Dictionary of Law (Part 1, A-D)

Dictionary of law:

Helps the students of law to understand definitions of various words related to law.

A fortiori
More effective; with greater reason.

 

A vinculo matrimonii
Latin: of marriage. The term is now used to refer to a final and permanent dissolution of the marriage by a decree of annulment on the ground that the marriage was void ab initio, from the beginning.

 

Ab initio
Latin: from the start.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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) 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.

 

ACF
Administration for Children and Families

 

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 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 of a petition will usually suggest an amount in dollars that the plaintiff asks the court to award.

 

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.

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.

 

Administrative Law
the area of law dealing with governmental agencies.

 

Administrative Procedure
method by which support orders are made and enforced by an executive agency rather than by courts and judges

 

Administrative tribunal
Hybrid adjudicating authorities which straddle the line between government and the courts. Between routine government policy decision-making 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 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.

 

Admiralty Law/Maritime
the area of law that relates to the high seas and other navigable waters, which is administered by the admiralty courts.

 

Adoption Law
the area of law that deals with the relationship of parent to child of another person, usually a minor, by official legal action.

 

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.

 

AEI
Automated Administrative Enforcement of Interstate Cases

 

AFDC
Aid to Families with Dependent Children

 

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.

 

Agriculture Law
the area of law focusing on issues relating to the practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and/or the preparation and marketing of the resulting products.

 

Aid To Families With Dependent Children
assistance payments made on behalf of children who don`t have the financial support of one of their parents by reason of death, disability, or continued absence from the home; known in many States as ADC (Aid to Dependent Children)

 

Alienate
To sell or give completely and without reserve; to transfer title to somebody else. A voluntary conveyance of property, especially real property.

 

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.

 

Allodial
A kind of land ownership that is unfetterred, outright and absolute. It is the opposite of the 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.

 

Alternatives to Bankruptcy
the area of law that focuses on debtor assistance other than Bankruptcy (see bankruptcy).

 

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 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 “anti-combines” or “competition” legislation.

 

Antitrust & Trade Regulation
the area of law that protects trade and commerce from unlawful restraints and monopolies or unfair business practices.

 

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.

 

Appellate Law
the area of law relating to appeals to higher courts of law.

 

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
the process of resolving a dispute or a grievance outside of the court system by presenting it to an impartial third party or panel for a decision that may or may not be binding (see also mediation and alternative dispute resolution).

 

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.

 

Arrearages
unpaid child support for past periods owed by a parent who is obligated to pay

 

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.

 

Assignment Of Support Rights
a person receiving public assistance agrees to turn over to the State any right to child support, including arrearages, paid by the obligated parent in exchange for receipt of a cash assistance grant and other benefits

 

AT
Action Transmittal

 

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.

 

Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
A legal doctrine which makes a person negligent for leaving a piece of equipment or other condition on property which would be both attractive and dangerous to curious children. These have included tractors, unguarded swimming pools, open pits, and abandoned refrigerators. Liability could be placed on the people owning or controlling the premises even when the child was a trespasser who sneaked on the property. Basically the doctrine was intended to make people careful about what dangerous conditions they left untended. Some jurisdictions (including California) have abolished the attractive nuisance doctrine and replaced it with specific conditions (e.g. open pit and refrigerators) and would make property owners liable only by applying rules of foreseeable danger which make negligence harder to prove.

 

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.

 

Auto Lemon Law
the area of law governed by statute that allows the purchaser of a car specific remedies if the car has a defect that impairs or significantly affects its use, value, or safety and that cannot be repaired within a specified period.

 

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.

 

Aviation Law
the area of law dealing with the operation of civilian aircraft often under the control of a common carrier. This legal arena usually focuses on airline disasters and wrongful death.

 

AVR
Automated Voice Response System

 

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.

 

Avunculus
Latin: a mother’s brother. “Avuncular” refers to an uncle.

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.

 

Banking & Finance Law
the area of law that relates to the banking and finance industries.

 

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 non-legal 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.

 

Bankruptcy Law
The legal method for a debtor to “discharge” or relieve debt. Bankruptcy is a way for individuals or businesses owing more money than they can pay to either work out a plan to repay the money over time or to have their debt wiped out. While no debtor is guaranteed a total discharge, most debtors who file for bankruptcy are given such relief. One of the primary purposes of the bankruptcy act is to relieve the honest debtor from the weight of oppressive indebtedness and to provide the debtor with a fresh start. Title 11 of the United States Code regulates the filing of a bankruptcy. If the debtor initiates the bankruptcy it is called a voluntary bankruptcy. If the creditor initiates the bankruptcy it is called an involuntary bankruptcy. In an involuntary bankruptcy the debtor has the opportunity to contest the petition. While the debtor is either working out a plan or the trustee is gathering the available assets to sell, the Bankruptcy Code provides that creditors must stop all collection efforts against the debtor. The Bankruptcy Code regulates what chapter you must file under, what bills can be eliminated, how long payments may be extended, what possessions you may keep, and all other details concerning the bankruptcy.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Business Law
the area of law that involves the creation and needs of “business”. Business can be any activity or enterprise entered into for profit, usually a company, a corporation, partnership, or any such formal organization (see corporate law).

 

Business Litigation
the area of law that provides assistance in the preparation and presentation of a lawsuit or other resort to the courts to determine a legal question or matter in “business” situations. Business can be any activity or enterprise entered into for profit, usually a company, a corporation, partnership, or any such formal organization.

 

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.

 

Catastrophic Law
the area of law dealing with serious personal injury (see personal injury).

 

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.

 

CCA
Consumer Credit Agencies

 

CCD+
Cash Concentration and Disbursement “Plus”

 

CCPA
Consumer Credit Protection Act

 

CEJ
Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction to modify a support order

 

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
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 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
dealing with all areas of the law that are not classified as criminal.

 

Civil Rights
the area of law protecting those rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, including the right to due process, equal treatment under the law of all people regarding enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and protection.

 

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
an action or actions in which a representative plaintiff sues or a representative defendant is sued on behalf of a class (group) of plaintiffs or defendants who have the same interests in the litigation as their representative and whose rights or liabilities can be more efficiently determined as a group than in a series of individual suits.

 

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 won 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.

 

Collaborative Law
Collaborative Law is a name given to an attitude toward resolving legal disputes and the policies and practices that put that attitude into action. You won’t find collaborative law in the statutes or administrative regulations but you will find it in the professionalism and integrity of those who practice law. The basic attitude marking collaborative law is of solving the problem, not fighting the fight. Simply stated, it is treating the process as a way to “trouble shoot and problem solve” rather than to fight and win. Some people look upon the civil justice system as a place to resolve a dispute they have with another. Collaborative law is what they’re looking for.

 

Collaborative Law
Collaborative Law is a name given to an attitude toward resolving legal disputes and the policies and practices that put that attitude into action. You won’t find collaborative law in the statutes or administrative regulations but you will find it in the professionalism and integrity of those who practice law. The basic attitude marking collaborative law is of solving the problem, not fighting the fight. Simply stated, it is treating the process as a way to “trouble shoot and problem solve” rather than to fight and win. Some people look upon the civil justice system as a place to resolve a dispute they have with another. Collaborative law is what they’re looking for.

 

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 victim from other “collateral” sources as a result of the tort (eg. insurance benefits).

 

Collections
the area of law that gives assistance to creditors in pursuing their debtors.

 

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.

 

Commercial Law
the legal rules and principles bearing on commercial transactions and business organizations. This area of the law is often times governed by the Uniform Commercial Code.

 

Commercial Litigation
the area of law that provides assistance in the preparation and presentation of a lawsuit or other resort to the courts to determine a legal question or matter in “commercial” situations. Commercial law involves the legal rules and principles bearing on commercial transactions and business organizations. This area of the law is often times governed by the Uniform Commercial Code.

 

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 sub poena 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 it’s 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 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).

 

Communications Law
the area of law focusing on the technology of the transmission of information.

 

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.

 

Complaint
written document filed in court in which the person initiating the action names the persons, allegations, and relief sought

 

Computer & Technology Law
the area of law dealing with the scientific technology involving the production or use of devices especially in the fields of electronics and computers. Computers can be defined as programmable electronic devices that can store, retrieve, and process data.

 

Condemnation/Eminent Domain
the area of law that deals with the right of the government to take property from a private owner for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of its sovereignty over all lands within its jurisdiction.

 

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”.

 

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.

Consent Agreement
voluntary written admission of paternity or responsibility for support

 

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.

 

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).

 

Constitutional Law
the area of statutory and case law that is based on, concerns, or interprets a constitution.

 

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: literal (strict) or liberal.

 

Construction Law
the area of law focusing on the construction industry.

 

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).

 

Consumer Protection
the area of law that focuses on the remedies available in most states and the federal government which have enacted laws and set up agencies to protect the consumer from inferior, adulterated, hazardous or deceptively advertised products, and deceptive or fraudulent sales practices.

 

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 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
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 Law
the area of law focusing on the legal methods of obtaining an official charter or articles of incorporation from the state for an organization, which may be a profit-making business, a professional business such as a law office or medical office or a non-profit entity which operates for charitable, social, religious, civic or other public service purposes and the legal ramifications of such an organization (see business law).

 

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 (for-profit 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”.

 

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.

 

CP
Custodial Party

 

Creditor
A person to whom money, goods or services are owed by the debtor.

 

Creditor’s Remedies
The area of law dealing with the legal means and procedures to collect debts and judgments.

 

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
public law that deals with crimes and their prosecution. This area of law is usually governed by statute or ordinance.

 

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 cross-examination 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.”

 

CSE
Child Support Enforcement Agency

 

CSENet
Child Support Enforcement Network

 

CTX
Corporate Trade Exchange

 

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 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.

 

Custodial Parent
person with legal custody and with whom the child lives; may be parent, other relative, or someone else

 

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.

 

Custody Order
legal determination which establishes with whom a child shall live

 

Cy-près
“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.

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.

 

DCL
Dear Colleague Letter

 

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.

 

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.

 

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”.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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
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.

 

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.

 

Default
failure of a defendant to appear, or file an answer or response in a civil case, after having been served with a summons and complaint

 

Default Judgment
decision made by the court when the defendant fails to respond

 

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
person against whom a civil or criminal proceeding is begun

 

Dehors
French for outside. In the context of legal proceedings, it refers to that which is irrelevant or outside the scope of the debate.

 

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 decision-making power has been delegated to from a higher source, cannot, 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 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.

 

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.

 

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 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.

 

DHHS
United States Department of Health and Human Services

 

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.

 

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.

 

Discrimination
the area of law dealing with unfair or unequal treatment of a person or persons based upon their belonging to a protected class.

 

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
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 de-oxy-ribonucleic 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.

 

DOB
Date of Birth

 

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 absence, 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. In most jurisdictions, real property cannot be transferred by these death-bed gifts.

 

Donee
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.

 

Drugs and Narcotics
Drugs and Narcotics – the area of the law dealing with the defense of criminal proceedings involving the use and/or sale of illegal substances.

 

Drunk Driving Defense
the “right to drive” is a privilege which is governed by the individual states. Traffic violations are a mix of regulatory and penal (criminal) offenses based on violations of state statutes and city ordinances relating to the operation of vehicles, specifically driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances that impair the ability to drive.

 

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 fundamantal 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).