Dictionary of law (Part3,L-P)
Subject: Law

Dictionary of law:

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

Labor & Employment Law
this area of the law encompasses a wide variety of issues like Pension Plans, Retirement, Occupational Safety & Health Regulations, Affirmative Action and Sexual Harassment. Employment lawyers can show businesses how to reduce their risk of employment litigation and how to comply with state and local laws. Employment lawyers can also help protect workers when their rights are being violated. Often an employment lawyer will concentrate on representing either workers or employers.


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”.


A land or building owner who has leased the land, the building or a part of the land or building, to another person.

an area of the law dealing with the relationship between the owner of property and the person(s) renting or leasing that property from the owner.


An old English criminal and common law offense covering the unlawful or fraudulent removal of another’s property without the owner’s consent. The offense 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.


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.


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 cross-examination or where a witness is declared hostile.


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 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.


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).


Legal Ethics & Professional Responsibility
the area of law that involves the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group, specifically the legal industry.


Legal Father
a man who is recognized by law as the male parent


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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


Adjacent, bordering or contiguous.


Lineal descendant
A person who is a direct descendant such as a child to his or her natural parent.


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).


A dispute is in “litigation” ( or being “litigated”) when it has become the subject of a formal court action or law suit.


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.


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 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.


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. Long-arm 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.


Title IV-D of the Social Security Act


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”.


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.


Doing something which is illegal. Compare with misfeasance and nonfeasance.


Malpractice Defense
the area of law that focuses on representing those professionals who have been accused of negligence, misconduct, lack of ordinary skill, or a breach of duty in the performance of a professional service (medicine, law, etc.) resulting in injury or loss.


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.

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.


Medical Assistance Only


Maritime law
A very specific body of law peculiar to transportation by water, seamen and harbors.


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.


The legal state of being married. Ecclesiastics talk of the “holy” state of matrimony.


a process of non-binding intervention between parties to promote resolution of a grievance, reconciliation, settlement, or compromise outside of the court system (see also mediation and alternative dispute resolution).


Medicaid Program
federally funded medical support for low income families


Medical Support
legal provision for payment of medical and dental bills


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.


Mergers & Acquisitions
the area of law that involves the acquisition of or merging of a corporation of one or more others and/or any of various methods of combining two or more organizations.


Military Law
law that is enforced by the military rather than civil authority.


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.


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 when ordered by the US Supreme Court in the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona and that is how it got the name.


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 non-joinder.


(USA) A crime of lesser seriousness than a felony where the punishment might be a fine or prison for less than one year.


Improperly doing something which a person has the legal right to do. Compare with malfeasance and nonfeasance.


A false and material statement which induces a party to enter into a contract. This is a ground for rescission of the contract.


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.”


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 to the informer.


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.


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.


The temporary suspension of legal action against a person.


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.


Abbreviation for “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.


Multistate Financial Institution Data Match


Monthly Support Obligation


Intentional homicide (the taking of another person’s life), without legal justification or provocation.


National Automated Clearing House Association


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 self-evident 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.


Non-Custodial Parent


Network Data Mover


National Directory of New Hires


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 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.


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.


New Hire


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.


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.


Noncustodial Parent
parent who does not have primary custody of a child


Not doing something that a person should be doing. Compare with malfeasance and misfeasance.


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.


In spite of, even if, without regard to or impediment by other things.


Substitute a new debt for an old debt cancelling the old debt. (Compare with “subrogation”)


National Personnel Records Center


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.


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.


Nursing Home Neglect
the area of law focusing on the establishments that provide maintenance and personal or nursing care for persons who are unable to care for themselves.


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.”


amount of money to be paid as support by the responsible parent and the manner by which it is to be paid


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”.


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.”


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
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.


Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement


A crime; any act which contravenes the criminal law of the state in which it occurs. Spelled “offence” in Commonwealth countries.


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”.


amount of money taken from a parent`s State or Federal income tax refund to satisfy a child support debt


Offshore Banking & Trusts/Asset Protection
an area of law that involves financial transactions under the laws of a country other than the United States. Some countries (particularly in the Caribbean) are popular nations of financial transactions since they have little corporate regulation or taxes and only moderate management fees. Professional trustees in the country perform routine contacts with the local government but take no active part in management.


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.


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.


Office of Personnel Management


A formal written direction given by a member of the judiciary; a court decision without reasons.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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 non-performance 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.


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.


Killing one’s father or another a family member or close relative.


A business organization in which two or more 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).


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.


Patents, Trademarks & Copyrights
the area of law dealing with an idea, invention, trade secret, process, program, data, formula, patent, copyright, or trademark or application, right, or registration (often times referred to as intellectual property law).


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.


Paternity Judgment
legal determination of fatherhood


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.


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.


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 pendente lite, to last only during the litigation and, again, designed simply to preserve something until the decisive court order is issued.


Pension & Benefits
the area of law dealing with compensation under given conditions to a person following retirement from employment or to surviving dependents.


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.

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.


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.


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 Injury & Torts
the area of law that involves civil law cases designed to obtain compensation for injury to your person. The personal injury attorney usually tries to negotiate with the opposing party or their insurance company. If necessary, and if the attorney thinks you have a good chance of winning, the case may go to trial. The main concerns in a personal injury case are negligence and liability. Before you can collect an award, your attorney will have to prove that the defendant is liable. To prove liability, the attorney must establish negligence. If there is a failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury or damage then there may be negligence. Once liability and negligence have been established, the judge or the jury may award money to compensate for medical costs, lost wages and lost future earnings as well as for pain and suffering.


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.


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 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.”

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.


Putative Father


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.


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.


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.


Policy Interpretation Question


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.


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.

To kill or take an animal or fish from the property of another.


Being married to more than one person. Illegal in most countries.


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.


Præcipe 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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


Presumption Of Paternity
a rule of law under which evidence of a man`s paternity (e.g. voluntary acknowledgment, genetic test results) creates a presumption that the man is the father of a child. A rebuttable presumption can be overcome by evidence that the man is not the father, but it shifts the burden of proof to the father to disprove paternity.


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 have to at least prove then that at first glance, there appears to be a case.


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.


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.


Pro bono
Provided for free. Pro bono publico means “for the public good.”


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.


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.


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.


Pro se
Latin: in one’s personal behalf. Contrast with pro socio.


Pro socio
Latin: on behalf of a partner; not on one’s personal behalf.


Pro tempore
Latin: something done temporarily only and not intended to be permanent.


Probability Of Paternity
the probability that the alleged father is the biological father of the child as indicated by genetic test results.


the area of law dealing with the validity of wills, administration of estates and sometimes over the affairs of minors and persons adjudged incompetent.

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.


Products Liability Law
the area of law focusing on the liability imposed on a manufacturer or seller of a defective and unreasonably dangerous product (see also personal injury law).


Profit à 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.


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.


A person whom is to be the beneficiary of a promise, an obligation or a contract. Synonymous to “obligee.”


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 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.

Nearness in place; close-by. Also used to describe relationships as synonymous for “kin.”


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.




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.


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.


A person who offers sexual intercourse for hire.


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.


Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996


Public Assistance
money granted from the State! Federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children program to a person or family for living expenses; eligibility based on need


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.


Public Utilities Law
the area of law dealing with the business organizations (such as an electric company) performing a public service and subject to special governmental regulation.


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 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.

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