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Legal Glossary

Legal Glossary


Act of God
An event that is caused by the effect of nature or natural causes and not by humans. Acts of God are usually excluded from the list of insurable occurrences as a means to avoid payments for damage caused by hurricanes, floods or earthquakes.

An act by which the rights and duties of the natural parents of a child are ended and the same rights and duties are given to the adopter or adopters. The child is then the same to the adoptive parent(s) as if born to them.

A Barrister or Solicitor representing a person in a hearing before a Court.

A written statement that someone makes after they have sworn officially to tell the truth, and which might be used as proof in a court of law.

To give or transfer responsibility to another Person. The Assignee is the person who receives the right or property being given and the Assignor is the person giving.

The payment of mortgage monies by the lender.

Assignment of a Life Policy
Assignment of a Life Policy','A Deed that was formerly used to transfer Leashold property following the grant of a Lease. It only relates to Unregistered Land and is no longer used.


Bankers Draft
A cheque issued and signed by a bank (usually on its head office). It is generally accepted as the equivalent of cash although it needs to pass through clearing system in the same way as any other cheque.

Bankruptcy Search
A search carried out at the Land Charges Department in Plymouth against the borrower to find out whether any bankruptcy proceedings have been issued against him.

Barristers are instructed by Solicitors. They specialise in a particular field of law and can present a case in any court, compared with a Solicitor, whose rights to speak in court are limited, except for those Solicitors who hold the Higher Rights qualification.

One who borrows money from a lender (see also mortgagor).

Bridging Loan
An expensive temporary loan to tide you over when having to buy your new house before selling your old home. A temporary loan obtained from a bank to be repaid from monies you expect to receive in the near future, for example from the sale of a house or an inheritance from an estate.

An intermediary who will give advice and offer a range of mortgages.

Building Regulation Consent
Building Regulation Consent','This is required for any building work as a matter of health/safety.

Building Society
Another place to go for Mortgages and Loans.

Building Society Cheque
A cheque issued and signed by a building society which ensures guaranteed payment of funds.

Buildings Insurance Policy
A policy taken out by the property owner to insure the land and buildings against accidental damage, storm damage, flood etc. Insurance to cover any structural damage to your house.

Burden of Proof
A rule of evidence that makes a person prove a certain thing. If they do not prove it, then the court will assume the contrary to be true.


The Children And Family Court Advisory And Support Services for England and Wales. You will meet one of these officers if you apply to the court for any order affecting your child, for example Contact or Residence.

The sum borrowed in a mortgage.

Case Conference
Usually the first hearing in a Multi-Track claim and provides an opportunity for the Court to consider the way forward with a case.

Circumstantial evidence
Evidence which may allow a Judge or Jury to deduce a certain fact from other facts that have been proven. In some cases, there can be some evidence that cannot be proven directly, such as with an eyewitness. And yet that evidence may be essential to prove a case. In these cases, the Advocate 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 (in other words, it is proven by the evidence of the circumstances). 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.

Civil Action
An official complaint made by a person or company in a law court against someone who is said to have done something to harm them and which a judge deals with.

Legal proceedings issued in the County Court or High Court.

Claim Form
The Court form that a claim is issued on.

'The person issuing the claim.

Client-solicitor privilege
A right that belongs to the client of a Solicitor that the Solicitor will 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 giving evidence before a court of law. The client may, expressly or impliedly, waive the privilege and, exceptionally, the Solicitor may also waive it if the disclosure of the information may prevent a serious crime.

A sum of money intended to make up for or make amends for loss, breakage, hardship, inconvenience or personal injury caused by another.

Conditional Discharge
This is like an Absolute Discharge because the court does not wish to punish an offender further. They must not offend again inside a period of time that the court decides of up to three years. If the offender comes back to court inside that time, they can be punished for both the first and the second crimes. A conditional discharge still goes on an individual's criminal record.

An agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act. Those forming the conspiracy are called Conspirators.

Consumer Credit Act (CCA) 1974
An Act of Parliament that provides a standard system of controlling all forms of lending. This control covers both lenders through a licensing system and individual credit agreements.

Consumer Credit Agreements
A term for the different types of credit agreement (e.g. hire purchase) that are governed by the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Formerly referred to as Access. This is the arrangement made for a child to visit or stay with the parent who no longer lives with the child. Indirect contact means the exchange of letters or phone calls. Contact orders can also be made in favour of others, for example grandparents.

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 defence. Once convicted, an Accused may then be sentenced.

These are the legal fees of a person involved in a case. Ordinarily, each party in a case pays the fees of their own legal representative. A court can also order a losing party to pay their opponent’s legal fees as well. Costs can also include other expenses known as Disbursements. For people who qualify because they have limited means, their costs may be paid by the Legal Aid scheme if their type of legal action is covered by the scheme.

A claim made by a Defendant against a Claimant. There is no limit imposed on a counterclaim, but a fee is payable according to the amount counterclaimed.

County Court
Civil actions for personal injury not exceeding £50,000 must be started in this court. In any event civil actions worth less than £25,000 must ultimately be tried in a County Court. Sometimes inaccurately referred to as the Small Claims Court, County Courts also deal with monetary claims up to £15,000.

Criminal law
Concerned with the relationship between the individual and the general public. Criminal actions (e.g. motoring offences) are usually brought by the state. The principal function of criminal proceedings is to punish the offender. Criminal cases are tried by a Magistrates' Court or a Crown Court.

In a trial, each party calls witnesses. Each party may also question the other\'s witnesses. When you ask questions of the other party's witnesses, 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.

Prosecutions and civil cases taken (or defended) by the government are taken in the name of the Crown as head of state, Regina (shortened to R) being Latin for "The Queen".


Compensation for personal injury or a breach of contract. The aim is to put the innocent party as far as possible in the financial position he would have been in but for the breach or injury. In personal injury cases damages can be 'general' (to compensate for an injury) and “special” (to compensate for all other losses caused because of the injury, such as loss of earnings).

The person against whom legal proceedings are brought.

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.

Expenses paid by the solicitor on behalf of their Client such as court fees, medical report fees and other expert\'s fees.

Discovery of Documents
Mutual exchange of evidence and all relevant information held by each party relating to legal proceedings.

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". It may be a defence in certain circumstances if you can prove that you were forced or threatened into committing the crime.

Duty Solicitor
A nationwide scheme to provide Solicitors to represent unrepresented persons in Court and in Police Stations free of charge, irrespective of their means.


Either-way Offence
An offence for which the Accused may elect the case to be dealt with either summarily by the Magistrates Court or by committal to the Crown Court to be tried by a Jury.

Employer's Liability Insurance
Insurance that covers injury or death to an employee during the course of their normal work.

Proof of facts presented at a trial. The best and most common method is by oral testimony; where you have an eyewitness swear to tell the truth and to then relate to the court their experience. Evidence is essential in convincing the judge of your facts as the judge is expected to start off with no preconceived idea or knowledge of the facts. It is up to the opposing parties to prove, by providing evidence to the satisfaction of the judge, the facts needed to support their case. Besides oral testimony, an object can be deposited with the court. This is sometimes called "real evidence." In other rarer cases, evidence can be circumstantial.

The questioning of your own witness under oath. Witnesses are introduced to a trial by their examination-in-chief, which is when they answer questions asked by the lawyer representing the party that called them to give evidence. After their examination-in-chief, the other party\'s lawyer can question them too; this is called "cross-examination".

Expert Witness
A person employed to give evidence on a subject in which they are qualified or have expertise, such as a Doctor, Engineer, Accountant, Social Worker or other specialist.


Family Proceedings Court
A division of the Magistrates Court where family law matters are dealt with.

Fast Track
The part of the court that defended claims of more than £5,000 but not more than £15,000 are dealt with by.


Guardian ad Litem
A person appointed to safeguard/protect/manage the interests of a child or person under mental disability (also see Next Friend) who is a Defendant, Claimant or any such incapacitated person that may be a party in legal proceedings.


Any evidence that is offered by a witness of which they do not have direct knowledge but, rather, their evidence is based on what others have said to them. The basic rule, when testifying in court, is that you can only provide information of which you have direct knowledge. In other words, hearsay evidence is not allowed. Hearsay evidence is also referred to as "second-hand evidence" or as "rumour." You are able to tell a court what you heard, to repeat the rumour, and testify that, in fact, the story you heard was told to you, but under the hearsay rule, your testimony would not be evidence of the actual facts of the story but only that you heard those words spoken.

High Court
The Court in which the most substantial civil actions are brought. It consists of three divisions:
- Queen's Bench (can be known as King\'s Bench Division if a King is assuming the throne), dealing with disputes for recovery of money, including breach of contract, personal injuries, libel/slander.
- Family, dealing with matrimonial matters and proceedings relating to children, e.g. wardship.
- Chancery, dealing with property matters including fraud and bankruptcy.


Indictable Offence
A criminal offence triable only by the Crown Court, for example, murder.

Also known as a Minor: A person under 18 years of age, which prevents them from acting on their own behalf in legal proceedings (also see Next Friend and Guardian ad litem).

To initiate legal proceedings in pursuit of a claim.


A panel of people who have been called to serve in a court in order to decide questions of fact.

A person under 17 years of age.



Legal Aid
Facility for the fees and expenses of Solicitors, Barristers or other legal representatives retained by those of modest means to be paid from a fund administered by the Legal Services Commission.

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 compensation for the wrongful act.

A person taking part in Litigation, either a Claimant or a Defendant.

A Litigant who does not have legal representation from a Solicitor/Barrister.

A dispute is in "litigation" (or being "litigated") when it has become the subject of formal court proceedings.

Litigation Friend
A person representing a Minor/Infant or mental patient who is involved in legal proceedings (see also Guardian ad litem).


Magistrates Court
A Court where criminal proceedings are commenced before justices of the peace who examine the evidence/statements and either deal with the case themselves or commit to the Crown Court for trial or sentence. Also deals with a range of civil matters including Family Law.

This is a method of coming to agreements about children and/or finances with the help of a trained mediators.

Someone below 18 years of age and unable to sue or be sued without representation, other than for wages. A minor sues by a Next Friend and defends by a Guardian ad Litem.

Reasons submitted on behalf of a guilty party in order to excuse or partly excuse the offence committed in an attempt to minimise the sentence.

Multi Track
The part of the court that deals with defended claims over £15,000.


This is a Tort or "wrong". To establish Negligence in the legal sense it is necessary to prove that the Defendant owed the Claimant a duty of care and that he breached that duty by failing to observe the standards of the reasonable person. If the Claimant succeeds, compensation will be in the form of damages. Negligence is always assessed having regards to the circumstances and to the standard of care that 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 (see also Contributory Negligence).

No Win No Fee
An arrangement with a Solicitor that costs are only paid if the matter in issue succeeds. Ordinarily, a Claimant’s costs will be paid by the Defendant if the Claimant wins and vice versa.

Notice of Issue
A notice sent by a Court to the Claimant giving notification of the case number allocated to their case and details of fees paid. It also confirms the date of service.


A direction to do something that is given by a Court.

Out-of-court settlement
An agreement between two Litigants to settle a matter privately before the Court has given its decision.


Parental Responsibility
This means the rights and responsibilities that mothers and married fathers have to their children. This continues during and after the divorce process. ( Non-married fathers can acquire this through marriage to the child\'s mother, through the courts or through a Parental Responsibility agreement, as can guardians and others.).

Penal Notice
This is a court warning usually contained in a court order, notifying the recipient that a breach of the order will result in committal to prison.

Personal Application
Application made to the Court, without legal representation.

A Defendant\'s reply to a charge put to him by a court; i.e. guilty or not guilty.

Documents setting out the claim/defence of parties involved in civil proceedings.

Pre-sentence Report
A Pre-sentence report is an impartial Report requested by the Court, which gives information about a convicted person and their offence(s). It is prepared according to the National Standards set by the Home Office. It is required so that the Court can decide on the most appropriate sentence for the offence committed.  The information contained in the report includes the seriousness of the offence, the suitability of the convicted person for particular sentences and their personal/family background. Some Community Sentences cannot be made unless a report has been prepared.

Pre-trial Review
A preliminary appointment at which the District Judge considers the issues before the Court and fixes the timetable for the trial.

Prison Licence
Prisoners may be released early after serving a four-year sentence or more. They are released early "on Licence". This means that, for a time, they have a regular commitment to see a Probation Officer, although they are free to live and work in the community. Sometimes, there is an order requiring them to live in a Probation Hostel and take part in a group-work programme. They return to prison if things go wrong.

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.

Probation Officer
A person whose job is to regularly see people who have committed crimes and who are on Probation in order to help them live honestly.

Prohibited Steps Order
This is a court order used to prohibit something being done to a child, being taken out of the country for example.

The institution or conduct of criminal proceedings against a person.

A person who prosecutes on behalf of the Crown.

Public Liability Insurance
Insurance that covers injury or death to anyone on or around the owners property.


In a damages claim, this is the amount of damages that the court assesses to be adequate to compensate the Claimant.


Generally this is a question of fact, depending on all the circumstances.

To order an accused person to be kept in custody or placed on bail pending a further Court appearance.

Residence Order
A court order made to say with whom the child will live.

The party that "responds to" a claim filed in court against them by an Appellant.


The punishment given to a person who has been convicted of a crime. It may be time in jail, community service or a period of probation.

Delivery by post or in person of the claim, or other court documents.

Small Claims Track
The part of the court that defended claims of no more than £5,000 (and Personal Injury and Housing Disrepair claims of no more than £1,000) are dealt with by.

Specific Issue Order
An order determining a specific issue relating to a child, for example when parents cannot agree about schooling or medical treatment.

A written account by a witness of the facts of a matter.

Statutory Declaration
A statement made in writing and sworn before a person who has authority to administer it (i.e. a Solicitor or Commissioner for Oaths).

Suspended Sentence
A custodial sentence that will not take effect unless there is a subsequent offence within a specified period.


A civil wrong, the victim of which is entitled to redress in the civil courts (see Negligence).


The finding of guilty or not guilty by a Jury.


Ward of Court
The title given to a minor who is the subject of a wardship order. The order ensures that custody of the minor is held by the Court with day-to-day care of the minor being carried out by an individual(s) or local authority. As long as the minor remains a ward of Court, all decisions regarding the minors upbringing must be approved by the Court, e.g. transfer to a different school, medical treatment etc.

A person who gives evidence in Court (see also Expert Witness).


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