the same document), unity of
possession (each joint tenant must have an equal
right to occupy the entire property) and unity of
time: the interests of the joint tenants must arise
at the same time.
Judicial review
When a court decision is appealed, it is known as
an "appeal." But there are many administrative
agencies or tribunals which make decisions or
deliver government services of one sort or
another, the decisions of which can also be
"appealed." In many cases, the "appeal" from
administrative agencies is known as "judicial
review" which is essentially a process where a
court of law is asked to rule on the
appropriateness of the administrative agency or
tribunal's decision. Judicial review is a
fundamental principle of administrative law. A
distinctive feature of judicial review is that the
"appeal" is not usually limited to errors in law but
may be based on alleged errors on the part of the
administrative agency on findings of fact.

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Jure

Latin, from Roman law: by right, under legal


authority or by the authority of the law. A
variation, "juris" means "of right" or "of the law."
See jurisprudence below which means "science of
the law."
Jurisdiction
Refers to a court's authority to judge over a
situation usually acquired in one of three ways:
over acts committed in a defined territory (eg.
the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Australia
is limited to acts committed or originating in
Australia), over certain types of cases (the
jurisdiction of a bankruptcy court is limited to
bankruptcy cases), or over certain persons (a
military court has jurisdiction limited to actions of
enlisted personnel).
Jurisprudence
Technically, jurisprudence means the "science of
law". Statutes articulate the bland rules of law,
with only rare reference to factual situations. The
actual application of these statutes to facts is left
to judges who consider not only the statute but
also other legal rules which might be relevant to
arrive at a judicial decision; hence, the "science".
Thus, jurisprudence" has come to refer to case
law, or the legal decisions which have developed
and which accompany statutes in applying the law
against situations of fact.
Jury
A group of citizens randomly selected from the
general population and brought together to assist
justice by deciding which version, in their opinion,
constitutes "the truth" given different evidence by
opposing parties.
Jus
Latin: word which, in Roman law, meant the law
or a right. Also spelt "ius" in some English
translations. For example, public law was called
"jus publicum" and private law was called "jus
privatum."
Jus spatiandi et manendi
Latin: referring to a legal right of way, and to
enjoyment, granted to the public but only for the
purposes of recreation or education, such as upon
parks or public squares. Very similar to an
easement of which some courts have said a jus
spatiandi is a special type.
Justice
Fairness. A state of affairs in which conduct or
action is both fair and right, given the
circumstances. In law, it more specifically refers
to the paramount obligation to ensure that all
persons are treated fairly. Litigants "seek justice"
by asking for compensation for wrongs committed
against them; to right the inequity such that, with
the compensation, a wrong has been righted and
the balance of "good" or "virtue" over "wrong" or
"evil" has been corrected.

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Duhaime's Canadian Law Dictionary : J-K

kin

A blood or marriage relative; as in "next of kin"


refers to the closest relative.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"If you like laws and sausages,
you should never watch either
one being made." Otto von
Bismarck.

Laches
A legal doctrine whereby those who take too long
to assert a legal right, lose their entitlement to
compensation. When you claim that a person's
legal suit against you is not valid because of this,
you would call it "estoppel by laches".
Landlord
A land or building owner who has leased the land,
the building or a part of the land or building, to
another person.
Larceny
An old English criminal and common law offence
covering the unlawful or fraudulent removal of
another's property without the owner's consent.
The offence of theft now covers most cases of
larceny. But larceny is wider than theft as it
includes the taking of property of another person
by whatever means (by theft, overtly , by fraud,
by trickery, etc.) if an intent exists to convert that
property to one's own use against the wishes of
the owner.
Law
All the rules of conduct that have been approved
by the government and which are in force over a
certain territory and which must be obeyed by all
persons on that territory (eg. the "laws" of
Australia). Violation of these rules could lead to
government action such as imprisonment or fine,
or private action such as a legal judgement
against the offender obtained by the person
injured by the action prohibited by law.
Synonymous to act or statute although in
common usage, "law" refers not only to
legislation or statutes but also to the body of
unwritten law in those states which recognize
common law.
Lawyer
A person that has been trained in the law and
that has been certified to give legal advice or to
represent others in litigation. Also known as a
"barrister & solictor" or an attorney.
Leading question
A question which suggests an answer; usually
answerable by "yes" or "no". For example: "Did
you see David at 3 p.m.?" These are forbidden to
ensure that the witness is not coached by their
lawyer through his or her testimony. The proper
form would be: "At what time did you see David?"
Leading questions are only acceptable in crossexamination or where a witness is declared
hostile.
Lease
A special kind of contract between a property
owner and a person wanting temporary
enjoyment and use of the property, in exchange
for rent paid to the property owner. Where the

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property is land, a building, or parts of either, the


property owner is called a landlord and the
person that contracts to receive the temporary
enjoyment and use is called a tenant.
Leasehold
Real property held under a lease.
Legal custody
A child custody decision which entails the right to
make, or participate in, the significant decisions
affecting a child's health and welfare (compare
with physical custody and joint custody).
Legislation
Written and approved laws. Also known as
"statutes" or "acts." In constitutional law, one
would talk of the "power to legislate" or the
"legislative arm of government" referring to the
power of political bodies (eg: house of assembly,
Congress, Parliament) to write the laws of the
land.
Liability
Any legal obligation, either due now or at some
time in the future. It could be a debt or a promise
to do something. To say a person is "liable" for a
debt or wrongful act is to indicate that they are
the person responsible for paying the debt or
compensating the wrongful act.
Libel
Defamation by writing such as in a newspaper or
a letter.
Liberal construction
A form of construction which allows a judge to
consider other factors when deciding the meaning
of a phrase or document. For example, faced with
an ambiguous article in a statute, a liberal
construction would allow a judge to consider the
purpose and object of a statute before deciding
what the article actually means.
License
A special permission to do something on, or with,
somebody else's property which, were it not for
the license, could be legally prevented or give rise
to legal action in tort or trespass. A common
example is allowing a person to walk across your
lawn which, if it were not for the license, would
constitute trespass. Licenses are revocable at will
(unless supported by a contract) and, as such,
differs from an easement (the latter conveying a
legal interest in the land). Licenses which are not
based on a contract and which are fully revocable
are called "simple" or "bare" licenses. A common
example is the shopping mall to which access by
the public is on the basis of an implied license.
Lien
A property right which remains attached to an
object that has been sold, but not totally paid for,
until complete payment has been made. It may
involve possession of the object until the debt is
paid or it may be registered against the object
(especially if the object is real estate). Ultimately,
a lien can be enforced by a court sale of the
property to which it attached and then the debt is
paid off from the proceeds of the sale.
Life estate
A right to use and to enjoy land and/or structures
on land only for the life of the life tenant. The

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estate reverts back to the grantor (or to some


other person), at the death of the person to
whom it is given. A property right to last only for
the life of the life tenant is called the estate "pur
sa vie." If it is for the duration of the life of a
third party, it is called an estate "pur autre vie".
The rights of the life tenant are restricted to
conduct which does not permanently change the
land or structures upon it.
Life tenant
The beneficiary of a life estate.
Limited partner
A unique colleague in a partnership relationship
who has agreed to be liable only to the extent of
his (or her) investment. Limited partners, though,
have no right to manage the partnership. Limited
partners are usually just investors or promoters
who seek the tax benefits of a partnership
Limitrophe
Adjacent, bordering or contiguous.
Lineal descendant
A person who is a direct descendant such as a
child to his or her natural parent.
Liquidation
The selling of all the assets of a debtor and the
use of the cash proceeds of the sale to pay off
creditors.
Lis pendens
Latin: a dispute or matter which is the subject of
ongoing or pending litigation. Politicians will
sometimes refuse to discuss a matter or an issue
which is "lis pendens" because they do not want
their comments to be perceived as an attempt to
influence a court of law.
Literal construction
A form of construction which does not allow
evidence extrapolated beyond the actual words of
a phrase or document but, rather, takes a phrase
or document at face value, giving effect only to
the actual words used. Also known as "strict" or
"strict and literal" construction. Contrasts with
liberal construction (which allows for the input
from other factors such as the purpose of the
document being interpreted).
Litigation
A dispute is in "litigation" ( or being "litigated")
when it has become the subject of a formal court
action or law suit.
Livery
Delivery. An archaic legal word from the feudal
system referring to the actual legal transmission
of possession of an object to another. For
example, a knight would obtain an estate in land
as tenure in exchange for serving in the king's
army for 40 days a year. The king would give
exclusive possession of the land, (i.e. "livery") to
the knight. A writ of livery also developed which
allowed persons to sue for possession of land
under the feudal system. Livery (or "delivery") of
the land was important in completing legal
possession or, as it was known in the feudal
system, seisin.
Living will
A document that sets out guidelines for dealing

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with life-sustaining medical procedures in the


eventuality of the signatory's sudden debilitation.
Living wills would, for example, inform medical
staff not to provide extraordinary life-preserving
procedures on their bodies if they are incapable of
expressing themselves and suffering from an
incurable and terminal condition.
LL.B., L.M. or LL.D.
The Latin abbreviations for the three classes of
law degrees: the regular bachelor degree in law
(LL.B.), the masters degree in law (LL.M.) and
the doctorate in law (LL.D.). These are basic
prerequisites to admission to the practice of law
in many states.
Locus
Latin for "the place." For example, lawyers talk of
the "locus delicti" as the pace where a criminal
offense was commited or "loco parentis" to refer
to a person who stands in the place of a parent
such as a step-parent in a common law
relationship.
Long arm statutes
Each court is bound to a territorial jurisdiction and
does not normally have jurisdiction over persons
that reside outside of that jurisdiction. For
example, a court in Scotland would not normally
have jurisdiction over a resident of Ireland. Longarm statutes are a tool which gives a court
jurisdiction over a person even though the person
no longer resides in the territory limits of the
court. For example, UIFSA allows a court to have
jurisdiction over a non-resident support payor.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook
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Black's Law Dictionary


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Dictionary of
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A Simplified Guide to

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the Language of Law

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"Let all the laws be clear,
uniform and precise. To
interpret laws is almost always
to corrupt them." Voltaire.

Magna Carta
Charter to which subscribed King John of England
on June 12, 1215 in which a basic set of limits
were set on the King's powers. King John had
ruled tyrannically. His barons rebelled and
committed themselves to war with King John
unless he agreed to the Charter. Held to be the
precursor of habeas corpus as Article 39 of the
Magna Carta held that no man shall be
"imprisoned, exiled or destroyed ... except by
lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the
land". Click here to see the full text of the Magna
Carta.
Maintenance
Refers to the obligation of one person to
contribute, in part or in whole, to the cost of
living of another person. Maintenance is usually
expressed in a currency amount per month as in
"$450 a month maintenance." Some countries
prefer the words "support" (spousal or child) or
"alimony" but they all mean the same thing.
Malfeasance
Doing something which is illegal. Compare with
misfeasance and nonfeasance.
Mandamus
A writ which commands an individual,
organization (eg. government), administrative
tribunal or court to perform a certain action,
usually to correct a prior illegal action or a failure
to act in the first place.
Manslaughter
Accidental homicide or homicide which occurs
without an intent to kill, and which does not occur
during the commission of another crime or under
extreme provocation.
Maritime law
A very specific body of law peculiar to
transportation by water, seamen and harbors.
Marriage
The state-recognized, voluntary and exclusive
contract for the lifelong union of two persons.
Most countries do not recognize marriage
between same-sex couples or polygamous
marriages.
Massachusetts trust
A unique way to organize a business where the
property is bought by, or transferred to, a trustee
(such as a trust company) and the trustee issues
trust "units", which the investors, or their
designates, hold as beneficiaries. This is a
common way to structure a large real estate
purchase.
Matrimony
The legal state of being married. Ecclesiastics talk
of the "holy" state of matrimony.
Mediation

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The most popular form of alternative dispute


resolution (ADR), mediation involves the
appointment of a mediator who acts as a
facilitator assisting the parties in communicating,
essentially negotiating a settlement. The mediator
does not adjudicate the issues in dispute or to
force a compromise; only the parties, of their own
volition, can shift their position in order to
achieve a settlement. The result of a successful
mediation is called a "settlement." Compare with
arbitration.
MOU

Abbreviation fo "Memorandum of Understanding."


A document which, if meeting the other criteria,
can be, in law, a contract. Generally, in the world
of commerce or international negotiations, a MOU
is considered to be a preliminary document; not a
comprehensive agreement between two parties
but rather an interim or partial agreement on
some elements, in some cases a mere agreement
in principle, on which there has been accord. Most
MOU's imply that something more is eventually
expected.
Mens rea
Latin for "guilty mind." Many serious crimes
require the proof of "mens rea" before a person
can be convicted. In other words, the prosecution
must prove not only that the accused committed
the offence but that he (or she) did it knowing
that it was prohibited; that their act (or omission)
was done with an intent to commit a crime.
Minor
A person who is legally underage. It varies
between 21 and 18 years of age. Each state sets
an age threshold at which time a person is
invested with all legal rights as an adult. For
many new adults, this may mean access to places
serving alcohol and the right to purchase and
consume alcohol, smoke cigarettes and drive a
car. But there are many other legal rights which a
minor does not have such as, in some states, the
right to own land, to sign a contract or to get
married.
Minutes
The official record of a meeting. Some minutes
include a summary (not verbatim) of the
discussion along with any resolutions. Other
minutes just contain a record of the decisions.
Minutes start off with the name of the
organization, the place and date of the meeting
and the name of those person's present. Minutes
are prepared by the corporate secretary and
signed by either the president or secretary.
Miranda warning
Also known as the "Miranda Rule, this is the name
given to the requirement that police officers, in
the U.S.A., must warn suspects upon arrest that
they have the right to remain silent, that any
statement that they make could be used against
them in a court of law, that they have the right to
contact a lawyer and that if they cannot afford a
lawyer, that one will be provided before any
questioning is so desired. Failure to issue the
Miranda warning results in the evidence so
obtained to not be admissible in the court. The
warning became a national police requirement

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when ordered by the US Supreme Court in the


1966 case Miranda v. Arizona and that is how it
got the name.
Misdemeanor
(USA) A crime of lesser seriousness than a felony
where the punishment might be a fine or prison
for less than one year.
Misfeasance
Improperly doing something which a person has
the legal right to do. Compare with malfeasance
and nonfeasance.
Mis-joinder
When a person has been named as a party to a
law suit when that person should not have been
added. When this is asserted, a court will usually
accommodate a request to amend the court
documents to strike, or substitute for, the name
of the mis-joined party. Compare with nonjoinder.
Misrepresentation
A false and material statement which induces a
party to enter into a contract. This is a ground for
rescission of the contract.
Mistrial
A partial or complete trial which is found to be
null and void and of no effect because of some
irregularity. The sudden end of trial before it
would ordinarily end because of some reason
which invalidates it. Once a mistrial is declared,
the situation is as if the trial had never occurred.
Some common reasons for a mistrial include a
deadlocked jury, the death of a juror or a serious
procedural and prejudicial mistake made at the
trial which cannot be corrected.
Mitigating circumstances
These are facts that, while not negating an
offence or wrongful action, tend to show that the
defendant may have had some grounds for acting
the way he/she did. For example, assault, though
provoked, is still assault but provocation may
constitute mitigating circumstances and allow for
a lesser sentence.
Mitigation of damages
A person who sues another for damages has a
responsibility to minimize those damages, as far
as reasonable. For example, in a wrongful
dismissal suit, the person that was fired should
make some effort to find another job so as to
minimize the economic damage on themselves.
Modus operandi
Latin: method of operation. Used by law
enforcement officials to refer to a criminal's
preferred method of committing crime. For
example, car thief "George" may have a break
and enter technique that leaves a long scratch
mark on the door. Upon discovery of a stolen
vehicle with such a mark, the law enforcement
officials might include "George" in the list of
suspects because the evidence at the crime scene
is consistent with his "modus operandi."
Moiety
Half of something. For example, it can be said
that joint tenants hold a moiety in property. In
old criminal law, there were "moiety acts" which
allowed half of the fine money to be handed over

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to the informer.
Monopoly
A commercial advantage enjoyed by only one or a
select few companies in which only those
companies can trade in a certain area. Some
monolopoies are legal, such as those temporarily
created by patents. Others are secretly built by
conspiracy between two or more companies and
are prohibited by law.
Moot
Also called a "moot point": a side issue, problem
or question which does not have to be decided to
resolve the main issues in a dispute.
Moot court
Fictional or hypothetical trial, usually hosted by
law schools, as training for future barristers or
litigators.
Moratorium
The temporary suspension of legal action against
a person.
Mortgage
An interest given on a piece of land, in writing, to
guarantee the payment of a debt or the execution
of some action. It automatically becomes void
when the debt is paid or the action is executed.
In some jurisdictions, it entails a conveyance of
the land until the debt is paid in full. The person
lending the money and receiving the mortgage is
called the mortgagee; the person who concedes a
mortgage as security upon their property is called
a mortgagor.
Murder
Intentional homicide (the taking of another
person's life), without legal justification or
provocation.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

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Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

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Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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A group or race of people that share history,


traditions and culture. The United Kingdom is
comprised of four nations or national groups: the
English, Scots, Irish and Welsh. Canada includes
French-Canadians, English-Canadians and a
number of aboriginal nations. Thus, states may
be comprised of one or several nations. It is
common English to use the word "nation" when
referring to what is known in law as "states."
National treatment
A tenet of international trade agreements
whereby nations must afford imported goods the
same treatment that they afford domestic or
"national" products (no discrimination).
Natural justice
A word used to refer to situations where audi
alteram partem (the right to be heard) and nemo
judex in parte sua (no person may judge their
own case) apply. The principles of natural justice
were derived from the Romans who believed that
some legal principles were "natural" or selfevident and did not require a statutory basis.
These two basic legal safeguards govern all
decisions by judges or government officials when
they take quasi-judicial or judicial decisions.
NCND Agreement
An international trade instrument; "non
circumvention/non disclosure agreement" used in
the preliminary stages of a business transaction
where the Seller and Buyer do not know each
other, but are brought into contact with each
other by one or more intermediaries (also known
as brokers or middlemen), to fulfill the
transaction. Non Circumvention/Non Disclosure
Agreements ensure that the intermediaries in the
transaction are not cicumvented and excluded
from the transaction by the Buyer and/or Seller
and/or the other intermediaries. Many trade
transactions are chain-like. Product flows like
this: seller-broker-broker-broker-buyer. The
brokers in the middle use NCNDs to ensure that
they are not circumvented by anyone else in the
chain; also, to ensure that information on the
other parties in the chain is not disclosed to
outside parties. They are valid for a specified
term; usually two years.
Negligence
Not only are people responsible for the intentional
harm they cause, but their failure to act as a
reasonable person would be expected to act in
similar circumstances (i.e. "negligence") will also
give rise to compensation. Negligence, if it causes
injury to another, can give rise to a liability suit
under tort. Negligence is always assessed having
regards to the circumstances and to the standard
of care which would reasonably be expected of a
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person in similar circumstances. Everybody has a


duty to ensure that their actions do not cause
harm to others. Between negligence and the
intentional act there lies yet another, more
serious type of negligence which is called gross
negligence. Gross negligence is any action or an
omission in reckless disregard of the
consequences to the safety or property of
another. See also contributory negligence and
comparative negligence.
Negotiate
To communicate on a matter of disagreement
between two parties, with a view to first listen to
the other party's perspective and to then attempt
to arrive at a resolution by consensus.
Nemo judex in parte sua
Latin and a fundamental principle of natural
justice which states that no person can judge a
case in which he or she is party. May also be
called nemo judex in sua causa or nemo debet
esse judex in propria causa.
Next of kin
The nearest blood relative of a deceased. The
expression has come to describe those persons
most related to a dead person and therefore set
to inherit the decesased's property.
Nolo contendere
Latin for "I will not defend it." Used primarily in
criminal proceedings whereby the defendant
declines to refute the evidence of the prosecution.
In some jurisdictions, this response by the
defendant has same effect as a plea of guilty.
Non est factum
Latin for "not his deed" and a special defense in
contract law to allow a person to avoid having to
respect a contract that she or he signed because
of certain reasons such as a mistake as to the
kind of contract. For example, a person who signs
away the deed to a house, thinking that the
document signed was only a guarantee for
another person's debt, might be able to plead non
est factum in a court and on that basis get the
court to void the contract.
Nonfeasance
Not doing something that a person should be
doing. Compare with malfeasance and
misfeasance.
Non-joinder
When a person who should have been made a
party to a legal proceedings has been forgotten or
omitted. This is usually addressed by asking the
court to amend documents and including the
forgotten party to the proceedings. It is the
opposite of mis-joinder.
Notary
Also known as "notary public": a legal officer with
specific judicial authority to attest to legal
documents usually with an official seal. Most
countries do not have notaries vesting
administrative legal authority in lawyers or court
officers. Jurisdictions which do have notaries
include the Canadian provinces of Quebec and
British Columbia and Australia.
Notwithstanding
In spite of, even if, without regard to or

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impediment by other things.


Novation
Substitute a new debt for an old debt cancelling
the old debt. (Compare with "subrogation")
Nudum pactum
A contract-law term which stands for those
agreements which are without consideration, such
as a unilateral undertaking, which may bind a
person morally, but not under contract law, in
those jurisdictions which still require
consideration.
Nuisance
Excessive or unlawful use of one's property to the
extent of unreasonable annoyance or
inconvenience to a neighbor or to the public.
Nuisance is a tort.
Nunc pro tunc
Latin: now for then. It refers to the doing of
something late (after it should have been done in
the first place), with effect as if it had been done
on time.

O
Oath

A religious or solemn affirmation to tell the truth


or to take a certain action.
Obiter dictum
Latin: an observation by a judge on a matter not
specifically before the court or not necessary in
determining the issue before the court; a side
opinion which does not form part of the judgment
for the purposes of stare decisis May also be
referred to as "dicta" or "dictum."
Obligee
The person who is to receive the benefit of
someone else's obligation; that "someone else"
being the obligor. Also called a "promisee." Some
countries refer to the recipient of family support
as an "obligee".
Obligor
A person who is contractually or legally,
committed or obliged, to providing something to
another person; the recipient of the benefit being
called the obligee. Also known as the "promisor."
Obscenity
An elusive concept used in the context of criminal
law to describe a publication which is illegal
because it is morally corruptive. The common law
has struggled with this word as society has
evolved towards greater tolerance of alternative
sexual behavior. Historically, it included any lewd
material which had no apparent social value,
which was offensive to contemporary community
standards of decency, and even material which
tended to invoke impure sexual thoughts. As an
example of a modern definition, Canada has
defined obscene material as any publication a
dominant characteristic of which is the undue
exploitation of sex, or of sex and crime, horror,
cruelty or violence.
Obstructing justice
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An act which tends to impede or thwart the


administration of justice. Examples include trying
to bribe a witness or juror or providing law
enforcement officers with information known to
be false.
Offense
A crime; any act which contravenes the criminal
law of the state in which it occurs. Spelled
"offence" in Commonwealth countries.
Offer
A explicit proposal to contract which, if accepted,
completes the contract and binds both the person
that made the offer and the person accepting the
offer to the terms of the contract. See also
"acceptance".
Ombudsman
A person whose occupation consists of
investigating customer complaints against his or
her employer. Many governments have
ombudsmen who will investigate citizen
complaints against government services.
Omnibus bill
A draft law before a legislature which contains
more than one substantive matter, or several
minor matters which have been combined into
one bill, ostensibly for the sake of convenience.
The omnibus bill is an "all or nothing" tactic.
Onus
Latin: the burden. It is usually used in the context
of evidence. The onus of proof in criminal cases
lies with the state. It is the state that has the
burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt. In
civil cases, the onus of proof lies with the plaintiff
who must prove his case by balance of
probabilities. So "onus" refers both to the party
with the burden, and to the scope of that burden,
the latter depending whether the context is
criminal or civil.
Open-ended agreement
An agreement or contract which does not have an
ending date but which will continue for as long as
certain conditions, identified in the agreement,
exist.
Order
A formal written direction given by a member of
the judiciary; a court decision without reasons.
Ordinance
An executive decision of a government which has
not been subjected to a legislative assembly
(contrary to a statute). It is often detailed and
not, as would be a statute, of general wording or
application. This term is in disuse in many
jurisdictions and the words "regulations" or
"bylaws" are preferred.
Orphan
A person who has lost one or both of his or her
natural parents.
Out-of-court settlement
An agreement between two litigants to settle a
matter privately before the Court has rendered its
decision.

Suggested Legal Reference Books


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Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Paralegal
A person who is not a lawyer or is not acting in
that capacity but who provides a limited number
of legal services. Each country differs in the
authority it gives paralegals in exercising what
traditionally would be lawyers' work.
Pardon
A pardon is a government decision to allow a
person who has been convicted of a crime, to be
free and absolved of that conviction, as if never
convicted. It is typically used to remove a
criminal record against a good citizen for a small
crime that may have been committed during
adolescence or young adulthood. Although
procedures vary from one state to another, the
request for a pardon usually involves a lengthy
period of time of impeccable behavior and a
reference check. Generally speaking, the more
serious the crime, the longer the time
requirement for excellent behavior. In the USA,
the power to pardon for federal offenses belongs
to the President.
Parens patriae
Latin: A British common law creation whereby the
courts have the right to make unfettered
decisions concerning people who are not able to
take care of themselves. For example, court can
make custody decisions regarding a child or an
insane person, even without statute law to allow
them to do so, based on their residual, common
law-based parens patriae jurisdiction.
Pari delicto
Latin for "of equal fault." For example, if two
parties complain to a judge of the nonperformance of a contract by the other, the judge
could refuse to provide a remedy to either of
them because of "pari delicto": a finding that they
were equally at fault in causing the contract's
breach.
Pari passu
Latin: Equitably and without preference. This
term is often used in bankruptcy proceedings
where creditors are said to be "pari passu" which
means that they are all equal and that
distribution of the assets will occur without
preference between them.
Parole
An early release from incarceration in which the
prisoner promises to heed certain conditions
(usually set by a parole board) and under the
supervision of a parole officer. Any violation of
those conditions would result in the return of the
person to prison.
Parricide
Killing one's father or another a family member or
close relative.
Partnership
A business organization in which two or more

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persons carry on a business together. Partners


are each fully liable for all the debts of the
enterprise but they also share the profits
exclusively. Many states have laws which regulate
partnerships and may, for example, require some
form of registration and allow partnership
agreements. One of the basic advantages of
partnerships is that they tend to allow business
losses to be deducted from personal income for
tax purposes (see also limited partner).
Par value shares
Shares issued by a company which have a
minimum price. Shares which are without par
value or "non par value shares" are shares which
may be sold at whatever price the company's
board of directors decides.
Patent
An exclusive privilege granted to an inventor to
make, use or sale an invention for a set number
of years (eg. in Canada, 17 years). Normally, no
one company can retain a monopoly over a
product or service because this is considered to
economically harmful to society. But as a financial
incentive to potential inventors, the state grants a
temporary monopoly to that inventor through the
issuance of a patent.
Paternity
Being a father. "Paternity suits" are launched
when a man denies paternity of a child born out
of wedlock. New technology of DNA testing can
establish paternity thus obliging the father to
provide child support.
Payee
The person to whom payment is addressed or
given. In family law, the term usually refers to
the person who receives or to whom support or
maintenance is owed. In commercial law, the
term refers to the person to whom a bill of
exchange is made payable. On a regular check,
the space preceded with the words "pay to the
order of" identifies the payee.
Payor
The person who is making the payment(s). Again,
in the context of family law, the word would
typically refer to the person to a support or
maintenance debtor. In commercial law, the word
refers to the person who makes the payment on a
check or bill of exchange.
Pedophile
A person afflicted with "pedophilia", a sexual
perversion in which children are preferred as
sexual partner.
Pen register
An electronic surveillance device which attaches
to a phone line and which registers every number
dialed from a specific telephone. This surveillance
device is not as effective as wire-tapping.
Pendente lite
Latin: during litigation. For example, if the
validity of a will is challenged, a court might
appoint an administrator pendente lite with
limited powers to do such things as may be
necessary to preserve the assets of the deceased
until a hearing can be convened on the validity of
the will. Another example is an injunction

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pendente lite, to last only during the litigation


and, again, designed simply to preserve
something until the decisive court order is issued.
Percolating water
Water which seeps or filters through the ground
without any definite channel and not part of the
flow of any waterway. The best example is rain
water.
Peremptory
Final or absolute or not open to challenge. An
adjournment to a date which is set to be
"peremptory" means that ther matter will go
ahead on that date with no further applications
for adjournment to be granted.
Perjury
An intentional lie given while under oath or in a
sworn affidavit.
Perpetuating testimony
The recording of evidence when it is feared that
the person with that evidence may soon die or
disappear and that this person's evidence, if
recorded, could then be used in the future to
prevent a possible injustice or to support a future
claim of property.
Perpetuity
Forever; of unlimited duration. There is a strong
bias in the law against things that are to last in
perpetuity. Rights that are to last forever are said
to hinder commerce as an impediment to the
circulation of property. That is why there is a rule
against perpetuities.
Person
An entity with legal rights and existence including
the ability to sue and be sued, to sign contracts,
to receive gifts, to appear in court either by
themselves or by lawyer and, generally, other
powers incidental to the full expression of the
entity in law. Individuals are "persons" in law
unless they are minors or under some kind of
other incapacity such as a court finding of mental
incapacity. Many laws give certain powers to
"persons" which, in almost all instances, includes
business organizations that have been formally
registered such as partnerships, corporations or
associations.
Personal representative
In the law of wills, this is the general name given
to the person who administers the estate of a
deceased person. There are two kinds of personal
representatives. Where a person dies without a
will, the court must appoint an administrator.
Where a personal representative is named in a
will, the personal representative is known as an
executor.
Petition
The formal, written document submitted to a
court, and which asks for the court to redress
what is described in the petition as being an
injustice of some kind. Petitions set out the facts,
identifies the law under which the court is being
asked to intervene, and ends with a suggested
course of action for the court to consider (eg.
payment of damages to the plaintiff). Petitions
are normally filed by lawyers because courts
insist on complicated forms but most states will
allow citizens to file petitions provided they
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conform to the court's form. Some states do not


use the word "petition" and, instead, might refer
to an "application", a "complaint" or the "writ."
Pettifogger
A petty or underhanded lawyer or an attorney
who sustains a professional livelihood on
disreputable or dishonorable business. The word
has also taken on an common usage definition
referring to anyone prone to quibbling over
details.
Petty offense
A minor crime and for which the punishment is
usually just a small fine or short term of
imprisonment.
Physical custody
A child custody decision which grants the right to
organize and administer the day to day residential
care of a child. This is usually combined with legal
custody.
Picket
To object publicly, on or adjacent to the
employer's premises, to an employer's labor
practices, goods or services. The most common
form of picketing is patrolling with signs.
Pillory
A medieval punishment and restraining device
made of moveable and adjustable boards through
which a prisoner's head or limbs were pinned.
Pillories were often fixed to the ground in a city's
main square and on market days, local criminals
were exhibited. Citizens were given license to
throw things at the prisoners. As such, this
method of punishment was not just humiliating
but often led to serious injury or death. For the
government, this was a public statement serving
to warn others of the consequences of crime.
England abolished the pillory as a form of
punishment in 1837.
Plaintiff
The person who brings an case to court; who
sues. May also be called "claimant", "petitioner"
or "applicant. The person being sued is generally
called the "defendant" or the "respondent."
Plea bargaining
Negotiations during a criminal trial, between an
accused person and a prosecutor in which the
accused agrees to admit to a crime (sometimes a
lesser crime than the one set out in the original
charge), avoiding the expense of a public trial, in
exchange for which the prosecutor agrees to ask
for a more lenient sentence than would have been
recommended if the case had of proceeded to full
trial. The normal rule of law is that judges are not
bound by plea bargains although, as past lawyers
themselves, they are generally aware of plea
bargains and a reasonable recommendation of a
prosecutor on sentencing is always heavily
considered.
Pleadings
That part of a party's case in which he or she
formally sets out the facts and legal arguments
which support that party's position. Pleadings can
be in writing or they can be made verbally to a
court, during the trial.
Poach
To kill or take an animal or fish from the property
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of another.
Polygamy
Being married to more than one person. Illegal in
most countries.
Polygraph
A lie-detector machine which records even the
slightest variation in blood pressure, body
temperature and respiration as questions are put
to, and answers elicited from a subject.
Postal rule
A rule of contract law that makes an exception to
the general rule that an acceptance is only
created when communicated directly to the
offeror. An acceptance is binding and the contract
is said to be perfected when the acceptor places
this acceptance in the mail box for return mail
even if, in fact, it never reaches the offeror. An
1892 British case summarized it as follows:
"Where the circumstances are such that it must
have been within the contemplation of the parties
that, according to the ordinary usages of
mankind, the post might be used as a means of
communicating the acceptance of an offer, the
acceptance is complete as soon as it is posted."
Power of attorney
A document which gives a person the right to
make binding decisions for another, as an agent.
A power of attorney may be specific to a certain
kind of decision or general, in which the agent
makes all major decisions for the person who is
the subject of the power of attorney. The person
signing the power of attorney is usually referred
to, in law, as the donor and the person that would
exercise the power of attorney, the donee.
Prcipe or precipe
Latin: used to refer to the actual writ that would
be presented to a court clerk to be officially
issued on behalf of the court but now mostly
refers to the covering letter from the lawyer (or
plaintiff) which accompanies and formally asks for
the writ to be issued by the court officer. The
precipe is kept on the court file, but does not
accompany the writ when the latter is served on
the defendant.
Praemunire
An offence against the King or Parliament, in old
English law, which led to serious penalties but not
capital punishment.
Precatory words
Words that express a wish or a desire rather than
a clear command. "Precatory words" are often
found in trusts or wills and cause great difficulties
when courts try to find the real intention of the
settlor or testator, For example, the words "all my
property to my wife to be disposed of as she may
deem just and prudent in the interest of my
family" were found to be "precatory" and did not
constitute a trust for family members other than
the wife.
Precedent
A case which establishes legal principles to a
certain set of facts, coming to a certain
conclusion, and which is to be followed from that
point on when similar or identical facts are before
a court. Precedent form the basis of the theory of

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stare decisis which prevent "reinventing the


wheel" and allows citizens to have a reasonable
expectation of the legal solutions which apply in a
given situation.
Preferred shares
A share in a company that has some kind of
special right or privilege attached to it, such as
that it is distinguished from the company's
common shares. The most common special right
is a preference over holders of common shares
when dividends are declared. Another, is for the
preferred shares to be redeemable at the option
of either the holder or the company. Still another
might be to disallow voting rights to preferred
shareholders. Depending on the local laws in your
state, there may be no limit to the qualifications a
company can attach to preferred shares. For
example, a family company may only allow
holders of preferred shares to use a recreational
property belonging to the company.
Preponderance
A word describing evidence that persuades a
judge or jury to lean to one side as opposed to
the other during the course of litigation. In many
states, criminal trials require evidence beyond a
reasonable doubt. But in civil trials, evidence is
required only by preponderance of the evidence.
The judge (or jury, where applicable) will perceive
the evidence of one side as outweighing the other
based on which side has the most persuasive or
impressive evidence. The strength or "weight" of
evidence is not decided by the sheer number of
witnesses because the judge decides on the
credibility of witnesses and give their testimony
weight accordingly. The side with the
preponderance of evidence wins the case.
Prescription
A method of acquiring rights through the silence
of the legal owner. Known in common law
jurisdiction as "statute of limitations." When used
in a real property context, the term refers to the
acquisition of property rights, such as an
easement, by long and continued use or
enjoyment. The required duration of continued
use or enjoyment, before legal rights are
enforceable, is usually written in a state's law
known as "statute of limitations."
Presumption of advancement
A presumption in trust, contract and family law
which suggests that property transferred from a
parent to a child, or spouse to spouse, is a gift
and would defeat any presumption of a resulting
trust.
Prima facie
(Latin) A legal presumption which means "on the
face of it" or "at first sight". Law-makers will
often use this device to establish that if a certain
set of facts are proven, then another fact is
established prima facie. For example, proof of
mailing a letter is prima facie proof that it was
received by the person to whom it was addressed
and will accepted as such by a court unless
proven otherwise. Other situations may require a
prima facie case before proceeding to another
step in the judicial process so that you would
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have to at least prove then that at first glance,


there appears to be a case.
Principal
An agent's master; the person for whom an agent
has received instruction and to whose benefit the
agent is expected to perform and make decisions.
Private law
Law which regulates the relationships between
individuals. Family, commercial and labor law are
examples of private law because the focus of
those kinds of laws is the relationships between
individuals or between corporations or
organizations and individual, with the government
a bystander. They are the counter part to public
law.
Privilege
A special and exclusive legal advantage or right
such as a benefit, exemption, power or immunity.
An example would be the special privileges that
some persons have in a bankruptcy to recoup
their debts from the bankrupt's estate before
other, non-privileged creditors.
Probate
The formal certificate given by a court that
certifies that a will has been proven, validated
and registered and which, from that point on,
gives the executor the legal authority to execute
the will. A "probate court" is a name given to the
court that has this power to ratify wills.
Probation
A kind of punishment given out as part of a
sentence which means that instead of jailing a
person convicted of a crime, a judge will order
that the person reports to a probation officer
regularly and according to a set schedule. It is a
criminal offence not to obey a probation order
and is cause for being immediately jailed. If
someone is "on probation", that means that they
are presently under such a Court order. These
orders may have special conditions attached to
them such as not to leave the city, drink alcohol,
consume drugs, not to go to a specific place or
contact a certain person.
Pro bono
Provided for free. Pro bono publico means "for the
public good."
Profit prendre
A servitude which resembles an easement and
which allows the holder to enter the land of
another and to take some natural produce such
as mineral deposits, fish or game, timber, crops
or pasture.
Pro forma
As a matter of form; in keeping with a form or
practice. Something done pro forma may not be
essential but it facilitates future dealings. For
example, an invoice might be sent to a purchaser
even before the goods are delivered as a matter
of business practices.
Prohibition
A legal restriction against the use of something or
against certain conduct. For example, in the
1920s, both the USA and Canada enacted liquor
prohibitions, outlawing the manufacture or use of
alcoholic beverages.

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Promisee
A person whom is to be the beneficiary of a
promise, an obligation or a contract. Synonymous
to "obligee."
Promisor
The person who has become obliged through a
promise (usually expressed in a contract) towards
another, the intended beneficiary of the promise
being referred to as the promisee. Also
sometimes referred to a "obligor."
Promissory note
An unconditional, written and signed promise to
pay a certain amount of money, on demand or at
a certain defined date in the future. Contrary to a
bill of exchange, a promissory note is not drawn
on any third party holding the payor's money; it
is a direct promise from the payor to the payee.
Property
Property is commonly thought of as a thing which
belongs to someone and over which a person has
total control. But, legally, it is more properly
defined as a collection of legal rights over a thing.
These rights are usually total and fully
enforceable by the state or the owner against
others. It has been said that "property and law
were born and die together. Before laws were
made there was no property. Take away laws and
property ceases." before laws were written and
enforced, property had no relevance. Possession
was all that mattered. There are many
classifications of property, the most common
being between real property or immoveable
property (real estate such as land or buildings)
and "chattel", or "moveable" (things which are
not attached to the land such as a bicycle, a car
or a hammer) and between public (property
belonging to everybody or to the state) and
private property.
Propinquity
Nearness in place; close-by. Also used to describe
relationships as synonymous for "kin."
Pro possessore
As a possessor. For example, a person may
exercise certain rights over a thing not as owner
but pro possessore: as a person who possesses,
but does not own, the thing.
Propound
To offer a document as being authentic or valid.
Used mostly in the law of wills; to propound a will
means to take legal action, as part of probate,
including a formal inspection of the will, by the
court.
Pro rata
Latin: to divide proportionate to a certain rate or
interest. For example, if a company with two
shareholders, one with 25% and the other with
75% of the shares, received a gift of $10,000 and
desired to split it "pro rata" between the
shareholders, the shareholder with 25% of the
shares would receive $2,500 and the 75%
shareholder, $7,500.
Proprietor
Owner.
Pro se
Latin: in one's personal behalf. Contrast with pro

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socio.
Pro socio
Latin: on behalf of a partner; not on one's
personal behalf.
Prosecute
To bring judicial proceedings against a person and
to administer them until the conclusion of the
court proceedings. Lawyers are hired by the
government to administer the prosecution of
criminal charges in the courts.
Prospectus
A document in which a corporation sets out the
material details of a share or bond issue and
inviting the public to invest by purchasing these
financial instruments.
Prostitute
A person who offers sexual intercourse for hire.
Pro tempore
Latin: something done temporarily only and not
intended to be permanent.
Proxy
A right which is signed-over to an agent. Proxies
are used frequently at annual meetings of
corporations where the right to exercise a vote is
"proxied" from the shareholder to the agent.
Public domain
A term of American copyright law referring to
works that are not copyright protected, free for
all to use without permission. Examples include
works that were originally non-copyrightable
(items that by their very nature are not eligible
for copyright such as ideas, facts or names),
copyright that has been lost or expired, where
copyright is owned or authored by the federal
government (federal documents and publications
are not copyrighted and so are public domain),
and those works which have been specifically
granted to the public domain.
Public law
Those laws which regulate (1) the structure and
administration of the government, (2) the
conduct of the government in its relations with its
citizens, (3) the responsibilities of government
employees and (4) the relationships with foreign
governments. Good examples are criminal and
constitutional law. It can be distinguished from
private law, which regulates the private conduct
between individuals, without direct involvement
of the government. For example, an unsolicited
punch in the nose would constitute a crime for
which the government would prosecute under
criminal law but for which there would also be a
private legal action possible by the injured party
under tort law, which is private law although
governments can be held responsible under tort
law. As you can see, the line is often hard to draw
between public and private law.
Puisne
Junior or lower in rank, as opposed to the chief
justice. For example, there are 8 puisne judges
on the Supreme Court of Canada and a chief
justice.
Punitive damages
Special and highly exceptional damages ordered
by a court against a defendant where the act or
omission which caused the suit, was of a

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particularly heinous, malicious or highhanded


nature. Where awarded, they are an exception to
the rule that damages are to compensate not to
punish. The exact threshold of punitive damages
varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some
countries, and in certain circumstances, punitive
damages might even be available for breach of
contract cases but, again, only for the exceptional
cases where the court wants to give a strong
message to the community that similar conduct
will be severely punished. They are most common
in intentional torts such as rape, battery or
defamation. Some jurisdictions prefer using the
word "exemplary damages" and there is an
ongoing legal debate whether there is a
distinction to be made between the two and even
with the concept of aggravated damages.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"We must not make a
scarecrow of the law; setting it
up to fear the birds of prey and
let it keep one shape till
custom make it their perch and
not their terror." Shakespeare.

Quantum
Latin: amount or extent.
Quantum meruit
Latin for "as much as is deserved." This is a legal
principle under which a person should not be
obliged to pay, nor should another be allowed to
receive, more than the value of the goods or
services exchanged.
Quasi-judicial
Refers to decisions made by administrative
tribunals or government officials to which the
rules of natural justice apply. In judicial decisions,
the principles of natural justice always apply. But
between routine government policy decisions and
the traditional court forums lies a hybrid,
sometimes called a "tribunal" or "administrative
tribunal" and not necessarily presided by judges.
These operate as a government policy-making
body at times but also exercise a licensing,
certifying, approval or other adjudication
authority which is "judicial" because it directly
affects the legal rights of a person. Some law
teachers sugest that there is no such thing as a
"quasi-judicial" decision or body; the body or
decision is either judicial or not.
Quid pro quo
Latin: something for something. The giving of
something in exchange for another thing of equal
value.
Quorum
The number of people who must be present at a
meeting before business can be conducted.
Without "quorum", decisions are invalid. Many
organizations have a quorum requirement to
prevent decisions being taken without a majority
of members present.
Quo warranto
Latin and referring to a special legal procedure
taken to stop a person or organization from doing
something for which it may not have the legal
authority, by demanding to know by what right
they exercise the controversial authority.

R
Ransom
Money paid to have a kidnapped person released.
Rape
Sex with a woman, other than a wife, without her
consent. But many states have changed this basic
definition to include sex with a minor (with or
without consent; also known as statutory rape),
sex with a man without his consent, or exempting

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men who force their wives to have sex.


Real property
Immoveable property such as land or a building
or an object that, though at one time a chattel,
has become permanently affixed to land or a
building.
Rebuttable presumption
Usually, every element of a case must be proven
to a judge or a jury. The exception is a
"presumption", which means that if certain other
facts are proven, then another fact can be taken
for granted by the judge (or jury). For example,
in some states, an adult caught having
intercourse with a minor is presumed as having
known that the minor was under-age. Most
presumptions are "rebuttable", which means that
the person against whom the presumption applies
may present evidence to the contrary, which then
has the effect of nullifying the presumption. This
then deprives the person that tried to use the
presumption with the advantage of the "free"
evidence and makes him present evidence to
support the fact which might have been proven
by the presumption.
Redemption
Buying back. When a vendor later buys the
property back. A right of redemption gives the
vendor the right to buy back the property. In
some jurisdictions where a mortgage transfers
title to the lender until the mortgage is paid off,
the "buying back" of the property is known as
redemption.
Relator
An informer; a person who has supplied the facts
required for a criminal prosecution or a civil suit.
In criminal prosecutions in some states, this
would be indicated by the use of the expression
ex. rel. as in The State of California ex. rel.
Robert Smith v. George Doe.
Remainder
A right to future enjoyment or ownership of real
property. The "left-over" after property has been
conveyed first to another party. A remainder
interest is what if left-over after a life estate has
run its course. Contrary to a reversion, a
remainder does not go to the grantor or his (or
her) heirs.
REMO
Abbreviation for "reciprocal enforcement of
maintenance orders" and the name of the
international system of recognition, registration
and enforcement of child and spousal support
orders between countries which have agreed,
between themselves, to enforce each other's
maintenance orders. Originally created by
England, the international REMO system now
spreads over many countries. In the USA, the
system is known as UIFSA or URESA.
Rent
This is the consideration paid by a tenant to a
landlord in exchange for the exclusive use and
enjoyment of land, a building or a part of a
building. Under normal circumstances, the rent is
paid in money and at regular intervals, such as
the first of every month. The word has also come
to be used as a verb as in to "rent an apartment",
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although the proper legal term would be to "lease


an apartment."
Replevin
A legal action taken to reclaim goods which have
been distrained.
Rescind
To abrogate or cancel a contract putting the
parties in the same position they would have
been in had there been no contract. Rescission
can occur in one of two ways: either a contract
can be set aside (rescinded) because of some
defect in its formation (such as
misrepresentation, duress or undue influence) or
it can be set aside by agreement by the parties,
for example if they reach a new agreement.
Res gestae
Latin for "things done." A peculiar rule, used
mostly in criminal cases, which allows hearsay if
the statement is made during the excitement of
the litigated event. For example, the words "stick
'em up!" used during an armed robbery would be
admissible in evidence under the res gestae rule.
So, too, would spontaneous statements made by
the defendant during or right after the crime.
Some laws even allow res gestae statements to
be introduced in evidence in special kinds of
prosecutions. For example, in child sexual abuse
cases, the statement made by a child to another
person may be allowed as evidence even though,
technically, it offends the rule against hearsay.
This is to recognize the trauma of having a child
testify in open court on the subject of her or his
abuse. Res gestae evidence usually requires a
voir dire hearing before it is admissible unless the
defense allows it to be put on the trial record
unchallenged.
Res ipsa loquitur
A word used in tort to refer to situations where
negligence is presumed on the defendant since
the object causing injury was in his or her control.
This is a presumption which can be rebutted by
showing that the event was an inevitable accident
and had nothing to do with the defendant's
responsibility of control or supervision. An
example of res ipsa loquitur would be getting hit
by a rock which flies off a passing dump truck.
The event itself imputes negligence (res ipsa
loquitur) and can only be defeated if the
defendant can show that the event was a total
and inevitable accident.
Res judicata
Latin: A matter which has already been
conclusively decided by a court.
Respondent
The party that "responds to" a claim filed in court
against them by a plaintiff. The more common
term is defendant. The word is also used to refer
to the party who wins at the first court level but
who must then respond to an appeal launched by
the party that lost the case at the first court level
(upon appeal, this latter person is called the
appelant).
Restitutio in integrum
Latin for restitution to the original position. In
contract law, upon breach of contract, the injured
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party may ask the court to reverse the contract


and revert the parties to their respective positions
before the contract was accepted. But if the court
finds that restitutio in integrum is not possible
because of actions or events occurring since the
date of acceptance, then the court may order that
damages be paid instead.
Restitution
Under ancient English common law, when a party
enforced a court judgement and then that
judgement was overturned on appeal, the
appellant could ask the appeal court for
"restitution", or financial compensation placing
that appellant in the same position as if the
original legal decision had not been enforced. A
new strain of common law has also developed
called "restitution", closely associated with unjust
enrichment, whereby a person is deprived of
something of value belonging to them, can ask a
court to order "restitution". The best example is
asking a court to reverse or correct a payment
made in error.
Resulting trust
A trust that is presumed by the court from certain
situations. Similar to a constructive trust but for
resulting trusts, the court presumes an intention
to create a trust; the law assumes that the
property is not held by the right person and that
the possessor is only holding the property "in
trust" for the rightful owner. In constructive
trusts, the courts don't even bother with
presuming an intention; they simply impose a
trust from the facts.
Retainer
A contract between a lawyer and his (or her)
client, wherein the lawyer agrees to represent
and provide legal advice to the client, in exchange
for money. The signed retainer begins the clientlawyer relationship from which flow many
responsibilities and duties, primarily on the
lawyer, including to provide accurate legal advice,
to monitor limitation dates and to not allow any
conflict of interest with the relationship with the
client.
Reversion
A future interest left in a transferror or his (or
her) heirs. A reservation in a real property
conveyance that the property reverts back to the
original owner upon the occurence of a certain
event. For example, Jim gives Bob a bulding
using the words "to Bob for life". Upon the death
of Bob, the property reverts back to Jim or to
Jim's heirs. Differs from a remainder in that a
remainder takes effect by an act of the parties
involved. A reversion takes effect by operation of
the law. Nor is a reversion a "left-over" as is a
remainder. Rather, it reverts the entire property.
Right of first refusal
A right given to a person to be the first person
allowed to purchase a certain object if it is ever
offered for sale. The owner of this right is the first
to be offered the designated object if it is ever to
be offered for sale.
Riparian rights
Special rights of people who own land that runs
into a river bank (a "riparian owner" is a person

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who owns land that runs into a river). While not


an ownership right, riparian rights include the
right of access to, and use of the water for
domestic purposes (bathing, cleaning and
navigating). The extent of these rights varies
from country to country and may include the right
to build a wharf outwards to a navigable depth or
to take emergency measures to prevent flooding.
Rule against perpetuities
A common law rule that prevents suspending the
transfer of property for more then 21 years or a
lifetime plus 21 years. For example, if a will
proposes the transfer of an estate to some future
date, which is uncertain, for either more than 21
years after the death of the testator or for the life
of a person identified in the will and 21 years, the
transfer is void. Statute law exists in many
jurisdictions which supersedes the common law
rule. For more information, see the WWLIA article
on the "Rule Against Perpetuities."

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"The law is what it is - a
majestic edifice, sheltering all
of us, each stone of which rests
on another." John Gallsworthy.

Sanction
This is a very unusual word with two
contradictory meanings. To "sanction" can mean
to ratify or to approve but it can also mean to
punish. The "sanction" of a crime refers to the
actual punishment, usually expressed as a fine or
jail term.
Sanctuary
A special criminal law option available in Medieval
times to persons who had just committed a
crime, allowing them to seek refuge in a church
or monastery. There, they could be exempted
from the normal prosecution which, in those
days, was quite severe (see, for example, The
Law's Hall of Horrors). But the ordeal, even within
sanctuary, was no piece of cake. The fugitive had
to remain within the walls of the sanctuary,
abandon his or her oath to the king, followed
which they had a short period of time to leave the
country. They were considered to be "dead", so
much so that their land was forfeited to the King
and their wife considered to be a widow. If they
refused to renounce their oath, they could be
starved out of the sanctuary. Henry VIII of
England even took to branding them with a hot
iron before they left the country just in case they
tried to return; they could then be quickly spotted
and arrested. Abolished from the common law in
1624 and, in France, at the time of the
Revolution, the principle of sanctuary continues
today, in somewhat altered form, as diplomatic
asylum under international law.
Scienter
Latin for knowledge. In legal situations, the word
is usually used to refer to "guilty knowledge". For
example, owners of vicious dogs may be liable for
injuries caused by these dogs if they can prove
the owner's "scienter" (i.e. that the owner was
aware, before the attack, of the dog's vicious
character).
Search warrant
A court order (i.e. signed by a judge) that gives a
police the permission to enter private property
and to search for evidence of the commission of a
crime, for the proceeds of crime or property that
the police suspect may be used to commit a
crime. These court orders are obtained on the
basis of a sworn statement by the requesting law
enforcement officer and will precisely describe the
place to be searched and, in some cases, the
exact property being sought.
Seisin
The legal possession of property. In law, the term
refers more specifically to the possession of land
by a freeholder. For example, a owner of a
building has seisin, but a tenant does not,
because the tenant, although enjoying

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possession, does not have the legal title in the


building.
Sentence
The punishment given to a person who has been
convicted (i.e. found to be guilty) of a crime. It
may be time in jail, community service or a
period of probation.
Sequestration
The taking of someone's property, voluntarily (by
deposit) or involuntarily (by seizure), by court
officers or into the possession of a third party,
awaiting the outcome of a trial in which
ownership of that property is at issue.
Servient tenement
The land which suffers or has the burden of an
easement. The beneficiary of the easement is
called a dominant tenement.
Servitude
From Roman law, referring to rights of use over
the property of another; a burden on a piece of
land causing the owner to suffer access by
another. An easement is type of servitude as is a
profit a prendre.
Settlor
The person who actually creates a trust by
donating property to be managed and
administered by a trustee but from which all
profits would go to a beneficiary. The law books
of some countries refer to this person as a
"donor."
Sexual harassment
A term used in human rights legislation and
referring primarily to harassment in employment
situations, related to sex or gender, which
detrimentally affects the working environment.
The most overt variation of sexual harassment is
the quid pro quo offer of work-favor in exchange
for sexual favor.
Sexual intercourse
Penetration of a man's penis into a woman's
vagina.
Share
A portion of a company bought by a transfer of
cash in exchange for a certificate, the certificate
constituting proof of share ownership. Persons
owning shares in a company are called
"shareholders". There are two basic kinds of
shares: common and preferred. A shareholder is
not liable for the debts or other obligations of the
company except to the extent of any commitment
made to buy shares. The two other benefits of
shares include a right to participate in profits
(through dividends) and the right to share the
residue of assets of the company, once liabilities
have been paid off, if it is ever dissolved.
Shareholder agreement
A contract between the shareholders of the
company and the company itself, in which certain
things, usually the purview of the board of
directors, are detailed. For example, a
shareholder might be allowed to manage the
company, instead of a board of directors. The
shareholder agreement will also, typically, control
inflows to the company (purchase of shares), how
profits are to be distributed, dispute resolution
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and what to do if a shareholder dies.


Silent partner
A person who invests in a company or partnership
but does not take part in administering or
directing the organization; he or she just shares
in the profits or losses.
Sine die
Adjourned without giving any future date of
meeting or hearing. A court that adjourns sine die
essentially dismisses the case by saying that it
never wants to hear the case again! A meeting
which adjourns sine die has simply not set a date
for it's next meeting.
Slander
Verbal or spoken defamation.
Slander of title
Intentionally casting aspersion on someone's
property including real property, a business or
goods (the latter might also be called "slander of
goods"). A form of jactitation. For example,
stating that a house is haunted or alleging that a
certain product infringes a patent or copyright.
Slavery
When a person (called "master") has absolute
power over another (called "slave") including life
and liberty. The slave has no freedom of action
except within limits set by the master. The slave
is considered to be the property of the master
and can be sold, given away or killed. All the
fruits of the slave's labor belongs to the master
(see, for example, the extract from The 1740
South Carolina Slave Code in the History of the
Law). Slavery was once very prevalent in the
world but is now illegal in most countries.
Small claims
A regular court but which has simplified rules of
procedure and process to deal with claims of a
lesser value. Many jurisdictions have established
small claims courts which, because of their
structures and reliance on deformalized
proceedings, allow for expedited hearings and
where representation by lawyer is not required or
encouraged. Some typical distinctive
characteristics of small claims courts include the
ability to serve by regular mail and to seize both
a court and an adversary at far less cost than in
ordinary courts.
Socage
A term of the feudal system which referred to the
tenure which was exchanged for certain goods or
services which were not military in nature.
Socage is often described as "free and common
socage" although the "free and common"
qualification is now of a purely historical
significance.
Sodomy
Synonymous with buggery and referring to
"unnatural" sex acts, including copulation, either
between two persons of the same sex or between
a person and an animal (the latter act is known
as "bestiality"). Most countries outlaw bestiality
but homosexual activity is gradually being
decriminalized.
Solicitor
A lawyer that restricts his or her practice to the

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giving of legal advice and does not normally


litigate. that court room. In England and some
other Commonwealth jurisdictions, a legal
distinction is made between solicitors and
barristers, the former with exclusive privileges of
giving oral or written legal advice, and the latter
with exclusive privileges of preparing and
conducting litigation in the courts. In other words,
solicitors don't appear in court on a client's behalf
and barristers don't give legal advice to clients. In
England, barristers and solicitors work as a team:
the solicitor would typically make the first contact
with a client and if the issue cannot be resolved
and proceeds to trial, the solicitor would transfer
the case to a barrister for the duration of the
litigation. Lawyers in some states, such as
Canada, sometimes use the title "barrister and
solicitor" even though, contrary to England, there
is no legal distinction between the advising and
litigating roles. Canadian lawyers can litigate or
give legal advice (as is the case in the USA,
where lawyers are referred to as "attorneys").
Sovereign
Has two meanings. The first one is a technical
word for the monarch (king or queen) of a
particular country as in "the Sovereign of England
is Queen Elizabeth." The other meaning of the
word is to describe the supreme legislative
powers of a state: that they are totally
independent and free from any outside political
control or authority over their decisions. The
people of Quebec, for example, has, at times,
supported governments which have proposed that
Quebec become a "sovereign" state; that all
legislative authority of the government of Canada
over their territory cease and that the
government of Quebec be enabled to regulate in
any matter at all; and that the government of
Quebec represent itself internationally.
Split custody
A child custody decision which means that legal
custody goes back and forth between parents like
a ping-pong ball, as they, in turn, take care of the
child. They are very rare (for example, only 5%
of all custody orders in the USA) because they
works against consistent upbringing decisions for
the child. Also known as "divided custody"
although the latter concept is mostly used to
describe split custody over greater periods of time
such as alternate years with each parent.
Standing committee
A term of parliamentary law which refers to those
committees which have a continued existence;
that are not related to the accomplishment of a
specific, once-only task as are ad hoc or special
committees. Standing committees generally exist
as long as the organization to which it reports.
Budget and finance or nomination committees are
typical standing committees of a larger
organization.
Stare decisis
A basic principle of the law whereby once a
decision (a precedent) on a certain set of facts
has been made, the courts will apply that decision
in cases which subsequently come before it

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State

embodying the same set of facts. A precedent


which is binding; must be followed.

A term of international law: those groups of


people which have acquired international
recognition as an independent country and which
have four characteristics; permanent and large
population with, generally, a common language; a
defined and distinct territory; a sovereign
government with effective control; and a capacity
to enter into relations with other states (i.e.
recognized by other states). The USA, Canada
and China are examples of states. States are the
primary subjects of international law. The United
Nations is comprised of all the states of the world.
Some large states have subdivided into smaller
units each having limited legislative powers
normally restricted to subjects which are more
properly regulated at a local, rather than a
national level. Thus, the states of the USA are not
really "states" under international law. It is
common for the general public and English
dictionaries to use the word "nations" to refer to
what international law calls "states."
Statutes
The written laws approved by legislatures,
parliaments or houses of assembly (i.e.,
politicians). Also known as "legislation". The
written laws of the Canadian Province of
Newfoundland, for example, are in a multivolume set of books called the Statutes of
Newfoundland.
Statutory rape
The common law definition of rape has not
proven adequate to reflect modern values. It is
limited to sex without consent and with a woman,
and only where the victim is not the wife of the
rapist. Many states have enacted laws which
include under the charge of rape, sex with a
minor even if done with the minor's consent, sex
without consent regardless of whether the victim
is male or female, and sex without consent
regardless of the matrimonial bond between
victim and rapist.
Statutory trust
A trust created by the effect of a statute. They
are usually temporary in nature and serve the
purpose of bridging ownership of property to
benefit a certain class of individuals which the
statute is designed to protect. Some examples
are the temporary trusts that the law of some
states impose on the executor of an estate, the
holding and administration of tax or other pay
deductions (including vacation pay) by
employers, the trust accounts of lawyers and the
statutory trust on money paid for a construction
project on behalf of any person who might have a
construction lien on the property.
Stirpes
Latin: the offspring of a person; his or her
descendants. For example, inheriting per stirpes
means having a right to a deceased's estate
because you happen to be a descendant of the
deceased.
Strict liability

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Tort liability which is set upon the defendant


without need to prove intent, negligence or fault;
as long as you can prove that it was the
defendant's object that caused the damage.
Subinfeudation
The process whereby, under the feudal system of
tenure, a person receiving a grant of land from a
lord, could himself become a lord by subdividing
and subletting that land to others.
Sub judice
A matter that is still under consideration by a
court. You will hear of politicians declining to
speak on a certain subject because the subject
matter is "sub judice".
Subordination
To be subject to the orders or direction of
another; of lower rank.
Subpoena
Latin: an order of a court which requires a person
to be present at a certain time and place or suffer
a penalty (subpoena means, literally, "under
penalty"). This is the traditional tool used by
lawyers to ensure that witnesses present
themselves at a given place, date and time to
make themselves available to testify (see also
duces tecum).
Subrogation
When you pay off someone's debt and then try to
get the money from the debtor yourself.
(Compare with "novation".)
Subservient tenement
The real property that supports or endures an
easement. The real property benefitting from an
easement is called the dominant tenement.
Substituted service
If a party appears to be avoiding service of court
documents, a request may be made with the
court to, instead of personal service (i.e. giving
the document directly to the person), that the
document be published in a local newspaper,
served on a person believed to frequent the
person or mailed to his (or her) last known
address.
Successor
A person who takes over the rights of another.
Sui juris
A person who possesses full civil rights and is not
under any legal incapacity such as being
bankrupt, of minor age or mental incapacity. Most
adults are sui juris.
Summary conviction offence
In Canada, a less serious offence than indictable
offences for which both the procedure and
punishment tends to be less onerous.
Summons
In the USA, this is one of the initial documents
issued in a civil suit; giving the defendant notice
of the claim and an opportunity to defend it. The
summons also gives the court which issues it the
authority to dispose of the matter. In Canadian
criminal law, this is the document used by the
police to compel an accused to attend court to
answer the charges. It does not involve the arrest
of the accused and is used where the police,
either by the relatively less serious nature of the
crime or because of the standing of the accused
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Surety

in the community, do not believe that arrest is


necessary to ensure the attendance of the
accused at court.

The person who has pledged him or herself to pay


back money or perform a certain action if the
principal to a contract fails, as collateral, and as
part of the original contract. Technically, where a
person provides collateral after or before the
original contract is signed, and as a separate
contract, the person is called a "guarantor" and
not a "surety."
Synallagmatic contract
A civil law term for a reciprocal or bilateral
contract: one in which both parties provide
consideration. A contract of sale is a classic
example, where one party provides money and
the other, goods or services. A gift is not a
synallagmatic contract.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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one being made." Otto von
Bismarck.

Taft-Hartley
The name of an American federal labor law which
was passed in 1947, and which sought to
"equalize legal responsibilities of labor
organizations and employers"; ie. balance the
Wagner Act, which, it was felt, may have gone to
far in protecting union rights. Where the Wagner
Act had was aimed primarily at employer
behavior, the Taft-Hartley was aimed at unions
and sought to restrain their activities under
certain circumstances, by detailing union rights
and duties. For example, the Taft-Hartley Act
exempted supervisors from it's provisions,
allowed employees to decline participation in
union activities and permitted union
decertification petitions.
Tamper
To interfere improperly or in violation of the law
such as to tamper with a document. The term
"jury tampering" means to illegally disrupt the
independence of a jury member with a view to
influencing that juror otherwise than by the
production of evidence in open court.
Tenancy by the entireties
A form of co-ownership in English law where,
when a husband transferred land to his wife, the
property could not be sold unless both spouses
agreed nor could it be severed except by ending
the marriage.
Tenant
A person to whom a landlord grants temporary
and exclusive use of land or a part of a building,
usually in exchange for rent. The contract for this
type of legal arrangement is called a lease. The
word "tenant" originated under the feudal system,
referring to land "owners" who held their land on
tenure granted by a lord.
Tenants in common
Similar to joints tenants. All tenants in common
share equal property rights except that, upon the
death of a tenant in common, that share does not
go to the surviving tenants but is transferred to
the estate of the deceased tenant. Unity of
possession but distinct titles.
Tender
An unconditional offer of a party to a contract to
perform their part of the bargain. For example, if
the contract is a loan contract, a tender would be
an act of the debtor where he produces the
amount owing and offers to the creditor. In real
property law, when a party suspects that the
other may be preparing to renege, he or she can
write a tender in which they unequivocally reassert their intention to respect the contract and
tender their end of the bargain; either by paying
the purchase or delivering the title.
Tenement

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Property that could be subject to tenure under


English land law; usually land, buildings or
apartments. The word is rarely used nowadays
except to refer to dominant or servient tenements
when qualifying easements.
Tenure
A right of holding or occupying land or a position
for a certain amount of time. The term was first
used in the English feudal land system, whereby
all land belonged to the king but was lent out to
lords for a certain period of time; the lord never
owning, but having tenure in the land. Used in
modern law mostly to refer to a position a person
occupies such as in the expression "a judge holds
tenure for life and on good behavior."
Testamentary trust
A trust which is to take effect only upon the death
of the settlor and is commonly found as part of a
will. Trusts which take effect during the life of the
settlor are called inter vivos trusts.
Testator
A person who dies with a valid will.
Testimony
The verbal presentation of a witness in a judicial
proceeding.
Torrens land registration system
A land registration system invented by Robert
Torrens and in which the government is the
keeper of the master record of all land and their
owners. In the Torrens system, a land title
certificate suffices to show full, valid and
indefeasible title. Used in Australia and several
Canadian provinces.
Tort
Derived from the Latin word tortus which meant
wrong. In French, "tort" means a wrong". Tort
refers to that body of the law which will allow an
injured person to obtain compensation from the
person who caused the injury. Every person is
expected to conduct themselves without injuring
others. When they do so, either intentionally or
by negligence, they can be required by a court to
pay money to the injured party ("damages") so
that, ultimately, they will suffer the pain cause by
their action. Tort also serves as a deterrent by
sending a message to the community as to what
is unacceptable conduct.
Tort-feasor
Name given to a person or persons who have
committed a tort.
Tracing
A legal proceeding taken under the law of equity
where the plaintiff attempts to reclaim specific
property, through the court, whether the property
is still in the first acquirer's hands or it has passed
onto others, and even if the property has been
converted (related common law terms:
conversion, trover and detinue). This is a
procedure frequently used by a trust beneficiary
to recover misappropriated trust property.
Transferee
A person who receives property being transferred
(the person from whom the property is moving is
the transferor).
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Transferor
A person from whom property moves. Property is
transferred from the transferor to th transferor. I
sell you my house and in transferring title to you,
I am the transferor and you, the transferee.
Treaty
A formal agreement between two states signed
by official representatives of each state. A treaty
may be "law-making" in that it is the declared
intention of the signatories to make or amend
their internal laws to give effect to the treaty. The
Berne Convention is an example of such as
treaty. Other treaties are just contracts between
the signatories to conduct themselves in a certain
way or to do a certain thing. These latter type of
treaties are usually private to two or a limited
number of states and may be binding only
through the International Court of Justice .
Trespass
Unlawful interference with another's person,
property or rights. Theoretically, all torts are
trespasses.
Trover
An old English and common law legal proceeding
against a person who had found someone else's
property and has converted that property to their
own purposes. The action of trover did not ask for
the return of the property but for damages in an
amount equal to the replacement value of the
property. English law replaced the action of trover
with that of conversion in 1852.
Trust
Property given by a person called the donor or
settlor, to a trustee, for the benefit of another
person (the beneficiary or donee). The trustee
manages and administers the property, actual
ownership is shared between the trustee and the
beneficiary and all the profits go to the
beneficiary. The word "fiduciary" can be used to
describe the responsibilities of the trustee
towards the beneficiary. A will is a form of trust
but trusts can be formed during the lifetime of
the settlor in which case it is called an inter vivos
or living trust.
Trustee
The person who holds property rights for the
benefit of another through the legal mechanism
of the trust. A trustee usually has full
management and administration rights over the
property but these rights must always be
exercised to the full advantage of the beneficiary.
All profits from the property go to the beneficiary
although the trustee is entitled to reimbursement
for administrative costs. There is no legal
impediment for a trustee to also be a beneficiary
of the same property.
Trustee de son tort
A trustee "of his own wrong"; a person who is not
a regularly appointed trustee but because of his
or her intermeddling with the trust and the
exercise of some control over the trust property,
can be held by a court as "constructive" trustee
which entails liability for losses to the trust.

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Suggested Legal Reference Books

Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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Duhaime Lawisms
"Fragile as reason is and
limited as law is as the
institutionalized medium of
reason, that's all we have
standing between us and the
tyranny of mere will and the
cruelty of unbridled,
undisciplined feeling." Justice
Felix Frankfurter.

UIFSA

The American uniform child and spousal support


legislation, the Uniform Interstate Family Support
Act already adopted and implemented by most
states and expected to be law throughout the
USA soon. It is the successor of URESA and is a
long-arm statutes as it gives the state which
issues the first support order jurisdiction over the
support payor anywhere in the USA for the
purposes of varying that order. For more
information, please see http://wwlia.org/us-uifsa.
htm
Ultra vires
Without authority. An act which is beyond the
powers or authority of the person or organization
which took it.
Unjust enrichment
A legal procedure whereby you can seek
reimbursement from another who benefitted from
your action or property without legal justification.
There are said to be three conditions which must
be met before you can get a court to force
reimbursement based on "unjust enrichment": an
actual enrichment or benefit to the defendant, a
corresponding deprivation to the plaintiff, and the
absence of a legal reason for the defendant's
enrichment. For example (and only theoretically
as many countries have laws which have modified
equity law in some situations), if you found
somebody else's cash and spent it, you might be
sued for reimbursement under unjust enrichment.
The legal theory behind unjust enrichment is the
constructive trust, which the court imposes upon
the circumstances to hold the person unjustly
enriched as the trustee for the person who should
properly get the property back, held to be the
beneficiary of the constructive trust.
URESA
Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act of
the United States, as created in 1950 by the
National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform
State Laws. This was the first family support
uniform legislation in the USA and it was
ultimately adopted, in some form or another, by
all the US states. It was updated in 1968 and the
revised version became known as "RURESA", the
initial "R" standing for "Revised." It has been
replaced by UIFSA. For more information, please
see http://wwlia.org/us-uifsa.htm
Usufruct
From ancient Roman law (and now a part of many
civil law systems), "usufruct" means the rights to
the product of another's property. For example, a
farmer may give a right of "usufruct"of his land to
a neighbor, thus enabling that neighbor to sow
and reap the harvest of that land.

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Usury

Excessive or illegal interest rate. Most countries


now prohibit interest rates above a certain level;
and rates which exceed these levels are called
"usury".

V
Vagrant
A tramp or homeless person.
Vendor
The seller; the person selling.
Venue
This has the same meaning as in everyday
English except that in a legal context it usually
refers specifically to the location of a judicial
hearing. For example, if a criminal case has a
very high media profile in a particular city, the
"venue" may change to another city to ensure
objective witnesses (i.e. that would not have
been spoiled by media speculation on the crime).
Vehicle
Any thing that is designed to transport persons or
objects. A bicycle has been held to be a vehicle.
Verba fortius accipiuntur contra proferentem
Latin: a principle of construction whereby if words
of a contract are ambiguous, of two equally
possible meanings, they should be interpreted
against the author of the words and not against
the other party.
Verdict
The decision of a jury. In criminal cases, this is
usually expressed as "guilty" or "not guilty".In a
civil case, the verdict would be a finding for the
plaintiff or for the defendant.
Videlicet
Latin for "to wit" or "that is to say." "Viz.", which
is the abbreviation of videlicet, is much more
commonly used. It is often found in legal
documents to advise that what follows provides
more detail about a preceding general statement.
For example: "The defendant committed adultery;
viz., on April 15th, at approximately 10:30 pm,
he had sexual intercourse with Ms Jane Doe."
Vis
An abbreviation of the Latin word videlicet. Short
for "namely" or "that is to say."
Vicarious liability
When a person is held responsible for the tort of
another even though the person being held
responsible may not have done anything wrong.
This is often the case with employers who are
held vicariously liable for the damages caused by
their employees.
Vir
Latin: man or husband. Vir et uxor censentur in
lege una persona is an old (and long abandoned
in most countries) legal principle meaning that
man and wife are considered to be one person in
law.
Void or void ab initio
Not legally binding. A document that is void is
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useless and worthless; as if it did not exist.For


example, in many countries, contracts for
immoral purposes are said to be "void":
unenforceable and not recognized by the courts.
A good example is a contract to commit a serious
crime such as murder.
Voidable
The law distinguishes between contracts which
are void and those which are voidable. Some
contracts have such a latent defect that they are
said to be void (see definition of "void" above).
Other have more minor defects to them and are
voidable at the option of the party victimized by
the defect. For example, contracts signed by a
person when they are totally drunk are voidable
by that person upon recovering sobriety.
Voir dire
A mini-hearing held during a trial on the
admissibility of contested evidence. For example,
a defendant may object to a plaintiff's witness.
The court would suspend the trial, immediately
preside over a hearing on the standing of the
proposed witness, and then resume the trial with
or without the witness, or with any restrictions
placed on the testimony by the judge as a result
of the voir dire ruling. In a jury trial, the jury
would be excused during the voir dire.
Volenti non fit injuria
Voluntary assumption of risk. A defence in tort
that means where a person engages in an event
accepting and aware of the risks inherent in that
event, then they can not later complain of, or
seek compensation for an injury suffered during
the event. This is used most often to defend
against tort actions as a result of a sports injury.

W
Wagner Act
A 1935 American federal statute which recognized
employee rights to collective bargaining,
protected the right to belong to a union,
prohibited many anti-union tactics then used by
employers, and set up the National Labor
Relations Board. The NLRB was given wide
enforcement powers. It was later amended by the
Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.
Waiver
When a person disclaims or renounces to a right
that they may have otherwise had. Waivers are
not always in writing. Sometimes a person's
actions can be interpreted as a waiver.
Warranty
A guarantee given on the performance of a
product or the doing of a certain thing. For
example, many consumer products come with
warranties under which the manufacturer will
repair or replace any product that fails during the
warranty period; the commitment to repair or
replace being the "warranty".
Waste
The abuse, destruction or permanent change to
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property by one who is merely in possesion of it


as in the case of a tenant or a life tenant.
Wedlock
Being married. Has the same meaning as
"matrimony." Used mostly to refer to illegitimate
children as "born out of wedlock."
Will
A written and signed statement, made by an
individual, which provides for the disposition of
their property when they die. (See also codicil
and probate.)
Wire-tapping
An electronic surveillance device which secretly
listens in and records conversations held over a
phone line. It is usually only allowed with the
permission of a judge and if it can be shown to be
necessary for the solving of a serious crime.
Without prejudice
A statements set onto a written document which
qualifies the signatory as exempted from it's
content to the extent that they may be
interpreted as containing admissions or other
interpretations which could later be used against
the person signing; or as otherwise affecting any
legal rights of the person signing. A lawyer will
often send a letter "without prejudice" in case the
letter makes admissions which could later prove
inconvenient to the client.
Witness
The regular definition of this word is a person who
perceives an event (by seeing, hearing, smelling
or other sensory perception). The legal definition
refers to the court-supervised recital of that
sensory experience, in writing (deposition) or
verbally (testimony).
Words of limitation
Words in a conveyance or in a will which set the
duration of an estate. If a will said "to Bob and
his heirs", the words "and his heirs" were words
of limitation because they indicate that Bob gets
the land in fee simple and his heirs get no
interest.
Words of purchase
Words which specifically name the person to
whom land is being conveyed. The property is
conveyed to specifically and by name in a legal
act such as a conveyance or will. This would
preclude, for example, transfer as a result of
intestacy.
Writ
An official court document, signed by a judge or
bearing an official court seal, which commands
the person to whom it is addressed, to do
something specific. That "person" is typically
either a sheriff (who may be instructed to seize
property, for example) or a defendant (for whom
the writ is the first notice of formal legal action.
In these cases, the writ would command the
person to answer the charges laid out in the suit,
or else judgment may be made against them in
their absence).
Wrongful death
An American tort law action which claims
damages from any person who, through
negligence or direct act or omission, caused the

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death of certain relatives (eg. spouse, children or


parent). These actions are commenced under
special "wrongful death" statutes because under
the common law, there is no right of action for
survivors for their own loss as a result of
someone's death. The Canadian equivalent of the
wrongful death legislation is generally known as
the "fatal accidents act." In England, it is known
as Lord Campbell's Act.
Wrongful dismissal
Being fired from a job without an adequate
reason or without any reason whatsoever.
Employees do not have a right to a job for life
and can be dismissed for economic or
performance reasons but they cannot be
dismissed capriciously. Most employment implies
an employment contract, which may be
supplemented by labor legislation. Either could
provide for certain procedures to be followed,
failing which any firing is wrongful dismissal and
for which the employee could ask a court for
damages against the employer. Can also be
referred to as "dismissal without just cause." Not
all states recognize this tort law action.

X-Z
Yellow dog contract
A name given in American labor law to contract of
employment by which the employee agrees to
forfeit their employment if they join a union
during the period of employment. These types of
contracts are now prohibited by American law.
Young offender
Young persons who, in many states, are treated
differently than adult criminals and are tried in
special youth courts. In Canada, for example,
criminal suspects between 12 and 17 inclusively
are processed under the Young Offenders Act,
which includes several provisions which reflect
the rehabilitative nature of the legislation.
Zipper
"Devices consisting of two opposite series of
members adapted to be attached one on each
side of an aperture in some article and to
interlock so as to close the aperture upon the
slide being operated in one direction, or to
separate so as to leave the aperture open upon
the slide being operated in the opposite
direction." Editor's note:we didn't make this up!
It's from a 1932 trademark case of the Supreme
Court of Canada called Lightning Fastener Co.
Ltd. V. Canadian GoodrichCo. Ltd.

Suggested Legal Reference Books

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Blacks Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary


(Pocket), 2nd Edition

Legal Secretary's
Complete Handbook

Dictionary of
Legal Terms:
A Simplified Guide to
the Language of Law

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