40 Common Latin Legal Terms

40 Common Latin Legal Terms

To many people the law seems full of jargon that an ordinary person cannot understand. They often ask what even commonly used words mean.

It would take an encyclopedia to explain and define legal terminology. Like all types of work, the law has its own language. Much of it is rooted in history and usage dating back over many centuries. Latin words also often appear.

Here’s a list of some Latin legal terms that crop up often:

  1. ABET: To help in the committing of an offence.
  2. ABSCOND: To leave your usual residence in order to avoid legal proceedings.
  3. ACQUIT: Used when an accused person is found to be not guilty of the crime charged. He is “acquitted.”
  4. ACT OF GOD: An inevitable event which occurs without human intervention and for which nobody can be blamed. For example, floods or tempests.
  5. ADJOURN: To suspend court proceedings to a later time or another date.
  6. AFFIDAVIT: A written statement, signed and sworn by the individual before a duly authorized person, usually a Justice of the Peace.
  7. AFFIRMATION: A promise to tell the truth by a person who for personal reasons declines to take an oath on the Bible.
  8. ALIAS: A false or assumed name, sometimes taken for criminal purposes.
  9. ANNEXURE: Something on paper which is attached to a legal document.
  10. BAILEE: A person to whom goods are committed in trust for a specific purpose.
  11. BEQUEST: A gift of personal property by means of a will.
  12. BONA FIDE: In good faith. Used of something done honestly and in good faith.
  13. BRIEF: Instructions from a solicitor to a barrister, in the form of written documents.
  14. CAMERA: A trial “in camera” is one from which the public is excluded.
  15. CAVEAT EMPTOR: This phrase is Latin for “let the buyer beware.” It is up to the purchaser to make full inquiries as to the state of the goods or property he intends to buy.
  16. CODICIL: An addition to or alteration of an existing will by means of another written instrument, duly attested and signed by the testator (the person who made the will).
  17. CHATTELS: Comprises any property other than freehold land.
  18. CONSUMMATE: To bring into effect. In divorce proceedings, for example, “failure to consummate” is failure to establish sexual union and is a ground for divorce, if willful and persistent.
  19. CONVEYANCE: A transfer of real property from one to another.
  20. CO-RESPONDENT: A person a petitioning spouse alleges has committed adultery with his or her marriage partner.
  21. COUNSEL: The name usually given to a barrister in court.
  22. DEFENDANT: A person against whom, or corporate body against which, an action is brought.
  23. EXECUTOR: A person appointed by will to carry out its provisions.
  24. EXTRADITION WARRANT: A warrant securing a person from another State or country for the purposes of trial in the country of issue.
  25. GARNISHEE: An order compelling an employer to deduct part of the wages of an employee for the purposes of paying a maintenance claim or judgment debt.
  26. INJUNCTION: A court order or decree by which a party to an action is required to stop doing a specified thing.
  27. LL.B.: Bachelor of Laws.
  28. MARKSMAN: A person who cannot write. He therefore has to make his mark (that is, a cross) when executing (instead of signing) legal documents.
  29. NOTICE TO QUIT: A notice terminating a tenancy and given by a landlord to a tenant.
  30. PAROLE: A bond freeing a prisoner before he has completed his sentence and conditional upon his subsequent good behavior.
  31. PERJURY: The crime of telling a lie or lies on oath in court or otherwise bearing false witness on oath or solemn affirmation.
  32. PLAINTIFF: The person or corporate body commencing a legal action.
  33. POWER OF ATTORNEY: Legal deed giving one person power to act for another.
  34. REBUT: To rebut is to disprove, repel, or bar a claim.
  35. REMAND: To return a prisoner to custody in order to allow further evidence to be brought or obtained.
  36. STATUTORY DECLARATION: A declaration sworn before a Justice of the Peace. It may be used in evidence.
  37. TORT: A civil wrong which may give rise to an action for damages.
  38. UTTERING: The crime of distributing forged documents or cashing forged notes, coins, or checks.
  39. VENDOR: The seller of real property or goods.
  40. VENUE: The actual location of the court where a case is heard.

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