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76 Lower Gardiner Street,

Dublin 1,
A Plain English Guide
01 855 4332
to Legal Terms

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01 855 4332

A Plain English Guide
to Legal Terms

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Published by

National Adult Literacy Agency

76 Lower Gardiner Street,
Dublin 1.

2003 National Adult Literacy Agency

The copyright in this guide belongs to the

National Adult Literacy Agency.

ISBN 1-871737-29-x

The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily the

views of the National Adult Literacy Agency.
The language used in law is changing. There are many legal
phrases that non-lawyers dont understand. This guide is
intended to help non-lawyers understand legal phrases and
to give lawyers guidance in explaining the legal phrases they
use. Although it comprises over 60 pages with over 1,400
words explained, this is not a complete dictionary of legal
terms in use in Ireland.
The explanations in this guide are not intended to be
alternatives. Lawyers will continue to use legal phrases when
necessary. This publication is designed to explain ideas and
concepts rather than to give legal definitions.
We invite your suggestions for additions. Please e-mail us at with your ideas.
The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) would like to
thank Patrick OConnor, B.C.L., LL.B., Solicitor of Swinford,
County Mayo who edited the legal content of the guide.
He was President of the Law Society of Ireland in 1999.
NALA would also like to thank:
 The Plain English Campaign in the UK for providing the
bulk of the initial information from their A to Z of legal
terms in plain English.
 Kieron Wood for making available Glossary of legal terms

from his website ( as a

reference point from his website.
 The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for their

Glossary of Legal terms.

A Plain English Guide
to Legal Terms

A Abrogation
Annulment; repeal (of a law)
Ab initio*
From the beginning.
When a person fails to present
Abandonment themselves before the court
Giving up a legal right. when required.

Abatement Absolute
 Cancelling a writ or action; Complete and unconditional.
 stopping a nuisance;

Absolute owner
reducing the payments to
creditors in proportion if The only owner of property
there is not enough money to Absolute privilege
pay them in full; or

A defence which can be used in
reducing the gifts in a will, in
a case of defamation if the
proportion, when there is not
statement from which the
enough money to pay them in
defamation arose was: made in
either house of the Oireachtas
Abduction (Dil or Seanad) in fair and
Taking someone away by force. accurate news reporting of
court proceedings; or made
Abovementioned during court proceedings.
Describing something which
Abstract of title
has been referred to before in
the document. A document summarising the
title deeds to a property.

Please note:
Words marked * are Latin in origin
Words marked are French in origin

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Abuse of process Accused

When court proceedings are The person charged with a
brought against a person criminal offence.
without any good reason and
with malice. Acknowledgement
Admitting that someone has a
Abuttals claim or admitting that a debt
The parts of the boundaries of exists.
a piece of land which touch
land alongside. Acquiescence
Action or inaction which legally
Acceptance binds someone.
When an offer is accepted
unconditionally a legally Acquit
binding agreement is created. When a court lets a person go
without any penalty. If a court
Acceptance of service decides that a person is not
When a solicitor accepts court guilty of a crime, or the case
proceedings on behalf of a client. has not been proved, it will
acquit the person.
The organisation which will pay Acquittal
the cheque or bill of exchange The court's decision that a
it has accepted. person is innocent of the crime
they were charged with.
Someone who encourages or Act of bankruptcy
helps another person to commit An act which, if carried out by
a crime. a person with debts, could have
led to bankruptcy
Accomplice proceedings against that
Someone who helps another person.
person to commit a crime.
Act of God
Accounts An event resulting from natural
The record of spending and causes without human
financial situation. intervention (such as floods or
Accumulation earthquakes).
Reinvesting income generated Action
by a fund back into the fund. Proceedings in a civil court.

Active trust

Active trust Additional voluntary

A trust where the trustees have contribution (AVC)
other responsibilities rather Extra money people in
than to just let the beneficiaries occupational pension schemes
have the trust's assets when can pay in to increase their
they ask for them. pension benefits.
Actual loss Ademption
An insurance term which When a gift in a will cannot be
means that the insured item no made because the item no
longer exists. longer exists.
Actuary Adjourned sine die
An expert on pension scheme When a court case has no date
assets and liabilities, life fixed for it to continue.
expectancy and probabilities
(the likelihood of things Adjournment
happening) for insurance Postponing a court hearing.
purposes. Adjudge
Actus reus* To give an official judgement
An act which is illegal, about something.

Ad hoc* Adjudication
For a particular purpose. Formal judgment or decision of
a court.
Ad idem*
In agreement. Administrative law
Law which applies to hearings
Ad infinitum* before quasi-judicial or
Endlessly or forever. administrative tribunals.
Ad interim* Administrator
For the time being. Someone who has been
appointed to manage the estate
Ad valorem* of someone who has died
In proportion to the value. without leaving a will.
Admissibility of evidence
Evidence which can be
presented in court.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Admission Advocate
One side in a case agreeing The lawyer who speaks in court
that something the other side for a client.
has alleged is true.
Admonition A written statement which is
Reprimanding of a defendant sworn to be true by the person
by a judge. signing it.
Adoption Affirm
The system which people use to Solemnly promise to tell the
become parents even though truth in court or in an affidavit.
they are not the child's natural
parents. Affirmation
Solemnly promising to tell the
Adoptive child truth when giving evidence.
A child who has been legally
adopted. Affray
Fighting unlawfully.
Adoptive parent
A person who has legally Aforementioned
adopted a child. Describing something referred
to previously in a document.
Alternative dispute resolution Aforesaid
such as arbitration, mediation Describing something which
and conciliation. has been said or referred to
before in a document.
Adverse possession
Occupying of land, without Age of consent
legal title for long enough The age when a girl can
normally 12 years to be consent to have sexual
recognized as the legal owner intercourse.
("squatter's rights"). Agency
Adverse witness The relationship between a
A witness who gives evidence principal and an agent.
which damages the case of the Agent
side which asked the witness to
testify for them. Person with power to contract
or act on behalf of others.

Aggravated assault

Aggravated assault All that

A serious type of assault. Words used in a conveyance to
introduce the description of the
Aggravated damages property which is being
Exceptional damages awarded transferred.
by a court where a defendant's
behaviour towards the plaintiff Allegation
or victim has been particularly An unproved statement
humiliating, malicious or declaring that something has
vindictive. happened.
Aider and abettor Alleviate
One who advises or encourages To lessen.
the commission of a crime.
Allocation rate
Aiding and abetting The proportion of money left to
Helping someone to commit a be invested after charges have
crime. been taken off when money is
paid into a fund.
The space in the atmosphere Allotment
directly above a piece of land. Shares allocated to a buyer.
Alias Alternate director
A false name. A person appointed by a
director to take the director's
Alien place.
Someone from a foreign
country. Alternative dispute
Alienation Method by which disputes are
Transferring the ownership of resolved, other than through
property from one person to litigation, usually by mediation
another. or arbitration.
All and sundry Alternative verdict
Everybody. A person being found guilty of
a less serious crime than the
one they were charged with.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Amalgamation Annuitant
Two or more companies The person who gets paid a
combining. yearly amount.
Ambiguity Annuity
Capability of more than one An amount paid out every year
meaning. to someone.
Ambulatory will Annul
A will which can be revoked or Cancel.
changed while the person who
made it is still living. Ante*
Amicus curiae*
Advisor to the court on a point Antecedents
of law who is appointed by the Details about the past of a
court to represent a person. defendant or a person.

Amnesty Antedate
Not punishing a person for an A date before a document was
offence committed. drawn up.

Ancient lights Antenuptial agreement

The right not to have the light A legal agreement between two
you receive from a neighbour's people who are to get married.
land blocked. Anton Piller order
Annual accounts An order by the Court which
The summary of financial gives the applicant permission
transactions during the year. to search the defendant's
premises for evidence, inspect
Annual general meeting it and take it away.
The yearly meeting of the
members of an organisation. Appeal
Challenge to a court decision in
Annual return a higher court.
A return which must be sent
by a company to the Registrar Appearance
of Companies each year. The act of replying to a
summons or turning up in
court and accepting its
jurisdiction to proceedings.


Appellant Arraignment
The person who is appealing to Procedure for calling accused
a court against a decision of a before court to answer charges
lower court. and to say whether he or she is
guilty or not guilty.
Appellate jurisdiction
The authority a court has to Arrears
hear an appeal against a Accumulated debt which has
decision made by a lower court. not been paid on the due date.
Applicant Arrest
The person asking a court to do To seize someone suspected of
something. committing a crime and take
them into custody.
The person who gets the benefit Arson
of the use of a power of Setting fire to something to
appointment. cause damage to it.
Appointor Articles
The person who uses a power The clauses in a document.
of appointment.
Articles of association
Apportionment The document which set out a
Division of rights and liabilities. company's rules.
Appurtenances Assault
Minor rights in land. Touching or threatened
touching of another person
Arbitrage without that person's consent.
Borrowing money at a low rate
of interest to lend out again at Assent
a higher rate. A document used by personal
representatives to transfer
Arbitration property to a beneficiary.
Settling a dispute by using a
referee. Asset
Something owned
Referee who settles a dispute Assign
without the need to use the Transfer.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Assignment Attorney
The formal transfer of the A person appointed to act for
rights to something. another person.
Assurance Attorney General
Insurance cover for an event Legal adviser to the
which will definitely happen Government.
such as death.
Audi Alteram Partem*
Assure Hear the other side.
Transfer the ownership of
something. Audit
An independent examination of
Assured records and financial
The person whose life is statements.
insured or who is entitled to
receive the benefit from the Auditor's report
assurance cover. A report and opinion by an
independent person or firm on
Attachment and committal financial records.
Bringing a person before court
with threat of imprisonment for Auterfois convict*
failure to obey the courts Formerly convicted. One may
order. not be convicted twice for the
same offence.
Attachment of earnings
A court order that deductions Authentication
be made from a person's Verification of document for
earnings. legal purposes.

Attachment Authorised investments

Procedure by which judgement Investments in which a trustee
on property maybe enforced. is permitted to invest trust
To witness a signature on a Authorised share capital
document. The highest amount of share
capital that a company can
Attestation issue.
Authentication of an act or
document by a witness.


Autopsy Banker's draft

An examination of a dead body A cheque drawn by a bank on
to find the cause of death. itself.
Averment Bankrupt
Positive factual allegation in an Someone who has had a
affidavit. bankruptcy order made
concerning him.

B Bankruptcy order
An order that a court issues
Bail against someone if they cannot
To pay, or promise to pay, an pay their debts when they are
amount of money so that an due to be paid.
accused person is not put in
prison before the trial. Bankruptcy search
A document which states
Bailee whether or not someone is
A person looking after items to bankrupt.
keep them safe for the owner.
Bailiff The collective term for
An officer of the court who barristers. When a person
carries out the court's orders. becomes a barrister it is called
Bailiwick 'being called to the bar'.
The area over which a bailiff Bare trust
has jurisdiction. A trust which holds property
Bailment on behalf of a person until they
ask for it back.
Transferring possession of
goods from the owner to Bare trustee
someone else. Someone who holds property
Bailor on behalf of another person
until asked to return it.
The owner of goods which are
in the possession of another Bargain and sale
person for safekeeping. A contract to sell any property
Balance sheet or investment in land that a
person owns.
Summary of a financial

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Barrister Beneficiary
A member of one branch of the Someone who benefits from a
legal profession who advises will, a trust or a life insurance
clients, generally works in the policy.
courts, and who receives
instructions from a solicitor. Bequeath
Barristers do not normally deal To give something to a person
with members of the public. in a will.

Barter Bequest
A way of paying for things by Something given in a will.
exchanging goods instead of Bigamy
using money.
The offence committed by
Battery someone who is already
Using physical force on married but still goes through a
someone either intentionally or marriage ceremony with
without their agreement. someone else.

Bearer Bill of costs

Person who has a document in The account a solicitor sends to
their possession. a client giving details of any
outlay the solicitor has paid on
Bench behalf of the client, the fee
The name for the judges in a charged and expenses.
Bill of exchange
Bench warrant A signed written order
A warrant issued by a court for instructing the person to whom
the arrest of an accused person it is addressed to pay an
who has failed to attend court. amount of money to someone.
A cheque is a type of bill of
Beneficial interest exchange.
Belonging to a person even
though someone else is the Bill of lading
legal owner. A document recording the
goods a ship carries and the
Beneficial owner terms the goods are carried
The actual owner of property. under.

Bill of sale

Bill of sale Bonded goods

A document which transfers Goods for which a bond has
ownership of goods from one been paid to the Revenue
person to another. Commissioners (Customs and
Excise) as security for the duty
Binding effect owed on the goods.
An agreement that must be
kept to. Bonded warehouse
A warehouse approved by The
Binding over Revenue Commissioners
An order by a court in a (Customs and Excise) for
criminal case. storing goods imported into the
Binding precedent country until the duty on them
has been paid or the goods
Following the decisions made have been exported to another
by higher courts. country.
Blackmail Bonus shares
Demanding payment from a Free shares that a company
person in return for not offers to its shareholders in
revealing something shameful proportion to their existing
about them. shareholdings.
Bodily harm Book value
Physical injury or pain. The value of a fixed asset, such
Bona fide* as a building or machine, as
recorded in the accounts.
In good faith.
Bona vacantia* Bought note
A document showing details of
Goods or an estate belonging to
a purchase by someone for a
third party. Stockbrokers
Bond produce bought notes for their
A written promise to repay a clients.
debt at an agreed time and to Breach of contract
pay an agreed rate of interest
Failing to carry out a duty
on the debt.
under a contract.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Breach of duty Bye-law or bylaw

Failing to carry out something A law made by a local authority
which is required by law or or an organisation which has
doing something the law power to do so.
Breach of trust C
When a trustee does something
which is against the trust's
rules or fails to do something Asking people to pay for new
required by the trust's rules. shares they have applied for.

Break clause Called-up capital

A clause in a contract which All the shares called by a
allows it to be ended. company when it issues
A document prepared by a
Canon law
solicitor which contains the The name for the rules used for
instructions for the barrister to governing a Christian church.
follow when acting in court. Capacity
Building preservation notice Someone's ability to enter into
A notice that a building is a legal agreement.
listed. Capital allowances
Burden of proof Allowances that you can
A rule of evidence that requires sometimes claim when you buy
a party to a court action to long-term assets to use in your
prove something, business.
otherwise the contrary will be Capital gain
assumed by the court. For
The profit you make if you sell
example, in criminal trials, the
or dispose of an asset for more
prosecution has the burden of
than it cost you.
proving the accused guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt. Capital gains tax
Burglary A tax charged on a capital gain.
Entering a building without Capital punishment
permission with the intention Punishing someone for a crime
of stealing or doing damage. by killing them.

Capital redemption reserve

Capital redemption reserve Caution

A company has this reserve in A warning given by a Garda to
its financial records if any of a suspected criminal when he
the shares it has issued are is arrested; a document sent to
cancelled. the Land Registry by someone
who may have a right over
Care order land, which requests that no
An order by a court instructing dealings in the land are
a local authority to care for a registered until the person with
child. the right has been told.
Careless driving Caveat*
Driving a car without A formal warning.
consideration for other people.
Caveat emptor*
Cartel 'Buyer beware'.
An agreement between
businesses to restrict Central Criminal Court
competition and keep prices The High Court sitting to deal
high. with serious criminal offences
such as rape and murder.
Case law
Law that is based on the Certificate of incorporation
results of previous court cases. A certificate stating that a
company has been
Case stated incorporated.
The written statement setting
out the facts of a case. Certificate of origin
A certificate stating in which
Causation country the goods being
One thing being done causing imported were made.
something else to happen.
Cause of action An order by the High Court
The reason someone is entitled that a case should be reviewed.
to sue someone else.
Challenge for cause
When the defence objects to a
juror and says why it objects.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Challenge to a jury Charges clause

When either side in a case A clause which appears in
objects to the people who have some contracts and sets out
been selected to serve on the who should pay for certain
jury before they are sworn in. items.
Challenge without cause Charging clause
When a person objects to a Trustees can charge the trust
juror but does not say why. for their services if there is a
charging clause.
Judge's personal rooms where Charging order
cases may be heard in private A court judgement which a
or in camera. creditor may get against the
person or organisation which
Charge owes the money giving the
Formally accuse someone of creditor security over the
committing a crime; Use debtor's property for repayment
property as security for a debt of the debt.
(such as a mortgage); or a
direction given by a judge to Charity
tell the jury what they must do. An organisation set up to do
good for the community.
Charge certificate
A certificate which the Land Chattel
Registry issues to the lender Any property except freehold
who has lent money on the land.
security of registered land.
Chattels personal
Charge sheet The name for goods which can
The document on which a be touched such as watches,
garda records details of the clothes and furniture.
accusation against a suspect.
Chargeable event Moveable property.
An event that may create a tax
liability. Cheat
A person who fails to send tax
Chargeable gain returns to the tax Revenue
A gain on which capital gains Commissioners or fails to pay
tax is payable. the tax owing.


Cheque Circuit Court

A written order addressed to a Court above the District Court
bank instructing the bank to and below the High Court, with
pay an amount of money to the power to award damages up to
person or organisation named k38,000 (as at September 2003)
on the cheque. and deal with most criminal
Cheque card
A card issued by a bank to a Circuit judge
customer. A judge who is in charge of
cases in the Circuit Court.
Child abuse
Molestation or ill-treatment Circumstantial evidence
suffered by a child. Evidence which suggests a fact
but does not prove the fact is
Child Support Maintenance true.
The amount of maintenance
the parent not living with their Citation
child must pay. Quoting from a completed case
to support an argument; or a
Child notice sent out by someone
Person under 18. wanting grant of probate or
Children in care letters of administration asking
people to come forward if they
Children looked after by a local object to it.
Citizen's arrest
An arrest by someone who is
An item of property. not a Garda. The offence must
Chose in action be in the course of being
committed or have already
A right such as a patent, or a
been committed when the
right to recover a debt.
arrest is made.
Chose in possession
Civil court
An object which physically
A court which does not hear
exists, such as furniture.
criminal cases.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Claim Codicil
Apply for a right; demand a Amendment to or addition of
remedy; or an application for an existing will.
something such as a right.
Codifying statute
Claimant A statute used to bring together
The person making a claim. all the law on a particular
Class action
Legal action taken by a number Coercion
of different persons where the A defence that a crime was
facts and the defendants are committed because the person
similar. accused was forced to do it.
Clause Cognisance
A section in a contract. Notice.
Clayton's Case Collateral
This case established a Extra security for a debt.
presumption that money
withdrawn from an account is Collusion
presumed to be debited against Illegal and usually secret
the money first deposited first agreement between two or more
in, first out. people to deceive a court or
defraud another person.
Clearing bank
One of several major banks Commissioner for Oaths
which work together to A person appointed by the
exchange and pay for cheques Chief Justice to administer the
which their customers have swearing of oaths.
written. Committal for sentence
Close company When judges have found
A company controlled by a few someone guilty of a crime but
people or by its directors. they think their sentencing
powers are not enough.
Closing order
An order prohibiting the use of
a licenced premises when the
owner has been convicted of
certain crimes.

Committal for trial

Committal for trial Common seal

When a judge looks at the The seal companies use to
evidence in a case and then validate important company
sends the case to be heard in documents.
the Court.
Committal order Closely related people who die
An order used to send someone at the same time and it is
to prison for contempt of court. unclear which of them died first.
Committal proceedings Community service order
A court hearing where a An order to do work in the
District Judge decides if there community without pay.
is enough evidence of a serious
crime to justify a trial by jury. Company secretary
A person appointed by the
Committee of inspection directors of a company who is
A committee appointed from responsible for making sure
the creditors of a company in that the company complies
liquidation to oversee the with the Companies Acts.
liquidator's work.
Common duty of care Legal entity which permits a
The duty of the occupier of group of shareholders to create
premises or land to take an organization to pursue set
reasonable care of visitors to objectives.
make sure that they are kept
safe. Compensation
Money paid to make up for
Common law damage, injury or loss caused.
Judge made law which has
developed over centuries, also Compensation for loss of
referred to as unwritten law. office
Common law (as practised in Compensation an employer
Ireland, England and the USA) pays to an employee whose
is often contrasted with civil contract has been ended.
law systems (as in France or Compensation order
Germany) where laws are set
down in a written code. An order by a court to a
criminal to compensate the
victim of the crime.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Completion Condition
Transferring property in A fundamental part of an
exchange for payment. agreement.
Compos Mentis* Condition precedent
Of sound mind. Something which must happen
before an agreement starts.
Composition with creditors
An arrangement between a Condition subsequent
debtor and the creditors. Something which may happen
in the future.
Compulsory purchase
Taking land when it is needed Conditional agreement
for a public project, such as An agreement which depends
roads or housing. on a certain thing happening in
the future.
Compulsory winding up
The liquidation of a company Conditional discharge
by order of the court. A court may decide not to
punish a criminal immediately
Concealment for an offence and may
Failure to disclose information conditionally discharge the
which the other side would criminal instead.
need to consider when deciding
whether or not to go ahead Conditional sale agreement
with a transaction. An agreement by which the
seller remains the owner of the
Concealment of securities goods until all the instalments
Hiding or destroying a document have been paid and all other
to gain benefit for yourself or conditions have been met.
cause other people loss of benefit.
Consecutive sentence
Conclusive evidence When someone is sentenced for
Evidence which cannot be different crimes and the
disputed. sentences have to be served
Concurrent sentence one after another.
When someone is sentenced for Consent
different crimes and the To agree to something.
sentences are to be served at
the same time.

Consent Order

Consent Order Constructive trust

Court order agreed between Trust imposed by a court in
both sides. certain circumstances
regardless of the intention of
Consideration the parties involved.
The price or value.
Consign Deliberate disregard of a court
To leave property in the order.
custody of another.
Consumer credit agreement
Consignee An agreement by a creditor to
The person goods have been provide credit to a consumer.
sent to.
Consignor Existing at the same time
The person who sent the goods.
Contempt of Court
Conspiracy Disobeying a court order;
Combinations of persons for an abusing a judge during a court
unlawful purpose. case; or interfering in the
Construction administration of justice.
Legal process of interpreting a Contemptuous damages
phrase or document. A small amount of damages.
Constructive Contingency fee
Describing something which The claimant's lawyer gets paid
may not be set out in the law the fee only if the case is won.
but will nevertheless be
considered to exist. Contingent legacy
A gift in a will which will only
Constructive dismissal be made if certain conditions
Because the employer has are met.
broken fundamental terms of
the contract of employment the Contract
employee has been forced to An agreement between two or
resign. more people to do or not to do
Constructive notice
Presuming something is

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Contract for services Copyright

A contract under which A legal right which stops things
materials and services are being copied without
provided. permission.
Contract of exchange Coroner
A contract to exchange goods A judicial person who
or property without money investigates the cause of death
being involved. when a person has suffered a
sudden, violent or suspicious
Contract of service death.
The contract between employer
and employee. Corporate body
(or corporation)
Contributory negligence A group of people acting
Ones own carelessness together such as a club.
contributing to the damage
done to you or your property. Corporation tax
A tax which companies pay.
Exchanging one sort of Corpus*
property for another or acting A body.
unlawfully to deprive someone
of their ownership of goods. Corpus delicti*
The body of a person who has
Convey been killed unlawfully; or the
Transfer. facts which make up an
The name of the document Costs
which transfers the ownership The legal expenses of an action,
of land. such as lawyers' fees, witness
expenses and other fees paid
Conveyancing out in bringing the matter to
Carrying out all the actions court.
needed to transfer the
ownership of a piece of land. Counsel
An advocate usually a
Conviction barrister or a solicitor.
Being found guilty of a criminal


Counterclaim Criminal damage

Making a claim in court against The criminal offence of causing
someone who has already made damage to someone else's
a claim against you. property either recklessly or
Something that is forged or Criminal responsibility
copied with the intention of When someone reaches the age
deceiving. when the law says they are
able to commit a criminal
Counterpart offence they have reached the
An exact copy of a document. age of criminal responsibility.
Coupon Cross-examine
A dated piece of paper attached To question a witness for the
to a bond. other side.
Court of Appeal Culpa*
A court which hears appeals A fault.
against the decisions of other
courts. Cum dividend
With dividend.
A legally binding promise. Curfew
Ordering someone to stay at a
Creditor named place at stated times of
A person you owe money, goods the day or night.
or services to.
Creditors' voluntary Land around a dwelling house
winding up used by the occupants for their
If a company is insolvent enjoyment or work.
(cannot pay its debts when they
are due for payment) the Customs duties
members can pass a special Duties which are charged on
resolution to have the company imports of goods.
wound up (liquidated).
Act or omission forbidden by
criminal law.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

D Debt securities
Debts which can be bought and
Damages sold.
Financial compensation
ordered by a court to offset
losses or suffering caused by Person who owes money, goods
another person's action or or services to a creditor.
inaction. Deceit
Dangerous driving When one person deliberately
A standard of driving which misleads a second person with
falls far below that of a careful, a statement which causes the
competent driver and it would second person to do something
be obvious to such a driver that causes them damage.
that it was dangerous to drive Decree
that way.
Order by a court.
De facto* Decree absolute
In fact or in reality.
The final court order.
De jure* Decree nisi*
A provisional court order.
De minimis non curat lex* Deed
The law will not take account of
A legal document which
trifling matters.
commits the person signing it
De novo* to something.
From the beginning, anew. Deed of arrangement
Debenture A written agreement which can
A document issued by a be made when a debtor is in
company which acknowledges financial trouble between the
that some or all of the debtor and the creditors.
company's assets are security Defamation
for a debt
Making a statement, either
Debt orally (slander) or in writing
Money owed. (libel) which damages
someone's reputation.


Default Descendant
Failing to do something which Persons born of or from
had been agreed to. children of another.
Defence Determination
The name for the lawyers End or finish.
defending proceedings brought
against someone. It is also in a Detinue
civil case, a written statement by A right involving the
the defendant setting out the defendant's retention of
facts that the defence will rely on. property belonging to the
plaintiff after the plaintiff has
Defendant demanded its return.
A person defending a court
action. Devise
Gift of real property by will.
Delegatus non potest
delegare* Diminished responsibility
A delegate cannot delegate. A defence sometimes used for
someone charged with murder
Dependant that they suffered lowered
Someone who depends on powers of reasoning and
someone else for support. judgement because of their
unusual state of mind.
A person who swears on oath Diocese
that a statement is correct. The area covered by a Bishop's
A statement by a witness made Diplomatic immunity
under oath. Immunity given to certain
members of foreign embassies,
Depreciation such as ambassadors, for
The drop in value of an asset crimes they may have
due to wear and tear committed.
Derogation Direction/directing
Damaging someone's rights or Judges must give juries
entitlements. instructions on points of law.
This is called directing the jury.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Director District Court

A person appointed to help First court in the Irish judicial
manage a company's affairs. system, with power to award
damages up to k6,349 (as at
Director of Public September 2003) in civil cases,
Prosecutions and to deal with most minor
Independent official, a lawyer criminal cases.
who decides whether to
prosecute in criminal cases and District Judge
in whose name a criminal Judge of the District Court.
prosecutions are taken.
Disbursement Proportionate distribution of
A payment made on behalf of a profits made by a company in
client. the form of a money payment
to shareholders.
Release from. Divorce
The legal end to a marriage.
To give up a claim or a right or Doli Incapax*
refuse to take over a contract. A person under the age of 14
but older than 7 is presumed
Discretionary trust to be doli incapax but this
A trust in which the trustees presumption is open to
can decide who will benefit rebuttal: Under the age of 7
from the trust and how much the child is incapable of
they will get. committing the offence.
Disposal (dispose of) Domicile
Selling, transferring or giving The country where your
away. permanent home is even if you
Distrain/distress are living somewhere else.
To seize goods as security for Domicile of choice
an unpaid debt. The country in which you make
Distraint your home intending it to be
Seizure of personal property to
compel a person to fulfil a legal

Domicile of origin

Domicile of origin Duces tecum*

The domicile a newborn child Type of witness summons
has. which requires a person to
appear before a court with
Domiciled specified documents.
permanently based in a
country. Duress
Threatening or pressurising
Dominant tenement someone to do something by
Property or land that benefits force.
from an easement such as a
right of way. Duty
A tax charged by the
Donatio mortis causa* Government.
Gift made by a dying person
with the intent that the person
receiving the gift shall keep it if E
donor dies from his existing
complaint. A right to use someone else's
land such as a right of way.
Beneficiary of a trust or person
given a power of appointment. Wages, benefits or profits
received as compensation for
Donor holding office or employment.
Person who gives property for
the benefit of another.
Enabling legislation
Legislation which authorises
Drawee bodies to create detailed rules
The person who will pay a bill to accomplish general
of exchange such as a cheque. principles set out in that
In the case of a cheque the legislation.
drawee is the bank that the
cheque is drawn on.
Endorsement of claim
Summary of the facts
Drawer supporting a legal claim.
The person that has written a
bill of exchange, such as a
person who has written a Writing on a document.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Endowment policy Estate

A type of insurance policy which All a person owns at the date of
will pay out a lump sum on a their death; or the right to use
fixed date in the future, or when land for a period of time.
you die, if this happens earlier.
Endowment A guide to do stated work for a
Transfer of money or property set price.
to a charitable organisation for
a specific purpose. Estoppel
A rule of law that a person
Enduring power of attorney cannot deny something they
A power of attorney which takes previously said if someone else
effect in the future. A person acted on what was said and
capable of dealing with their own their position was changed as a
affairs at present can sign an result.
enduring power of attorney. It will
come into effect when they are no Et seq*
longer capable of looking after and in the following pages.
their own affairs. It gives Euthanasia
authority to the person appointed
to act for the person who signed Killing someone to end their
the power of attorney. suffering.

Engrossment Evidence
The final version of a document Testimony of witnesses at a
ready for it to be signed. trial or the production of
documents or other materials to
Equitable mortgage prove or disprove a set of facts.
A type of mortgage Ex aequo et bono*
Equity Most legal cases are decided on
The principles of equity are the strict rule of law but where
based on fairness. a case is decided ex aequo et
bono the judge may make a
Escrow decision based on what is just
A deed which has been and fair in the circumstances.
supplied but cannot become
effective until a future date or Ex parte*
until a particular Court application made without
event happens. notice to the other side.

Ex* dividend

Ex* dividend Exclusive licence

Without dividend. A licence under which only the
licence holder has any rights.
Ex gratia*
Describing something done or Execute
given as a favour rather than a To carry out a contract.
legal obligation.
Ex turpi causa non oritur Describing a document which
actio* is made valid by being signed.
A person may not sue for damage
arising out of an illegal activity. Executive director
A director who works full time
Ex* works as a director of the company.
Available from the factory.
Examination-in-chief Person appointed in a will to
Questioning of a witness by the deal with an estate.
party who called that witness.
After the examination-in-chief, Executory
the other side's lawyer may Describing something such as
question the witnesses in a contract which has not been
cross-examination. The first started yet.
party may re-examine them but Executrix
only about issues raised during
the cross-examination. A woman appointed in a will to
deal with an estate.
Excess of jurisdiction
Exemplary damages
Someone acting without
authority. Damages given as a
Exchange of contract
Swapping identical contracts.
Document or object shown to a
Excise duty judge or jury as evidence in a
A type of tax levied on certain trial.
goods. Expert witness
Exclusions An expert in a particular area
The things a contract does not who is called to give an opinion
provide cover for. in a court case.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Express trust False pretence

Trust specifically created by a Misleading someone by
settlor usually in a document deliberately making a false
such as a will. statement.
Extradition False representation
The handing over of a criminal Lying in a statement to
to the country the crime was persuade someone to enter a
committed in. contract.
Extraordinary general Fee simple
meeting Freehold estate in land.
A general meeting of the
members of a company which Fee tail
is not the annual general Form of tenure that can only
meeting. be transferred to a lineal
Extraordinary resolution
A resolution for consideration by Feme covert
the members of a company at a A woman who is married.
general meeting of the members. Feme sole
Extraterritoriality A woman who is not married or
Operation of the laws of a state no longer married.
beyond the territorial limits of Fiduciary
that state.
In a position of trust.

F Fieri facias*
A writ of fieri facias commands
Factor a sheriff to take and sell
Someone buying or selling for a property to pay a debt owed by
commission; or an organisation a judgment debtor.
which provides finance for a
business by advancing money
Final judgement
on the value of the invoices the The court's final decision in a
business sends out. civil case.

False imprisonment
Wrongfully keeping someone in

Fitness to plead

Fitness to plead Fostering

Whether or not the person Looking after other people's
charged is capable of making children.
an informed decision. If,
because of mental illness, a Fraud
person charged with an offence Lying or deceiving to make a
is unable to understand what is profit or gain an advantage or
going on the person may not be to cause someone else to make
fit to plead guilty or not guilty. a loss or suffer a disadvantage.

Fixed charge Fraudulent conveyance

A charge which provides Ownership of land being
security for money lent. transferred with the intention
of defrauding someone.
Floating charge
A charge used to provide security Fraudulent preference
for money lent to a company. Someone who is insolvent
paying one of their creditors
Forbearance while knowing there is not
When one party to an enough money to pay the
agreement does not pursue others.
rights under the agreement
even though the other party Fraudulent trading
has not kept to its terms. Running a business with the
intention of defrauding its
Force majeure creditors.
An event which cannot be
controlled and which stops Free of encumbrances
duties under an agreement No one else having any rights
from being carried out. over property.

Foreclosure Freehold
Repossessing property. Describing land that only the
owner has any rights over.
The loss of possession of a Freeholder
property because the tenancy Person who owns freehold
conditions have not been met property rights.
by the tenant. Frustration
Stopping a contract.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Functus officio* Grant

Having discharged his/her Proof that you are entitled to
duty. deal with a dead person's
Futures contract
A binding contract to buy or Grant of probate
sell something on a date in the A Court certificate proving that
future at a fixed price. the executors of a will are
entitled to deal with the estate.

G Gross negligence
Act or omission in reckless
Garnishee disregard of the consequences
Person who owes a third party for the safety or property of
a debt which is attached by another.
court order for the benefit of a
judgment creditor. Guarantee
A promise by a person to repay
Garnishee order a debt owed by a second
A court order to a third party person if the second person
who owes money to a fails to repay it.
judgement debtor to pay the
money to the judgement Guarantee company
creditor. A company whose members
only have to pay the amount
General damages they have agreed to contribute
Damages a court will give to if the company has to be
compensate for a wrong done. wound up.
General meeting Guarantor
A meeting of the members of a A person or organisation that
company to make decisions promises to pay a debt owed by
about the company. a second person, if the second
Goodwill person fails to repay it.
Intangible business asset based Guardian
on the reputation of a business A person appointed to look
resulting from the attraction after the interests of a child or
and confidence of repeat of someone who is not capable
customers and connections. of looking after their own

Guardian ad litem*

Guardian ad litem* Hire

A person who has authority to To pay to borrow something for
manage the person or property a period.
of a child or a person under
mental disability for the Hire purchase
purposes of a legal action. A form of credit which allows
the purchaser to have
Guilty possession of the goods shown
A court's verdict that the in the hire purchase
person charged with a crime agreement.
committed it.
Holding company
A company which controls
H another company usually by
owning more than half of its
Habeas corpus* shares.
A procedure to have a person
brought before a court to Hostile witness
enquire into the lawfulness of A witness who refuses to testify
that persons detention. in support of the person who
called him or testifies in a way
Hearsay which differs from their
Evidence of which a witness previous statement.
does not have direct knowledge
from his own senses but which
is based on what others have I
In pari delicto*
Hearsay evidence If two parties are equally to
Evidence given in court of blame for a situation a court
something said to the witness could refuse to provide a
by another person. remedy to either of them
because they are in pari
Hereditament delicto.
Any property that can
be inherited. In personam*
All legal rights are either in
High Court personam or in rem. An in
Court above the Circuit Court personam right attaches to a
with full jurisdiction to decide particular person.
all matters of law and fact.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

In rem* Injunction
In rem rights relate to property Court order that forbids a party
and are not based on any to do something (prohibitory
personal relationship. injunction) or compels him to
do something (mandatory
Incorporeal injunction).
Intangible legal rights, such as
copyrights or patents. Insolvent
Not able to pay debts as they
Incorporeal hereditament become due.
Intangible property rights
which may be inherited such Intangible property
as easements and profits Property which does not
prendre. physically exist such as a
Incriminating. Inter alia*
Among other things.
Deed executed by both or all Inter partes*
parties. Between the parties.
Indict Inter vivos*
Using legal means to officially Between living persons.
accuse someone of committing
an offence. Interest
A legal right to use property.
Indictable offence
An offence which can be tried Interim order
by a jury in the Circuit Court. Temporary court order of
limited duration.
Formal written accusation Interlineation
initiating the trial of a criminal Addition to a document after it
offence before a jury in the has been signed.
Circuit Court Interlocutory injunction
the Central Criminal Court, the
High Court or the Special An injunction which lasts only
Criminal Court. until the end of the trial during
which the order was sought.

Interlocutory judgement

Interlocutory judgement
A provisional judgement.
Joinder of parties
Uniting parties as plaintiffs or
Formal questions in a civil case defendents in a court case.
from one side which the other
side must answer under oath. Joint and several liability
Liability of more than one
person, under which each may
When someone dies without be sued for the entire amount
leaving a will. of damages due by all.
Intestate Joint lives policy
Person who dies without A life assurance policy on more
making a will. than one person's life.
Intimidation Joint tenancy
Threatening or frightening Two or more people having
someone into doing something. identical shares in land.
Invitation to treat Joint will
An offer to receive an offer. A single will which two or more
IOU people make to cover all their
A written confirmation of a
debt signed by the debtor Joyriding
which implies an undertaking Stealing a vehicle and then
to pay the sum owed at some using it.
future date.
Ipso facto*
A person whose job is to
By the mere fact. adjudicate in court cases. Since
Issue 2002 Solicitors and Barristers
can be appointed as judges to all
The matter to be decided in a
the courts in Ireland (Supreme,
court action.
High, Circuit and District).
Issued share capital
Judge advocate
Share capital which has been
A lawyer who advises a military
allocated to shareholders who
court which is trying an
have asked for shares.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Judge Advocate General Judicial precedent

A lawyer who is in charge of The practice of lower courts
military justice. following the decisions of
higher courts.
Judge in chambers
A hearing by a Judge which is Judicial review
not held in open court. Proceedings in which a court is
asked to rule on a decision of
Judgement an administrative body or
A decision by a court. quasi-judicial tribunal.
Judgement creditor Judicial separation
A person who is owed money A court order that two married
who has been to court and people should live apart.
obtained a judgement for the
money owed. Junior barrister
A barrister who is not a Senior
Judgement debtor Counsel.
A person who owes the money
a court judgement says is Junior counsel
owed. Barrister who is not a Senior
Judgement in default
Getting a judgement because a Jurat
person failed to do something. Memorandum at end of
affidavit stating where and
Judgment when it was sworn followed by
Verdict pronounced by a court the signature and description
of law. of person before whom it was
Judicial discretion sworn.
A degree of flexibility about the Jurisdiction
way courts do things. The territory in which a court
Judicial immunity can operate; or the power it has
to deal with particular cases or
Immunity that a judge has the power it has to issue orders.
from being sued for damages
when acting as a judge. Juror
One of the people who are
acting as a jury.


Jury Knock for knock

A group of people, usually 12, An agreement between
who review all the evidence in a insurance companies that they
court case and then come to a will pay for their own
verdict. policyholders' losses regardless
of who was to blame.
Jury service
Serving on a jury. Know-how
Just and equitable winding up
A winding up ordered because
fairness cannot be achieved for L
all the members of a company.
Justification  The buildings built on the
Claiming that a defamatory land;
statement is true.  the subsoil;
 the airspace above the land
Juvenile offender necessary for ordinary use of
A person aged between 7 and the land; and
17 who has committed a  property fixed to the land.
criminal offence.
Owner of a building or land
K who leases the land, building or
Kidnap part of it to another person who
is called the tenant or lessee.
To take someone away by force
against their will. Lawsuit
Kin A claim made in a court of law.
Relationship by blood. Lay litigant
King's Inns Non-lawyer who brings a legal
action without the assistance of
The body responsible for a barrister or solicitor.
educating and training of
barristers in Ireland. Lease
A contract between the owner
of a property and a tenant,
giving the tenant sole use of
the property for an agreed time.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Leasehold Letter of credit

Property held by a tenant with A letter one bank sends to a
a lease. second bank asking them to
pay money to a named person.
A gift left to someone in a will Letters of administration
not including land. An authority the High Court
gives to a person to deal with a
Legal Aid Scheme dead person's estate. It is given
A scheme for paying legal costs when someone dies intestate.
out of public funds for people
who cannot afford to pay for Liabilities
them. The debts that a person or
organisation owes.
Legal Aid
Government scheme providing Liability
advice or assistance from a A debt or obligation.
Solicitor or Barrister free or at
a reduced rate. Libel
A false statement made in
Legal professional privilege writing or in some other
Confidential communications permanent record.
between a lawyer and client
may not be revealed in court Licence
unless the client waives the An authority to do something.
privilege. The communications Licensee
must relate to court
proceedings or intended The holder of a licence to do
litigation. something.

Legatee Lien
The person who receives a The right to keep possession of
legacy. something owned by someone
who owes a debt until the debt
Lessee has been settled.
The person a property has been Life assurance policy
leased to. (or life insurance policy)
Lessor A contract between the
The person who lets a property policyholder and the insurance
by lease. company.

Life assured

Life assured Liquidation

The person whose life is Sale of all the assets of a
assured by a life assurance company or partnership by a
policy. liquidator and use of the
proceeds to pay off creditors.
Life imprisonment
A sentence given to a criminal Liquidator
to be imprisoned for the rest of The person appointed to wind
their life. up a company.
Life interest Lis pendens*
An interest which will pass to Registration of a pending action
someone else when the present against the owner of land.
owner dies.
Life tenant A person involved in a lawsuit.
Someone entitled to use
property for their life. Litigation
Taking legal action through the
Life tenant courts.
Beneficiary of a life estate.
Loan capital
Limitation of actions Money borrowed by a person,
The Statute of Limitations sets usually a company.
down times within which
proceedings must be brought. Loan creditor
A person or organisation which
Limited company has lent money.
A company which limits how
much its members will have to Locus in quo*
pay if the company is wound up. The place where something
took place.
Lineal descendant
Direct descendant, the child of Locus standi*
its parents. Person's right to take an action
or be heard by a court.
Liquidated damages
Damages agreed beforehand by
the parties to a contract in case
one of them should later break
the terms of the contract.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

M Mandamus*
High Court order commanding
Maintenance an individual, organisation,
Money paid to support a administrative tribunal or court
spouse (husband or wife) and to perform a certain action
children. usually to correct an earlier
action or failure to fulfil some
Majority duty.
The age when a person gains full
legal rights and responsibilities. Mandate
In Ireland it is when a person An authority to act given by
becomes 18 years old. one party to another.

Mala fides* Manslaughter

Bad faith. Killing someone illegally which
is not murder.
Male issue
Male descendants of men. Market overt
A lawful market in which as
Malfeasance long as someone buying goods
An unlawful act. is not aware that they do not
belong to the seller the buyer
Malice will get a good title to the
Intending to do something goods.
which is against the law.
Martial law
Malicious falsehood Government of a country by
A written or spoken lie told to the military.
harm somebody and which
does do harm. Material facts
Facts which are a key part of a
Malicious prosecution defence or a claim.
A prosecution which is brought
unreasonably. Matricide
The killing of a mother by her
son or daughter.
Matrimonial home
The house that a husband and
wife live in as a married couple.


Mediation Messuage
Form of alternative dispute A house together with its land
resolution involving an agreed and outbuildings.
mediator acting as a facilitator
to help the parties negotiate an Minor
agreement. A person under the age of 18
Memorandum and Articles
of Association Minority
The memorandum gives Under the age of full legal
details of: rights and responsibilities.
 a company's name,

 objects and
 share capital. A record of the meetings held
 the limits of the shareholders' by members, directors and
liability if the company has to others of organisations of
be wound up. companies.
The articles set out the Misadventure
members' rights and the
An unexpected accident which
directors' powers.
happens while lawfully doing
Mens rea* something.
Guilty mind. Most crimes Miscarriage of justice
require proof of guilty intention
The court system failing to give
before a person can be
justice to a person.
Mercantile law
Deliberately doing something
Law dealing with commerce.
which is against the law or
Merchantable quality which is wrong.
The assumption in the law that Misdirection
goods sold by a business will
A judge instructing a jury
be fit for their purpose.
Mesne Rates Misfeasance
Income lost by an owner when
Improperly doing something
property is occupied without
which a person has a legal
right to do.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Misjoinder Moratorium
When a person has been An agreement not to take
wrongly named as a party to a action for an agreed period
law suit a court will usually of time.
amend the proceedings to
strike out the name of the Mortgage
misjoined party. Using property as security for a
A material statement which Mortgagee
induces a party to enter into a The lender of the money which
contract. is secured by a mortgage.

Mistrial Mortgagor
A trial that has been made The person who borrows the
invalid. money to buy a property.

Mitigation Motive
Facts which while not negating Reason for a person doing
an offence or wrongful action something.
tend to show that the defendant Muniments
may have had some excuse for
acting the way he did. Documents which are evidence
of a right to something.
One half, fifty percent.
Natural justice
Behaviour by a person which
The requirement for application
annoys or greatly troubles
of principles of fairness and
another person.
justice for example audi
Money laundering alteram partem* (hear the other
Making money from crime and side).
then passing it through a
business to make it appear

Natural person

Natural person Non est factum*

Human being with legal and Not his deed.
constitutional rights and
duties, including the right to: Nondisclosure
 life, The failure by one side to a
 information, contract to reveal a fact to the
 travel, other side that would influence
 a good name, their decision to go ahead with
 earn a living, the contract.
 sue and be sued,

 sign contracts,
Non-exclusive licence
 receive gifts, and An agreement giving someone the
 appear in court either by right to use something but which
himself or through a lawyer. does not prevent other people
being given similar agreements.
Giving a citizen of one country
citizenship of another. Not doing something that one
is bound to do by law.
If a person who should have
Negligent been a party to legal
Lacking proper care to do a proceedings has been omitted
duty properly. the court may amend the
pleadings to include the non-
Negotiable instrument joined party.
A document which is signed
and is an instruction to pay an Not guilty
amount of money. A court's verdict that the
person charged with a crime
Nemo jude in sua causa* did not commit it.
Nobody may be a judge in his
own case. Not negotiable
Cannot be transferred.
Next of kin
Person's nearest blood relation. Notary
A lawyer, usually a solicitor,
Nolle prosequi* who is authorised to certify
Recorded decision not to documents, take affidavits and
prosecute further. swear oaths.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Notice Obligee
A warning of something which Someone who under a contract
is about to happen. receives money or has
something done.
Notice to quit
A notice to end a tenancy on a Obligor
stated date. Someone who is bound by a
contract to pay money or do
Novation something.
Replacing an existing
agreement with a new one. Occupational pension
Nudum pactum* A pension scheme organised by
An empty agreement. an employer for its employees.
Nuisance Occupier
Doing something that harms The person who is in control of
other people's rights. a piece of land such as a
O Offensive weapon
Oath An object that is intended to
physically injure someone.
Swearing the truth of a
statement. Offer
Obiter dicta* A promise to do something or
not to do something.
By the way. Observations by a
judge on law or facts not Offeree
specifically before the court or The person who receives a
not necessary to decide an issue. legally binding offer.
Objects clause Offeror
A clause which forms part of a The person who makes a legally
company's Memorandum of binding offer.
Association It sets out the
purposes the company was Official secret
formed for. Information which the
Government classifies as
Obligation confidential.
A legal duty to do something.


A failure to do something.
The list of people who have
Burden. been summoned for jury
Oppression service.
The offence of public officials Pardon
using their official positions to Releasing someone from a
harm or injure people. court's punishment.
Option Pari passu*
A type of contract under which Equally.
money is paid for a right to buy
or sell property or goods at a Parole
fixed price by a particular date Release from prison early.
in the future.
Order Division.
Formal written direction by a
judge. Partnership
Two or more persons carrying
Originating summons on a business together.
A summons that sets out the
questions the court is being Party
asked to decide. The plaintiff or defendant in a
A person who was not Passing off
protected by the law. Pretending that the goods and
services offered are those
Out-of-court settlement supplied by another business.
Agreement between two
persons to settle a matter Patent
before a court has heard the Exclusive privilege granted to
matter or given its decision. an inventor to make, use or sell
an invention for a period of
Overt act years.
An act done openly.
The killing of a father by his
own son or daughter.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Pawn Per quod*

To pledge goods as security for In accordance with or whereby.
a loan.
Per quod servitium amisit*
Payee By which he lost the service.
The person money is being paid
to. Per se*
In itself or by itself.
Payment into court
Money paid to the court by the Per stirpes*
defendant for payment to the Describes property divided
plaintiff. equally between the offspring.

Payor Peremptory
Person who makes a payment An order which admits of no
on a bill of exchange. excuse for non-compliance.

Penalty Performance
A sum of money which has to Doing what is required under a
be paid if the terms of a contract.
contract are broken or a Perjury
punishment given to someone
who commits a crime. Deliberate lie under oath.

Penalty points Perpetuity

Points given as punishment for Forever.
driving offences. If enough Personal guarantee
penalty points have been
A pledge by a person to repay a
collected the offenders may
debt owed if another fails to
have their driving licences
pay it.
taken off them.
Personal injury
Pendente lite*
An injury caused to a person.
During litigation.
Personal property
All property except land.
Through or by.
Per pro*
On behalf of.

Personal representative

Personal representative Plea bargain

Person who administers the When the accused pleads guilty
estate of a deceased person. instead of not guilty in return
Where a person dies without a for a concession by the
will, the court appoints an prosecution.
administrator. A personal
representative named in a will Plead
is called an executor. To declare to the court whether
you are guilty or not guilty.
Personal property. Pleadings
Written claims delivered by one
Personation claimant to another setting out
Pretending to be someone you the facts and legal arguments
are not. supporting his position. High
Court pleadings include:
Perverting the course of  an Originating Summons,
justice  Statement of Claim,
Doing something to interfere  Defence,
with the justice system.  Counterclaim, and

Circuit Court pleadings
Formal written submission to include:
court seeking redress of an  a Civil Bill,
injustice.  a Defence,

Picket District Court pleadings are:

 a civil summons,
Peaceful public demonstration,  notice of intention to defend,
on or near an employer's
premises in furtherance of  counterclaim.
trade dispute.
Plaintiff Pledge
Letting someone take
The person who goes to court
possession of goods but the
to make a claim against
ownership does not change.
someone else.
Plea Plenipotentiary
Someone who has been given
The defendants answer to
complete authority to act.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Poaching Practising certificate

Taking game from someone Certificates showing a person is
else's land without permission. entitled to practise law. The
Law Society issues these
Polygamy certificates to the solicitors who
Being married to more than may practise law in Ireland.
one person at once.
Possess An explanation of a proposed
To have property under your law.
Precatory words
Possession Words that express a wish,
Having something under your hope or desire rather than a
control. clear command.
Possessory title Precedent
Gaining title through Court judgment which is cited
possession sometimes referred as an authority in a later case
to as squatters title. involving similar facts.
Post-mortem Precedent cannot bind a higher
court. A Circuit Court decision
The examination of a dead body cannot bind a High Court judge.
to establish the cause of death. A Supreme Court judgment
Power of appointment binds all courts although it does
not bind that Court itself in
A person giving another person
future cases.
the power to dispose of the first
person's property. Precept
Power of attorney An order given by an official
body or person.
A document which gives power
to the person appointed to act Pre-emption
for the person who signed the The right to buy property
document. before others are given the
chance to buy.
When insolvent paying one
creditor while leaving other
creditors unpaid.

Preference shares

Preference shares Pro tempore (pro tem)*

A share entitled to a fixed Temporary or for the time
dividend. being.
Preferential creditor Probate
A creditor who has to be paid Authority to deal with a dead
in full before unsecured person's estate.
creditors can be paid anything.
Probate law
Prescription The law which regulates wills
Way of acquiring property and other matters related to
rights, such as an easement, the distribution of a deceased
by long and continued use or person's estate.
enjoyment, commonly referred
to as squatters title. Probate Registry
The registry which deals with
Prima facie* the forms which are needed
On the face of it when someone applies for
Someone who authorises Probation
another person to act for them. If a court convicts someone of
an offence, the Judge may
Private law order that the offender is
Domestic law which regulates supervised by a probation
the relationships between officer for a period of time.
individuals and in which the
State is not directly concerned. Process
A process is a summons or writ
Privilege which is used to order someone
Special legal right such as a to appear in court; the whole of
benefit, exemption, power or a case from beginning to end.
Privity of contract A person who has been given
Only the parties to a contract authority to manage another
can sue each other over person's affairs such as under
breaches of contract. a power of attorney.
Pro rata*
In proportion.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Product liability Prospectus

The liability of manufacturers Document or notice in which a
and sellers to compensate company sets out details of a
people for unsafe goods which proposed share or bond issue.
have caused injury to people or
property. Prostitution
Selling sexual services for
Profit prendre money.
Profit to be taken from land.
Prohibition A clause in a legal document
Legal restriction on the use of which qualifies another section
something or on certain of the agreement.
Promisee Causing someone to lose their
A person who has been self-control by doing or saying
promised something. something which would cause a
reasonable person to
Promisor temporarily lose their self-
A person who has promised control.
Promissory note A person appointed by a
A written promise to pay an shareholder to go to a meeting
amount of money to someone of shareholders.
at a given time.
Proxy form
Property A form for shareholders by
Property is something which which if it is delivered to a
belongs to a person and over company before the
which he has total control. shareholders' meeting the
Prosecution person who is the proxy will be
able to vote at that meeting.
Team of people bringing
proceedings against someone Public mischief
else. Something that someone does
which damages the general

Public nuisance

Public nuisance Quiet possession

A crime by which the general Using property without
public is put in danger or interference.
suffers damage to its health,
property and so on. Quo warranto*
By what authority.
Punitive damages
Exceptional damages ordered Quorum*
by a court where an act or The lowest number of
omission was of a particularly qualifying people needed for a
serious, extensive or malicious meeting to be able to make a
nature. decision.

Putative father
The man found by a court to be R
the father of a non-marital Racial discrimination
Treating someone less
favourably because of their
Q race, colour, nationality or
An organisation set up by the Rack rent
Government to do a particular The full market value rent of a
activity. It is partly independent property.
and does not form part of the Rape
Having sex with a person
Quantum meruit* without their permission or
As much as he has deserved. forcing them to have sex
against their will.
Amount or extent. Ratio decidendi*
The reason for the decision.
Quid pro quo*
Something for something. Real
Relating to immovable property
Quiet enjoyment such as buildings or land.
Allowing a tenant to use land
without interference. Real estate
Land owned by someone who
has died.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Real property Redundancy

Land and buildings, minerals Being dismissed from a job
in the land and rights over the because it no longer exists.
Registered land
Realty Title of land recorded in the
Real property. Land Registry.
Reasonable force Registered office
Necessary force. The official address where
documents can be served on a
Rebuttable presumption company.
Presumed fact based on the
proof of other facts. Registrar of Companies
An official in charge of the
Receiver office which keeps records of
Someone appointed to sell registered companies.
assets to raise money to repay
lenders. Reinsurance
An insurance company
Receiving insuring part of a risk it is
Gaining control of stolen covering.
Recognisance  To give up a valid claim
An undertaking, given by against someone;
someone to a court, to make  to free someone from prison;
sure that they do what the or
court requires.  a document used to cancel a
Record claim one person has against
The documents in a court case
from beginning to end. Remainder
Recovery An interest which starts when
a previous interest finishes.
Regaining possession of land by
taking court proceedings.
Paying off all the money


Remand Repossession or repossess

Being kept in prison or paying A mortgagee recovering vacant
bail. If an accused person is possession of the property
placed on remand they are mortgaged.
either kept in prison for a short
period or have to pay bail or get Representation
 Acting on behalf of someone
someone to pay it for them.
else, such as a Solicitor
Remedy acting for a client;
Using the law to get  taking someone else's place
compensation for damage done such as when a court gives
or for rights infringed. an executor the right to deal
with a dead person's affairs;
Renouncing probate or
A proposed executor refusing  a statement in a contract.
to act.
Representative action
Rent One or more people in a group
Money or other consideration of people with the same
paid by a tenant to a landlord grievance taking legal action
in exchange for the exclusive representing the
possession and use of land, group.
buildings or part of a building.
Repeat offender A judge suspending or
A person who continues to cancelling punishment for an
commit the same offence. offence.
Replevin Res ipsa loquitur*
Legal action to recover goods. Proof is not needed because the
Reply facts speak for themselves.
A plaintiffs answer to a claim. Rescission
In a civil case the defendant The cancellation of a contract.
may offer a defence to the
claim and make a Reservation of title
counterclaim. A contract which leaves
ownership of the goods with the
seller until the goods have been
paid for.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Reserved costs Restitutio in integrum*

Apportionment of payment of Restoration to the original
legal fees to be decided at a position.
later stage.
Reserved judgment An order for the return of
Decision to be given at a later stolen goods to the victim of
date. the theft or for compensation to
be paid to the victim.
Money set aside in accounts Restraining order
which can be spent in later years. An order which a court may
issue to prevent a person from
Residence doing a particular thing.
Place where someone usually
lives. Restriction
When placed on a piece of land
Residuary legacy the owner cannot sell or
What remains to be given out mortgage the land.
from an estate after all debts,
taxes and specific legacies have Restrictive covenant
been paid. A deed which restricts how a
piece of land can be used.
What is left of an estate after Resulting trust
all debts, taxes, expenses and Trust which comes into being
specific legacies have been when an express trust fails.
dealt with.
Resisting arrest A payment to a lawyer to act in
A person trying to prevent a a case.
Garda arresting him.
Retention of title
Resolution Reservation of title.
A decision taken by the members
of a company in a meeting. Reversion
Future interest in property
Respondent retained by a transferor or his
Person against whom a heirs.
summons is issued, or a
petition or appeal brought. Revocation


To cancel or withdraw.
Sale or return
Revolving credit agreement
An arrangement under which
A loan agreement under which goods can be kept by the
a person can borrow again to potential buyer for a period
top up the loan, as long as they while their resale is attempted.
do not go over their credit limit.
Compensation paid by the
Addition attached to a owners for saving ships, aircraft
completed document. and property from the sea.
Right of way Sanction
A legal right obliging the owner To ratify, to approve or to
of land to allow authorised punish.
people to cross it.
Rights issue  Paying a debt;
An issue of extra shares by a  settling an obligation by an
company. act; or
 settling an obligation by
substituting something
A gathering of people using, or
satisfactory for what was
threatening to use, violence to
originally required.
achieve a common end.
Riparian rights Scheme of arrangement
An agreement between a
Rights of owners of land on a
person with debts who cannot
river bank.
pay them when they are due
Robbery and the creditors.
Using or threatening to use Scienter*
force while carrying out a theft.
A certificate showing the extra
shares and fractions of shares
the owner is entitled to.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Scrip dividend Sedition

A dividend paid in shares Writing things or saying things
instead of cash. which encourage people to rise
up against the Government.
Scrip issue
Free shares offered to the Seisin*
members of a company in Actual or constructive legal
proportion to their possession.
Senior Counsel
Search Barrister who has taken silk or
Inspection of the registers who has been called to the
maintained by organisations Inner Bar.
such as the Land Registry.
Search warrant The penalty a court imposes on
Written order normally issued someone found guilty of an
by a judge or Peace offence.
Commissioner giving Garda
permission to enter private Separation order
property, to search for and seize A court order that a husband
evidence of the commission of a and wife can live separately.
crime, the proceeds of crime or Sequestration
property that they suspect may
be used to commit a crime. Temporary confiscation of
property by court order until the
Securities owner purges his contempt by
Stocks, shares, debentures and obeying an earlier court order.
so on where there is a right to Service
receive interest or dividends
from the investment. Delivery of court documents by
one party to the other.
Servient tenement
Something of value pledged by
a borrower. Land subject to an easement.

Security of tenure Settle

Protection from a landlord Means to:
 create a settlement;
attempting to obtain possession
 end a case by agreement; or
of the property the tenant is
 draw up a contract and
agree its terms.


Settlement Sheriff
When property is given, usually A court officer, usually a
by a will or a deed, on a trust County Registrar, who may
for the benefit of people decided seize goods.
by the settlor.
Settlor Stealing goods from a shop.
The person who gives property
to a settlement. Silent partner
Person who invests in a
Several company or partnership shares
Separate. in the profits or losses but
takes no part in administering
Shadow director or directing the organisation.
A person who has not been
appointed a director of a Simpliciter*
company but nevertheless gives Simply.
instructions to the directors
which they comply with. Sine die*
Share capital
The money invested directly in Slander
a company by its members. Saying something untrue about
a person.
Share certificate
A document which certifies who Slander of title
owns shares in a company. Falsely and maliciously denying
someone's title to property
Share premium account including real property, a
An account in a set of books business or goods.
recording the extra amount
over face value that shares Small Claims Court
have been issued for. A section of the District Court
which deals with small claims.
Share There is a simplified way of
A portion of a company. A making a claim where the claim
share certificate constitutes is for no more than k1269.77
proof of share ownership. (as at September 2003).

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Smuggling Specific performance

Importing or exporting goods A court order to complete a
illegally to avoid a ban on them contract.
or to avoid the duties on them.
Sold note A person who occupies land
A note that shows details of illegally.
investments which have been
sold, including the sale price Stalking
and any charges taken. A form of harassment where a
Stockbrokers produce sold person is made to feel alarmed
notes for their clients. or distressed by another
person's actions.
A prostitute attempting to get Stamp duty
clients in a street or other A tax on the transfer
public place. documents for certain types of
A lawyer who can deal with any Stare decisis*
legal matter, give advice and To stand by decisions. Policy
appear in court. All solicitors whereby once a court has made a
are listed on the Roll of decision on a certain set of facts
Solicitors kept by the Law lower courts must apply that
Society of Ireland. Solicitors precedent in subsequent cases
can appear for their which embody the same facts.
clients in all the Courts in Statement of claim
Ireland and can be appointed
judges to all of them. The claimant's written
statement setting out the claim
Special Criminal Court in a civil case in the High
Non-jury court with three Court.
judges set up to deal with Status
terrorist offences.
How the law regards a person
Special resolution such as whether the person is
A resolution which must be a minor or a bankrupt.
approved by holders of at least Statute
75% of the shares with voting
rights. An Act of the Oireachtas (Dil
and Seanad).

Statute book

Statute book Stockbroker

All the existing statutes in a A person who buys and sells
country. stocks and shares for clients.
Statute law Strict liability
The law created by the Liability without need to prove
Oireachtas. wrongful intent, negligence or
Statute of limitations
A statute which sets out the Sub judice*
time limits within which a Something being dealt with by
court action must take place. a court which cannot be
discussed outside the court.
Statutory accounts
Company accounts which have Subduct
been filed with the Registrar of To withdraw.
Subject to contract
Statutory audit An agreement which is not
An audit required by law. binding until a contract has
Certain companies have to have been signed.
their accounts audited by
suitably qualified accountants. Subpoena
A summons or order requiring
Statutory books the person to whom it is
Books of account which addressed to attend at a court
companies must keep by law to on a specific date and at a
show and explain all their stated time.
Statutory instrument Substitution of one person or
A power delegated by the thing for another by operation
Oireachtas to make or amend of law without the agreement of
laws of a subsidary nature. the person from whom the
rights are transferred.
Stay of execution
The suspension of the carrying Subscribers
out of a court order. The people who set up a limited

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Subsidiarity Summary judgement

Subsidiary activities. Obtaining judgement without a
A company controlled by Summary offence
another company. An offence that can be tried by
a District Court judge.
Substituted service
If a party appears to be Summary proceedings
avoiding service of legal A trial by a District Court
documents, a court may be judge, where the defendant has
asked to direct that instead of the right to choose which court
personal service documents should hear the case, but has
can be served by post or in agreed to be tried in the
some other way. District Court.
Successor Summary trial
Person who takes over the A trial by a District Judge.
rights or property of another.
Summing up
Sue The judge's summary of a case.
To start legal proceedings in
the civil court against someone. Summons
Written command to a person
Sui generis* to appear in court.
Something that belongs in a
particular category or is the Superior courts
only one of its class. The High and the Supreme
Sui juris*
Someone who can enter into a Supra*
contract without any restriction. See above or before in the
The act of killing oneself Supreme Court
intentionally. Final court of appeal in Ireland,
headed by the Chief Justice.
Proceedings brought by one Surcharge
person against another in a A penalty charged if tax is
civil court. paid late.


Surety Tax point

Someone who takes The date when Value Added
responsibility for someone Tax arises on goods or services
else's debts or promises, and supplied or made available to a
guarantees that they will be customer.
paid or done.
Taxable supply
Surety Supplying goods and services
Person who has pledged on which Value Added Tax can
himself by deed to ensure that be charged.
another person fulfils an
obligation such as appearing Taxation
in court or paying back a loan. The levying of taxes.

Suspended sentence Taxation of costs

A sentence that is postponed The scrutiny of a Solicitor's bill
until the offender is convicted to a client. The scrutiny is done
of another offence. by a court officer known as a
taxing master.

T Teeming and lading

To hide the loss of cash
Tangible asset received from one customer by
An asset which can be using cash from other
physically touched. customers to replace it.
Tangible property Tenancy in common
Property that physically exists. Tenants-in-common share
property rights, but may hold
Tax different parts of a piece of land
Money raised by the or unequal shares.
Government to pay for the
services it provides. Tenant
Person to whom a landlord
Tax avoidance grants temporary and exclusive
Reducing tax bills by using use of land or a building,
legal means. usually in exchange for rent.
Tax evasion
Breaking the law to reduce
tax bills.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Tender Theft
Supplying a price for a job. If Taking someone else's property
an organisation asks firms to dishonestly with the intention
send in tenders for supplying of never returning it.
something they are asking for
firm written offers to do the Threatening behaviour
work to an agreed standard Using threats, abuse or insults
and at a stated price. against another person.

Tenement Timeshare
Property held by a tenant that An arrangement where people
could be subject to rights in his can buy a share in part of a
favour. property for a period of time in
each year.
How a piece of land is held by Title
the owner. The right to own something.

Term Title deeds

A clause which form part of a The documents which prove
contract. who owns a property and
under what terms.
Land. Toll
A payment in return for being
Terrorism allowed to travel over a road,
Using violence for political bridge and so on.
Testament Doing something which harms
A will. someone else. Torts include
wrongs such as:
Testator  negligence,
A person who makes a will.  nuisance,

Testify  false imprisonment, and
Give evidence.  trespass.

Testimony Tortfeasor
The evidence a witness gives Someone who commits a tort.
in court.


Tracing Trespass
Equitable right of a plaintiff to Unlawful interference with
reclaim specific property, another person or his property
through the court, where the or rights.
property has passed on to
others. Trespassing
Going on land without the
Trademark owner's permission.
A mark which is registered at
trademark registries and which Trial
is used on products produced An examination of the evidence
by the owner. in a case and the law which
The official record of a court case. Tribunal
A body set up to act like a
Transferable securities court outside the normal court
Securities such as debentures system. A forum to hear
which can have their ownership disputes and with the authority
changed. to settle them
Transferee Trust
Person who receives property A financial arrangement under
being transferred. which property is held by
named people for someone else.
The person who transfers Trust corporation
something to someone else. A company which acts as a
trustee and holds trust assets.
The crime of betraying your Trust deed
country. A legal document which is used
to create, change or control a
Treasure trove trust.
Treasure found in a hiding
place and whose owner cannot Trustee
be traced. A person who holds property
and looks after it on behalf of
someone else.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

U Unreasonable behaviour
Behaviour by a married person
Uberrimae fidei* that justifies the other partner
Of the utmost good faith. in the marriage living apart.

Ultra vires* Unregistered company

Beyond one's powers. A company which is not
registered under the
Underlease Companies Acts.
The lease of a property by a
tenant of the property to Unregistered land
someone else. Land which is not recorded in
the Land Registry.
A promise which can be Unsecured creditor
enforced by law. Someone who has lent money
without getting any security for
Undue influence the loan.
Unfair pressure which may
invalidate a contract.
Unfair contract terms
Prevents a party to a contract Variation
unfairly limiting their liability. Alteration of the terms of court
Unfair dismissal
Sacking an employee unfairly. Vendee
A person who buys something.
Unit trust
A trust which manages Vendor
investments. A person who sells something.

Unjust enrichment Verdict

Profit unjustly obtain by The jury's decision at the end
a wrongdoer. of a case.

Usury Vexatious litigant

Excessive or illegal interest rate. A person who regularly brings
court cases which have little
chance of succeeding.

Vicarious liability

Vicarious liability Warrant

Where someone becomes A certificate which gives the
responsible under the law for person holding it the right to buy
wrongs done by someone else. shares at a given price; a Judge's
written instruction to arrest
Videlicet* someone or to search a property.
That is to say.
Void (Bench Warrant) An order
Without legal effect. issued by a judge for the arrest
Voidable of a person, usually someone
who has failed to turn up in
Able to be cancelled in certain answer to a summons.
Voire dire
A term in a contract.
To speak the truth.
Volenti non fit injuria*
Abuse, destruction or permanent
Those who consent may not be change to property by a person
injured. who is merely in possession of it
Voluntary arrangement such as a tenant.
An agreement between a debtor Wayleave
and the creditors. A right through or over a piece
of land often for a particular
W purpose, such as for a pipeline.

Waiver Will
Renunciation of a right or A legal document which people
benefit. use to leave as a gift money
and property when they die.
Ward of court
Winding up
A person who is protected by
the High Court such as a Disposing of all a company's
minor. assets and paying all its debts.
Without prejudice
The document may not be used
as evidence that a contract or
agreement exists.

A Plain English Guide to Legal Terms

Witness Wrongful trading

Someone who watches a Continuing to trade while
signature being put on knowing that there is little
a document, and then signs as prospect of the company being
well to verify the signature's able to pay its debts.
authenticity; or attends court
to testify about events they
know about Y
Words of art Year
Words which have a fixed When used without any other
meaning in law so that their qualification a 12-month
use in a legal document can calendar period beginning on
have only one interpretation. 1st January.

Words of limitation Young offender

Words in a conveyance or will A person between the ages of
which limit the duration of an 14 and 17 who has committed
estate. a crime.

Words of purchase Young person

Words in a conveyance or will Person under 18 years.
which specifically name the
person to whom land is being
Zero hours
Writ of execution
None, Nil.
A type of writ used when a court
judgement needs enforcing.
A summons or order from a
court of law.
Wrongful dismissal
Ending an employee's contract
without following the contract's

76 Lower Gardiner Street,
Dublin 1,
A Plain English Guide
01 855 4332
to Legal Terms

What is the National Adult Literacy Agency?

The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) is a non-profit
membership organisation, concerned with national
co-ordination, training and policy development in adult
literacy work in Ireland. The Agency was established in 1980
and from that time has campaigned for recognition and
response to the adult literacy problem in Ireland.
NALA receives a grant from the Department of Education and
Science, which enables the Agency to staff national and regional
offices. In addition, the Department of Social, Community and
Family Affairs provide NALA with a grant towards staffing and
publicity costs. The Department of Health and Children and FS
also fund specific development work.

01 855 4332