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Legal Maxims


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Most lawyers love to throw around Latin phrases. The reason for this is that ancient Rome’s legal system has had a strong influence on the legal systems of most western countries. After all, at one time, the Romans had conquered most of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Roman motto was divide et impera (dee-vee-deh eht im-peh-rah) — “divide and conquer.” As they conquered nations, they set out to “Latinize” the “barbarians” (anyone who wasn’t Roman). Their goal was to teach them how to think, act, and be like real Romans. As the Roman Empire slowly crumbled and disappeared, the new orders in all these lands gradually adapted the existing legal system. England (and most of its former colonies) and the United States of America use a variation of the old Roman law called “Common Law.” This is why lawyers today love those Latin phrases! (Well, that and the fact that you can’t get out of law school without mastering them.)

This article gives you the information that you need to make sense of what your lawyer, judge, or parole officer is saying. Knowing what a sentence or phrase, like “The case is now sub judice (sub you-dee-kay)” or “What you are proposing is contra legem (kon-trah lay-ghem),” means, can help — even when you’re just watching Court TV or The Practice.

English legal terms are full of Latin words and phrases. Several of these terms are so common, you use them today without any problem or confusion. Take these words for example:

  • alibi (ah-lee-bee; elsewhere, at another place). If you’re asked to provide an alibi for your whereabouts, you know that you need to tell where you were when a crime occurred to prove that you couldn’t have been the one who did the awful deed.
  • alias (ah-lee-ahs; at another time, otherwise). Today, alias often refers to an alternative name people generally use to conceal their identity. “John Smith alias Henry Taylor alias Clyde the Hustler” means John Smith is otherwise known as Henry Taylor who is otherwise known as Clyde the Hustler.
  • per se (purr say; by itself). Also meaning “as such” in English usage, per se is used casually in English conversations: I didn’t call him stupid, per se. I simply said he had plenty to learn.
  • versus (wer-soos; turned). Often abbreviated as vs., the more common English meaning is “against” or “in contrast to”: In the case Roe versus Wade, privacy in cases of abortion was an issue.
  • Latin Legal Terms Dictionary This small collection of most widely used Latin words and expressions from the legal jargon is a gem. Many of these Latin terms are used in modern legal terminology.



Term or phraseLiteral translationDefinition and useEnglish pronunciation
a fortiorifrom strongerAn a fortiori argument is an “argument from a stronger reason”, meaning that because one fact is true, that a second related and included fact must also be true./ˌ fɔrtiˈɔər/, /ˌ fɔrʃiˈɔər/
a mensa et thorofrom table and bedDivorce a mensa et thoro indicates legal separation without legal divorce./ˌ ˈmɛnsə ɛt ˈθɔər/
a posteriorifrom laterAn argument derived from subsequent event/ˌ ˌpɒstɪəri.ɔər/
a priorifrom earlierAn argument derived from previous event/ˌ pr.ɔər/
a quofrom whichRegarding a court of first instance, or the decision/s of a previous court, known as the courta quo./ˌ ˈkw/
ab extrafrom outsideConcerning a case, a person may have received some funding from a 3rd party. This funding may have been considered ab extra./ˌæb ˈɛkstrə/
ab initiofrom the beginning“Commonly used referring to the time a contract, statute, marriage, or deed become legal. e.g The couple was covered ab initio by her health policy.”/ˌæb ɪˈnɪʃi./
absque hocwithout this“Presenting the negative portion of a plea when pleading at common by way a special traverse.”
Actori incumbit probatioOn the plaintiff rests the provingThe burden of proof, Roman law
actus reusguilty actPart of what proves criminal liability (with mens rea)/ˌæktəs ˈr.əs/
ad coelumto the skyAbbreviated from Cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad infernos which translates to “[for] whoever owns [the] soil, [it] is his all the way [up] to Heaven and [down] to Hell.” The principle that the owner of a parcel of land also owns the air above and the ground below the parcel./ˌæd ˈsləm/
ad colligenda bonato collect the goods
ad hocfor thisGenerally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes./ˌæd ˈhɒk/
ad hominemat the personAttacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument./ˌæd ˈhɒmɨnɛm/
ad idemto the same thingIn agreement./ˌæd ˈdəm/
ad infinitumto infinityTo continue forever./ˌæd ɪnfɨˈntəm/
ad litemfor the caseDescribes a party designated to represent another party who is deemed incapable of representing him/herself (e.g. a child or incapacitated adult)./ˌæd ˈltɛm/
ad quod damnumaccording to the harmUsed in tort law. Implies that the reward or penalty ought to correspond to the damage suffered or inflicted.
ad valoremaccording to value/ˌæd vəˈlɔərɛm/
adjournment sine dieadjournment without a dayWhen an assembly adjourns without setting a date for its next meeting./ˌsn ˈd./
affidavithe has swornA formal statement of fact./ˌæfɨˈdvɨt/
alter egoanother IA second identity living within a person.
amicus curiaefriend of the courtA person who offers information to a court regarding a case before it./əˈmkəs ˈkjʊəri./
animus nocendiintention to harmThe subjective state of mind of the author of a crime, with reference to the exact knowledge of illegal content of his behaviour, and of its possible consequences.
animus possidendiintention to possess“In order to claim possessory rights, an individual must establish physical control of the res and the intention to possess (i.e. animus possidendi)”
animus revertendiintention to return“Wild animals, such as bees and homing pigeons, that by habit go ‘home’ to their possessor. Used when discussing ferae naturae.”
arguendofor the sake of argument
Audi alteram partemhear the other sideRefers to the idea that one cannot be fairly judged unless the cases for and against them have been heard.
bona fidein good faith.Implies sincere good intention regardless of outcome./ˈbnə ˈfd/
bona vacantiaownerless goods
Cadit quaestioThe question fallsIndicates that a settlement to a dispute or issue has been reached, and the issue is now resolved.
Casus belliCase of warThe justification for acts of war./ˈksəs ˈbɛl/
casus fortuitusfortuitous eventWhen H.M.S. Bounty was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, October 29, 2012, Casus Fortuitus would describe the H.M.S. Bounty being at the wrong place when Hurricane Sandy came up the coast.HMS Bounty Sinks
CaveatMay he bewareWhen used by itself, refers to a qualification, or warning.
Caveat emptorLet the buyer bewareIn addition to the general warning, also refers to a legal doctrine wherein a buyer could not get relief from a seller for defects present on property which rendered it unfit for use./ˈkævi.æt ˈɛmptɔr/
CertiorariTo be apprisedA type of writ seeking judicial review./ˌsɜrʃi.əˈrɛər/, /ˌsɜrʃi.əˈrɛər/
Ceteris paribusWith other things the sameMore commonly rendered in English as “All other things being equal.”/ˌsɛtərɨs ˈpærɨbəs/
cogitationis poenam nemo patiturNobody suffers punishment for mere intent
compensatio moraeBalance of delayDelay in payment or performance on the part of both the debtor and the creditor
compos mentisHaving command of mindOf sound mind. Also used in the negative “Non compos mentis”, meaning “Not of sound mind”./ˈkɒmpɒs ˈmɛntɨs/
Condicio sine qua nonA condition without which it could not beAn indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient.
consensus ad idemAgreement to the sameParties must be of one mind and their promises must relate to the subject or object
consensus facit legemConsensus makes the lawStipulates that when two or more persons arrive at a good faith agreement, the law will insist on that agreement being carried out.
consuetudo pro lege servaturCustom is held as lawWhere no laws apply to a given situation, the customs of the place and time will have the force of law.
contraAgainstUsed in case citations to indicate that the cited source directly contradicts the point being made.
contra bonos moresAgainst good moralsContracts so made are generally illegal and unenforceable.
contra legemAgainst the lawUsed when a court or tribunal hands down a decision that is contrary to the laws of the governing state.
Contradictio in adjectoContradiction in itselfA contradiction in terms.
contra proferentemAgainst the one bringing forthUsed in contract law to stipulate that an ambiguous term in a contract shall be interpreted against the interests of the party that insisted upon the term’s inclusion. Prevents the intentional additions of ambiguous terminology from being exploited by the party who insisted on its inclusion.
coram non judiceBefore one who is not a judgeRefers to a legal proceeding without a judge, or with a judge who does not have proper jurisdiction.
corpus delictiBody of the crimeA person cannot be convicted of a crime, unless it can be proven that the crime was even committed./ˈkɔrpəs dɨˈlɪkt/
corpus jurisBody of lawThe complete collection of laws of a particular jurisdiction or court./ˈkɔrpəs ˈʊərɨs/
corpus juris civilisBody of civil lawThe complete collection of civil laws of a particular jurisdiction or court. Also sometimes used to refer to the Code of Justinian./ˈkɔrpəs ˈʊərɨs sɨˈvlɨs/
corpus juris gentiumBody of the law of nationsThe complete collection of international law.
corpus juris secundumAn encyclopedia of US law drawn from US Federal and State court decisions.
crimen falsiCrime of falsifyingForgery.
cui bonoAs a benefit to whom?Suggests that the perpetrator(s) of a crime can often be found by investigating those who would have benefited financially from the crime, even if it is not immediately obvious.
cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferosFor whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven and down to HellUsed in reference to the rights of property owners to the air above, and land below, their property.
de bonis asportatisCarrying goods awaySpecifies that larceny was taking place in addition to any other crime named. E.g. “trespass de bonis asportatis”.
debellatioWarring downComplete annihilation of a warring party, bringing about the end of the conflict.
de bonis non administratisOf goods not administeredAssets of an estate remaining after the death (or removal) of the designated estate administrator. An “administrator de bonis non administratis” will then be appointed to dispose of these goods.
de die in diemFrom day to dayGenerally refers to a type of labor in which the worker is paid fully at the completion of each day’s work.
de factoIn factLiterally “from fact”; often used to mean something that is true in practice, but has not been officially instituted or endorsed. “For all intents and purposes”. Cf. de jure.
de futuroConcerning the futureAt a future date.
de integroConcerning the wholeOften used to mean “start it all over”, in the context of “repeat de integro”.
de jureAccording to lawLiterally “from law”; something that is established in law, whether or not it is true in general practice. Cf. de facto.
de lege ferendaOf the law as it should beUsed in the context of “how the law should be”, such as for proposed legislation.
de lege lataOf the law as it isConcerning the law as it exists, without consideration of how things should be.
delegatus non potest delegareThat which has been delegated, cannot delegate [further]
de minimisAbout the smallest thingsVarious legal areas concerning small amounts or small degrees.
de minimis non curat lexThe law does not concern itself with the smallest [things]There must be a minimal level of substance or impact in order to bring a legal action.
de mortuis nil nisi bonumOf the dead, [speak] nothing unless goodSocial convention that it is inappropriate to speak ill of the recently deceased, even if they were an enemy.
de novoAnewOften used in the context of “trial de novo”—a new trial ordered when the previous one failed to reach a conclusion.
defalcationCutting off with a sickleMisappropriation of funds by one entrusted with them.
deorum injuriae diis curaeThe gods take care of injuries to the godsBlasphemy is a crime against the State, rather than against God.
dictum(thing) saidA statement given some weight or consideration due to the respect given the person making it.
doli incapaxIncapable of guiltPresumption that young children or persons with diminished mental capacity cannot form the intent to commit a crime.
dolus specialisSpecific deceitHeavily used in the context of genocide in international law.
donatio mortis causaGift caused by death“The donor, contemplating imminent death, declares words of present gifting and delivers the gift to the donee or someone who clearly takes possession on behalf of the donee. The gift becomes effective at death but remains revocable until that time.”
dramatis personaePersons of the drama
dubia in meliorem partem interpretari debentDoubtful things should be interpreted in the best wayOften spoken as “to give the benefit of the doubt.”
duces tecumBring with youA “subpoena duces tecum” is a summons to produce physical evidence for a trial.
ei incumbit probatio qui dicitProof lies on him who asserts.The concept that one is innocent until proven guilty.
ejusdem generisOf the same class.Known as a “canon of construction”, it states that when a limited list of specific things also includes a more general class, that the scope of that more general class shall be limited to other items more like the specific items in the list.
eo nomineBy that name.
erga omnesTowards all.Refers to rights or obligations that are owed towards all.
erratumHaving been made in error.
et al.And othersAbbreviation of et alii, meaning “and others”.
et ceteraAnd other things.Generally used in the sense of “and so forth”.
et seq.And the following thingsAbbreviation of et sequens, meaning “and the following ones”. Used in citations to indicate that the cited portion extends to the pages following the cited page.
et uxorAnd wife.Usually used instead of naming a man’s wife as a party in a case./ˌɛt ˈʌksɔr/
et virAnd husband.Usually used instead of naming a woman’s husband as a party in a case./ˌɛt ˈvɜr/
ex aequo et bonoOf equity and [the] good.Usually defined as “what is right and good.” Used to describe the power of a judge or arbiter to consider only what is fair and good for the specific case, and not necessarily what the law may require. In courts, usually only done if all parties agree.
ex anteOf before.Essentially meaning “before the event”, usually used when forecasting future events./ˌɛks ˈænt/
ex cathedraFrom the chairWhere chair refers to authority or position. Authority derived from one’s position.
ex concessisFrom what has been conceded alreadyOften used in a “guilt by association” context.
ex delictoFrom a transgressionThe consequence of a crime or tort.
ex facieOn the faceIf a contract is blatantly and obviously incorrect or illegal, it can be considered void ex facie without any further analysis or arguments.
ex fida bonaGood business norms
ex gratiaBy favorSomething done voluntarily and with no expectation a legal liability arising therefrom.
ex injuria jus non oriturLaw does not arise from injusticeA principle in international law that unjust acts cannot create laws.
ex officioFrom the officeSomething done or realized by the fact of holding an office or position.
ex parteFrom [for] one partyA decision reached, or case brought, by or for one party without the other party being present.
ex postFrom afterBased on knowledge of the past.
ex post factoFrom a thing done afterwardCommonly said as “after the fact.”
ex post facto lawA retroactive law. E.g. a law that makes a past act illegal that was not illegal when it was done.
expressio unius est exclusio alteriusThe express mention of one thing excludes all othersWhen items are listed, anything not explicitly stated is assumed to not be included.
ex proprio motuBy [one’s] own motionCommonly spoken as “by one’s own accord.”
ex rel[arising] out of the narration [of the relator]Abbreviation of ex relatione. Used when the government brings a case that arises from the information conveyed to it by a third party (“relator”).
ex turpi causa non oritur actioFrom a dishonorable cause an action does not ariseA party cannot bring a legal action for consequences of his own illegal act.
exempli gratiaFor the sake of exampleUsually abbreviated “e.g.”.
ex tuncFrom thenTerm used in contract law to specify terms that are voided or confirmed in effect from the execution of the contract. C.f. ex nunc.
ex nuncFrom now onTerm used in contract law to specify terms that are voided or confirmed in effect only in the future and not prior to the contract, or its adjudication. C.f. ex tunc.
extantExistingRefers to things that are currently existing at a given point, rather than things that are no longer so.
factumDeed1. an assured statement made; 2. completion of a will and all its parts to make it valid and legal; 3). book of facts and law presented in a Canadian court
facio ut faciasI do, that you may doA type of contract wherein one party agrees to do work for the other, in order that the second party can then perform some work for the first in exchange.
favor contractusFavor of the contractA concept in treaty law that prefers the maintaining of a contract over letting it expire for purely procedural reasons.
felo de seFelon of himselfA suicide. This archaic term stems from English common law, where suicide was legally a felony, thus a person who committed suicide was treated as a felon for purposes of estate disposal.
ferae naturaeWild animals of natureWild animals residing on unowned property do not belong to any party in a dispute on the land.
fiatLet it be doneA warrant issued by a judge for some legal proceedings.
Fiat justitia et pereat mundusLet there be justice, though the world perish.Often used as a motto, notably by Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor.
fiat justitia ruat caelumLet justice be done though the heavens fall.Also sometimes a motto, a legal maxim that justice must be done regardless of the result otherwise.
fieri faciasMay you cause to be doneA writ ordering the local law enforcement to ensure that damages awarded by the court are properly recovered. A writ of execution.
fortis attachiamentum, validior praesumptionemstrong attachment, the stronger presumptionWhen determining whether a chattel is a fixture: “size doesn’t matter, how much or degree chattel is attached to ‘land’ and to ‘what’ “
forum non conveniensDisagreeable forumA concept wherein a court refuses to hear a particular matter, citing a more appropriate forum for the issue to be decided./ˈfɔərəm nɒn kənˈvni.ɛnz/
fructus industrialesvegetation,like crops, that grows by human effortsIn property law, a co-owner profting from her or his fructus industriales is solely responsible for any losses that my occur.
fumus boni iurisSmoke of a good rightRefers to having a sufficient legal basis to bring legal action.
functus officioHaving performed his officeA person, court, statute, or legal document that has no legal authority, because its original legal purpose has been fulfilled.
generalia specialibus non derogantThe general does not detract from the specific.Specifies that a certain matter of law be covered by the most specific laws pertaining, in the event that broader laws conflict with the specific one.
gravamenThings weighing downThe basic element or complaint of a lawsuit./ɡrəˈvmɛn/
guardian ad litemGuardian for the case.An independent party appointed in family law disputes to represent parties that cannot represent themselves, such as minors, developmentally disabled, or elderly.
habeas corpusMay you have the bodyA writ used to challenge the legality of detention. Orders the detaining party to “have the (living) body” of the detained brought before the court where the detention will be investigated./ˈhbi.əs ˈkɔrpəs/
hostis humani generisEnemy of the human raceA party considered to be the enemy of all nations, such as maritime pirates.
i.e.That isAbbreviation of id est, meaning “that is”, in the sense of restating something that may not have been clear.
ibid.In the same placeAbbreviation of ibidem, meaning “in the same place. Used when citing sources, to indicate the cited source came from the identical location as the preceding one.
idemThe sameUsed in citations to indicate the cited source came from the same source as the preceding one, though not necessarily the same page or location. C.f. ibid.
ignorantia juris non excusatIgnorance of the law does not excuseA principle that states that not having knowledge of a law is not an excuse for breaking it.
imprimaturLet it be printed.An authorization for a document to be printed. Used in the context of approval by a religious body or other censoring authority.
in absentiaIn absenceA legal proceeding conducted without the presence of one party is said to be conducted in absentia, e.g., trial in absentia or being sentenced in absentia.
In articulo mortisat the moment of deathOften used in probate law, as well as for testimony in the sense of a dying declaration.
in cameraIn the chamberConducted in private, or in secret. The opposite of in open court.
in curiaIn courtConducted in open court. The opposite of in camera.
in esseIn existenceActually existing in reality. Opposite of in posse.
in extensoIn the extendedIn extended form, or at full length. Often used to refer to publication of documents, where it means the full unabridged document is published.
in extremisIn the extremeIn extreme circumstances. Often used to refer to “at the point of death.”
in flagrante delictoIn blazing offenseCaught in the actual act of committing a crime. Often used as a euphemism for a couple caught in the act of sexual intercourse, though it technically refers to being “caught in the act” of any misdeed.
in forma pauperisIn the manner of a pauperSomeone unable to afford the costs associated with a legal proceeding. As this will not be a barrier to seeking justice, such persons are given in forma pauperis status (usually abbreviated IFP), wherein most costs are waived or substantially reduced./ɪn ˌfɔrmə ˈpɔːpərɨs/
in futuroIn the futureRefers to things to come, or things that may occur later but are not so now./ɪn fjˈtjʊər/
in haec verbaIn these wordsUsed when including text in a complaint verbatim, where its appearance in that form is germane to the case, or is required to be included.
in limineAt the thresholdA motion to a judge in a case that is heard and considered outside the presence of the jury.
in loco parentisIn the place of a parentUsed to refer to a person or entity assuming the normal parental responsibilities for a minor. This can be used in transfers of legal guardianship, or in the case of schools or other institutions that act in the place of the parents on a day-to-day basis./ɪn ˌlk pəˈrɛntɨs/
in mitiusIn the milderA type of retroactive law that decriminalizes offenses committed in the past. Also known as an amnesty law.
in omnibusIn allUsed to mean “in every respect.” Something applying to every aspect of a situation.
in pari delictoIn equal offenseUsed when both parties to a case are equally at fault.
in pari materiaIn the same matterRefers to a situation where a law or statute may be ambiguous, and similar laws applying to the matter are used to interpret the vague one.
in personamIn personUsed in the context of “directed at this particular person”, refers to a judgement or subpoena directed at a specific named individual. C.f. in rem.
in plenoIn full
in prope personaOn one’s own personOne who represents themselves in court without the [official] assistance of an attorney.
in propria personaIn one’s own proper personAlternate form of in prope persona. One who represents themselves in court without the [official] assistance of an attorney.
in reIn the matter [of]Used in the title of a decision or comment to identify the matter they are related to./ɪn ˈr/
in remAbout a thingUsed in the context of a case against property, as opposed to a particular person. See also in rem jurisdiction. C.f. in personam./ɪn ˈrɛm/
in situIn positionOften used in the context of decisions or rulings about a property or thing “left in place” after the case as it was before./ɪn ˈstj/, /ɪn ˈsɪtj/
in solidumFor the wholeWhere a group of persons share liability for a debt, such as co-signers to a loan, the debtor can sue a single party in solidum, that is, to recover the entire amount owed.
in terroremIn order to frightenA warning or threat to sue, made in the hopes of convincing the other party to take action to avoid a lawsuit.
in terrorem clauseClause “in order to frighten”A clause in a will that threatens any party who contests the will with being disinherited. Also called a no-contest clause.
in totoIn total/ɪn ˈtt/
indiciaIndicationsOften used in copyright notices. Refers to distinctive markings that identify a piece of intellectual property.
infraBelow or Under
innuendoBy noddingAn intimation about someone or something, made indirectly or vaguely suggesting the thing being implied. Often used when the implied thing is negative or derogatory.
inter aliaAmong othersUsed to indicate an item cited has been pulled from a larger or more complete list./ˌɪntər ˈli.ə/
inter arma enim silent legesFor among arms, the laws fall silentA concept that during war, many illegal activities occur. Also taken to mean that in times of war, laws are suppressed, ostensibly for the good of the country.
inter rusticosAmong rusticsRefers to contract, debts, or other agreements made between parties who are not legal professionals.
inter seAmongst themselvesRefers to obligations between members of the same group or party, differentiated from the whole party’s obligations to another party.
inter vivosBetween the livingRefers to a gift or other non-sale transfer between living parties. This is in contrast to a will, where the transfer takes effect upon one party’s death./ˌɪntər ˈvvɒs/
intra fauces terraWithin the jaws of the landThis term refers to a nation’s territorial waters.
intra legemWithin the lawUsed in various contexts to refer to the legal foundation for a thing.
intra viresWithin the powersSomething done which requires legal authority, and the act is performed accordingly. C.f.ultra vires.
ipse dixitHe himself said itAn assertion given undue weight solely by virtue of the person making the assertion./ˈɪps ˈdɪksɨt/
ipsissima verbaThe very wordsReferring to a document or ruling that is being quoted by another.
ipso factoBy the fact itselfUsed in the context that one event is a direct and immediate consequence of another. “In and of itself.”/ˈɪps ˈfækt/
iudex non calculatThe judge does not calculateA principle that calculation errors made by the court do not invalidate the judgement on a technicality. Also taken to mean that the judge does not tally up the arguments of both sides and decide in favor of the more numerous, but rather weighs all of the evidence without regard to the number of arguments made.
jura novit curiaThe court knows the lawConcept that parties to a case do not need to define how the law applies to their case. The court is solely responsible for determining what laws apply.
jurat(He) swearsAppears at the end of an affidavit, where the party making the affirmation signs the oath, and the information on whom the oath was sworn before is placed.
juris et de jureOf law, and from lawIncontrovertible and fundamental presumptions of law. One cannot argue against, or try to otherwise refute these.
jusLaw, rightEssentially: Law.
jus accrescendriRight of survivorshipIn property law, on the death of one tenant, that tenant’s interest passes automatically to the surviving tenant(s) to hold jointly until the estate is held by a sole tenant. The only way to defeat the right of survivorship is to sever the joint tenancy during the lifetime of the parties, jus accrescendi takes priority over a will or interstate accession rules.
jus ad bellumLaws to warRefers to legalities considered before entering into a war, to ensure it is legal to go to war initially. Not to be confused with ius in bello (q.v.), the “laws of war” concerning how war is carried out.
jus civileCivil lawA codified set of laws concerning citizenry, and how the laws apply to them.
jus cogensCompelling lawInternationally agreed laws that bear no deviation, and do not require treaties to be in effect. An example is law prohibiting genocide.
jus communeCommon lawNot actually referring to common law, this term refers to common facets of civil law that underlie all aspects of the law.
jus gentiumLaw of nationsCustomary law followed by all nations. Nations being at peace with one another, without having to have an actual peace treaty in force, would be an example of this concept.
jus in belloLaw in warLaws governing the conduct of parties in war.
jus inter gentesLaw between the peoplesLaws governing treaties and international agreements.
jus naturaleNatural lawLaws common to all people, that the average person would find reasonable, regardless of their nationality.
jus primae noctisRight of the first nightSupposed right of the lord of an estate to take the virginity of women in his estate on their wedding night.
jus sanguinisRight of bloodSocial law concept wherein citizenship of a nation is determined by having one or both parents being citizens./ˈʌs ˈsæŋɡwɨnɨs/
jus soliRight of soilSocial law concept wherein citizenship of a nation is determined by place of birth./ˈʌs ˈsl/
jus tertiiLaw of the thirdArguments made by a third party in disputes over possession, the intent of which is to question one of the principal parties’ claims of ownership or rights to ownership.
lacunaeVoid, gapA situation arising that is not covered by any law. Generally used in International Law, as all countries codify according to their own systems of law.
leges humanae nascuntur, vivunt, moriunturThe laws of man are born, live, and dieIllustrates that laws are made, are in force for a period, and then become obsolete.
lex communisCommon law.Alternate form of jus commune. Refers to common facets of civil law that underlie all aspects of the law.
lex lataThe law borneThe law as it has been enacted
lex lociThe law of the placeThe law of the country, state, or locality where the matter under litigation took place. Usually used in contract law, to determine which laws govern the contract./ˈlɛks ˈlk/
lex posterior derogat prioriLater law removes the earlierMore recent law overrules older ones on the same matter.
lex retro non agitThe law does not operate retroactivelyA law cannot make something illegal that was legal at the time it was performed. See ex post facto law.
lex scriptaWritten lawLaw that specifically codifies something, as opposed to common law or customary law.
lex specialis derogat legi generaliSpecific law takes away from the general lawWhere several laws apply to the same situation, the more specific one(s) take precedence over more general ones.
liberum vetoFree vetoAn aspect of a unanimous voting system, whereby any member can end discussion on a proposed law.
lingua francaThe Frankish languageA language common to an area that is spoken by all, even if not their mother tongue. Term derives from the name given to a common language used by traders in the Mediterranean basin dating from the Middle Ages.
lis alibi pendensLawsuit elsewhere pendingRefers to requesting a legal dispute be heard that is also being heard by another court. To avoid possibly contradictory judgements, this request will not be granted.
lis pendensSuit pendingOften used in the context of public announcements of legal proceedings to come.
locus delictiPlace of the crimeShorthand version of Lex locus delcti commissi. The “scene of the crime”.
locus in quoThe place in whichThe location where a cause of action arose.
locus poenitentiaePlace of repentanceWhen one party withdraws from a contract before all parties are bound.
locus standiPlace of standingThe right of a party to appear and be heard before a court./ˈlkəs ˈstænd/
mala fide(In) bad faithA condition of being fraudulent or deceptive in act or belief.
maleficia propositis distinguunturevil acts are distinguished from (evil) purposes/crimes are distinguished by evil intentevil acts are distinguished from evil purposes crimes are distinguished by the intention
malum in seWrong in itselfSomething considered a universal wrong or evil, regardless of the system of laws in effect.
malum prohibitumProhibited wrongSomething wrong or illegal by virtue of it being expressly prohibited, that might not otherwise be so.
mandamusWe commandA writ issue by a higher court to a lower one, ordering that court or related officials to perform some administrative duty. Often used in the context of legal oversight of government agencies./mænˈdməs/
mare clausumClosed seaA body of water under the jurisdiction of a state or nation, to which access is not permitted, or is tightly regulated./ˈmɛərr ˈklɔːzəm/
mare liberumOpen seaA body of water open to all. Typically a synonym for International Waters, or in other legal parlance, the “High Seas”.
mens reaGuilty mindOne of the requirements for a crime to be committed, the other being actus reus, the guilt act. This essentially is the basis for the notion that those without sufficient mental capability cannot be judged guilty of a crime./ˈmɛns ˈr.ə/
modus operandiManner of operationA person’s particular way of doing things. Used when using behavioral analysis while investigating a crime. Often abbreviated “M.O.”/ˈmdəs ɒpəˈrænd/, /ˈmdəs ɒpəˈrænd/
mora accipiendiDelay of creditorDelay in payment or performance in the part of the creditor or obligor
mora solvendidelay of debtorDelay in payment or performance in the part of the debtor or the obligee
mortis causaCaused by deathDonation that is made in contemplation of death
mos pro legeCustom for lawThat which is the usual custom has the force of law.
motion in limineMotion at the startMotions offered at the start of a trial, often to suppress or pre-allow certain evidence or testimony.
mutatis mutandisHaving changed [the things that] needed to be changedA caution to a reader when using one example to illustrate a related but slightly different situation. The caution is that the reader must adapt the example to change what is needed for it to apply to the new situation.
ne exeatLet him not exit [the republic]Shortened version of ne exeat repiblica: “let him not exit the republic”. A writ to prevent one party to a dispute from leaving (or being taken) from the court’s jurisdiction./ˈn ˈɛksi.æt/
ne bis in idemNot twice in the sameProhibition against double jeopardy. A legal action cannot be brought twice for the same act or offense.
negotorium gestiomanagement of estateObligation arising from good works affecting other people, obliging the creditor to pay for the reimbursement of the cost that was used in doing good works
nemo auditur propriam turpitudinem allegansno one can be heard, who invokes his own guiltNobody can bring a case that stems from their own illegal act
nemo dat quod non habetno one gives what he does not haveIf someone purchases something that the seller has no right to (such as stolen property), the purchaser will likewise have no legal claim to the thing bought.
nemo debet esse iudex in propriano one shall be a judge in his own caseIn the past it was thought that it included just two rules namely (1) nemo debet esse judex in propria causa (no one shall be a judge in his own case)
nemo judex in sua causano one shall be a judge in his own casePrevents conflict of interest in courts. Often invoked when there is really no conflict, but when there is even the appearance of one.
nemo plus iuris ad alium transferre potest quam ipse habetno one can transfer a greater right than he himself hasA purchaser of stolen goods will not become the rightful owner thereof, since the seller himself was not the owner to begin with.
nihil dicithe says nothingA judgement rendered in the absence of a plea, or in the event one party refuses to cooperate in the proceedings.
nisiunlessA decree that does not enter into force unless some other specified condition is met./ˈns/
nisi priusunless firstRefers to the court of original jurisdiction in a given matter./ˈns ˈpr.əs/
nolle prosequiNot to prosecuteA statement from the prosecution that they are voluntarily discontinuing (or will not initiate) prosecution of a matter./ˈnɒl ˈprɒsɨkw/
nolo contendereI do not wish to disputeA type of plea whereby the defendant neither admits nor denies the charge. Commonly interpreted as “No contest.”/ˈnl kɒnˈtɛndɨr/
non adimpleti contractusOf a non-completed contractIn the case where a contract imposes specific obligations on both parties, one side cannot sue the other for failure to meet their obligations, if the plaintiff has not themselves met their own.
non compos mentisnot in possession of [one’s] mindnot having mental capacity to perform some legal act
non constatit is not certainRefers to information given by one who is not supposed to give testimony, such as an attorney bringing up new information that did not come from a witness. Such information is typically nullified.
non est factumIt is not [my] deedA method whereby a signatory to a contract can invalidate it by showing that his signature to the contract was made unintentionally or without full understanding of the implications.
non est inventusHe is not foundReported by a sheriff on writ when the defendant cannot be found in his county or jurisdiction.
non faciat malum, ut inde veniat bonumnot to do evil that good may comePerforming some illegal action is not excused by the fact that a positive result came therefrom. Often used to argue that some forms of expression, such as graffiti or pornographic films, cannot be given the protection of law (e.g. copyright) as they are or may be considered illegal or morally reprehensible.
non liquetit is not clearA type of verdict where positive guilt or innocence cannot be determined. Also called “not proven” in legal systems with such verdicts.
non obstante verdictonotwithstanding the verdictA circumstance where the judge may override the jury verdict and reverse or modify the decision.
novus actus interveniensa new action coming betweena break in causation (and therefore probably liability) because something else has happened to remove the causal link
noscitur a sociisit is known by friendsAn ambiguous word or term can be clarified by considering the whole context in which it is used, without having to define the term itself.
nota benenote wellA term used to direct the reader to cautionary or qualifying statements for the main text.
nudum pactumnaked promiseAn unenforceable promise, due to the absence of consideration or value exchanged for the promise.
nulla bonano goodsNotation made when a defendant has no tangible property available to be seized in order to comply with a judgement.
nulla poena sine legeno penalty without a lawOne cannot be prosecuted for doing something that is not prohibited by law.
nullum crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege poenalino crime, no punishment without a previous penal lawOne cannot be prosecuted for doing something that was not prohibited by law at the time and place it was committed, notwithstanding laws made since that time. A form of prohibition on retroactive laws.
nunc pro tuncnow for thenAn action by a court to correct a previous procedural or clerical error.
obiter dictuma thing said in passingin law, an observation by a judge on some point of law not directly relevant to the case before him, and thus neither requiring his decision nor serving as a precedent, but nevertheless of persuasive authority. In general, any comment, remark or observation made in passing
pacta sunt servandaagreements must be keptA fundamental principle of law
par delictumequal faultUsed when both parties to a dispute are at fault
parens patriaeparent of the nationRefers to the power of the State to act as parent to a child when the legal parents are unable or unwilling.
pater familiasfather of the familyThe head of household, for purposes of considering the rights and responsibilities thereof.
pendente litewhile the litigation is pendingCourt orders used to provide relief until the final judgement is rendered. Commonly used in divorce proceedings.
per capitaby headdividing money up strictly and equally according to the number of beneficiaries
per contraby that againstLegal shorthand for “in contrast to”
per curiamthrough the courtA decision delivered by a multi-judge panel, such as an appellate court, in which the decision is said to be authored by the court itself, instead of situations where those individual judges supporting the decision are named./ˌpɜrr ˈkjʊəri.æm/
per incuriamby their neglectA judgement given without reference to precedent.
per minasthrough threatsUsed as a defense, when illegal acts were performed under duress
per quodby whichUsed in legal documents in the same sense as “whereby”. A per quod statement is typically used to show that specific acts had consequences which form the basis for the legal action.
per seby itselfSomething that is, as a matter of law.
per stirpesby branchAn estate of a decedent is distributed per stirpes, if each branch of the family is to receive an equal share of an estate.
periculum in moradanger in delayA condition given to support requests for urgent action, such as a protective order or restraining order.
persona non grataunwelcome personA person who is officially considered unwelcome by a host country in which they are residing in a diplomatic capacity. The person is typically expelled to their home country./pərˈsnə nɒn ˈɡrɑːtə/, /pərˈsnə nɒn ˈɡrtə/
posse comitatuspower of the countyA body of armed citizens pressed into service by legal authority, to keep the peace or pursue a fugitive./ˈpɒs ˌkɒmɨˈttəs/
post mortemafter deathRefers to an autopsy, or as a qualification as to when some event occurred.
post mortem auctorisafter the author’s deathUsed in reference to intellectual property rights, which usually are based around the author’s lifetime.
praetor peregrinusmagistrate of foreignersThe Roman Praetor (magistrate) responsible for matters involving non-Romans.
prima facieat first faceA matter that appears to be sufficiently based in the evidence as to be considered true./ˈprmə ˈfʃi./
prior tempore potior iureearlier in time, stronger in lawA legal principle that older laws take precedent over newer ones. Another name for this principle is lex posterior.
prius quam exaudias ne iudicesbefore you hear, do not judge
probatio vincit praesumptionemproof overcomes presumption
pro bonoFor goodProfessional work done for free./ˈpr ˈbn/
pro bono publicoFor the public good/ˈpr ˈbn ˈpʌblɨk/
pro formaas a matter of formThings done as formalities.
pro hac vicefor this turnRefers to a lawyer who is allowed to participate (only) in a specific case, despite being in a jurisdiction in which he has not been generally admitted
pro perAbbreviation of propria persona, meaning “one’s own person”Representing oneself, without counsel. Also known as pro se representation.
pro ratafrom the rateA calculation adjusted based on a proportional value relevant to the calculation. An example would be a tenant being charged a portion of a month’s rent based on having lived there less than a full month. The amount charged would be proportional to the time occupied.
pro sefor himselfRepresenting oneself, without counsel. Also known as pro per representation./ˌpr ˈs/, /ˌpr ˈs/
pro tantofor so muchA partial payment of an award or claim, based on the defendant’s ability to pay.
pro temAbbreviation of pro tempore, meaning “for the time being”Something, such as an office held, that is temporary.
pro temporefor the time beingSomething, such as an office held, that is temporary.
propria personaproper personRefers to one reperesenting themselves without the services of a lawyer. Also known as pro per representation.
prout patet per recordumas appears in the recordUsed to cite something that has already been admitted into the record.
quawhich; asIn the capacity of
quareiturit is soughtThe question is raised. Used to declare that a question is being asked in the following verbiage.
quaerequeryUsed in legal drafts to call attention to some uncertainty or inconsistency in the material being cited.
quantumhow much
quantum meruitas much as it deserves; as much as she or he has earned[3]In contract law, a quasi-contractual remedy that permits partial reasonable payment for an incomplete piece of work (services and/or materials), assessed proportionately, where no price is established when the request is made.



In contract law, and in particular the requirement for consideration, if no fixed price is agreed upon for the service and/or materials, then one party would request a reasonable price for the said services and/or materials at the end of the job. A common example would be a plumber requested to fix a leak in the middle of the night.

quantum valebantas much as they were worthUnder Common Law, i.e. a remedy to compute reasonable damages when a contract has been breached—the implied promise of payment of a reasonable price for goods.
In contract law, for requirements of consideration, reasonable worth for goods delivered.
Usage: quantum meruit has replaced quantum valebant in consideration; in the case of contract remedy, quantum valebant is being used less, and could be considered to be obsolete.
quasias ifResembling or being similar to something, without actually being that thing.
qui facit per alium facit per sewho acts through another, acts himselfOne who delegates a task to another, takes full responsibility for the performance of that act as if he himself had done it. Basis for the law of agency
qui tamAbbreviation of qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, meaning “who pursues in this action as much for the king as himself”.In a qui tam action, one who assists the prosecution of a case is entitled to a proportion of any fines or penalties assessed.
quid pro quothis for thatAn equal exchange of goods or services, or of money (or other consideration of equal value) for some goods or services.
quo anteas beforeReturning to a specific state of affairs which preceded some defined action.
quo warrantoby what warrant?A request made to someone exercising some power, to show by what legal right they are exercising that power. A type of writ.
quoad hocas to thisUsed to mean “with respect to” some named thing, such as when stating what the law is in regards to that named thing.
quod est necessarium est licitumWhat is necessary is lawful
RRex or ReginaKing or Queen. In British cases, will see R v Freeman meaning Regina against Freeman. Changes with King or Queen on throne at time.
ratio decidendiReason for the decisionThe point in a legal proceeding, or the legal precedent so involved, which led to the final decision being what it was.
ratio scriptawritten reasonThe popular opinion of Roman law, held by those in the Medieval period.
rationae soliby reason of the soil“Certain rights may arise by virtue of ownership of the soil upon which wild animals are found.”
rebus sic stantibusthings thus standingA qualification in a treaty or contract, that allows for nullification in the event fundamental circumstances change.
reddendo singula singulisreferring solely to the lastThe canon of construction that in a list of items containing a qualifying phrase at the end, the qualifier refers only to the last item in the list.
resthing, matter, issue, affair
res communiscommon to allProperty constructs like airspace and water rights are said to be res communis – that is, a thing common to all, and that could not be the subject of ownership. With airspace, the difficulty has been to identify where the fee simple holder’s rights to the heavens end. Water is a bit more defined — it is common until captured.
res gestaethings doneDiffering meaning depending on what type of law is involved. May refer to the complete act of a felony, from start to finish, or may refer to statements given that may be exempt from hearsay rules.
res ipsa loquiturthe thing speaks for itselfused in tort law when there is no proof of what caused the harm, but it is most likely only the thing that could have caused the harm
res judicataa matter judgedA matter that has been finally adjudicated, meaning no further appeals or legal actions by the involved parties is now possible./ˈrz dɨˈktə/, /ˈrz/, /dɨˈkɑːtə/
res nulliusnobody’s thingOwnerless property or goods. Such property or goods are able and subject to being owned by anybody.
res publicapublic affairAll things subject to concern by the citizenry. The root of the word republic.
res publica christianaChristian public affairAll things of concern to the worldwide body of Christianity
respondeat superiorlet the master answerA concept that the master (e.g. employer) is responsible for the actions of his subordinates (e.g. employees).
restitutio in integrumtotal reinstatement(1) Restoration of something, such as a building or damaged property, to its original condition.
(2) In contract law, when considering breach of contract and remedies, to restore a party to an original position]
rex non potest peccareThe king can do no wrongUsed to describe the basis for sovereign immunity
salus populi suprema lex estoThe good of the people shall be the supreme lawUsed variously as a motto, a reminder, or a notion of how the law and governments in general should be.
scandalum magnatumscandal of the magnatesDefamation against a peer in British law. Now repealed as a specific offense.
scienterknowinglyUsed when offenses or torts were committed with the full awareness of the one so committing.
scire faciaslet them knowA writ, directing local officials to officially inform a party of official proceedings concerning them.
scire feciI have made knownThe official response of the official serving a writ of scire facias, informing the court that the writ has been properly delivered.
se defendendoself-defenseThe act of defending one’s own person or property, or the well-being or property of another.
seriatimin seriesDescribes the process in which the court hears assorted matters in a specific order. Also refers to an occasion where a multiple-judge panel will issue individual opinions from the members, rather than a single ruling from the entire panel.
sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedasuse your property so as not to injure that of your neighboursWhile an individual is entitled to the use and enjoyment of one’s estate, the right is not without limits. Restrictions can give rise to tort actions include trespass, negligence, strict liability, and nuisance.
sine diewithout dayUsed when the court is adjourning without specifying a date to re-convene. See also adjournment sine die.
sine qua nonwithout which, nothingRefers to some essential event or action, without which there can be no specified consequence.
situsthe placeUsed to refer to laws specific to the location where specific property exists, or where an offense or tort was committed.
solutio indebitiSolution for undueObligation arising from undue payment, obliging the debtor to return the undue payment.
stare decisisTo stand by [things] decided.The obligation of a judge to stand by a prior precedent./ˈstɛər dɨˈssɨs/
status quo
status quo ante
statu quo
the state in whichIn contract law, in a case of innocent representation, the injured party is entitled to be replaced in statu quo. Note the common usage is status quo from the Latin status quo ante, the “state in which before” or “the state of affairs that existed previously.”
stratuma covering, from neuter past participle of sternere, to spread1) In property law, condominiums has said to occupy stratum many stories about the ground
2) Stratum can also be a societial level made up of individuals with similar status of social, cultural or economic nature.
3) Stratum can refer to classification in an organized system along the lines of layers, levels, divisions, or similar grouping.
sua sponteof its own accordSome action taken by the court or another official body, without the prompting of another party.
sub judiceunder the judgeRefers to a matter currently being considered by the court.
sub modosubject to modificationTerm in contract law that allows limited modifications to a contract after the original form has been agreed to by all parties.
sub nomineunder the nameAbbreviated sub nom.; used in case citations to indicate that the official name of a case changed during the proceedings, usually after appeal (e.g., rev’d sub nom. and aff’d sub nom.)
sub silentiounder silenceA ruling, order, or other court action made without specifically stating the ruling, order, or action. The effect of the ruling or action is implied by related and subsequent actions, but not specifically stated.
subpoenaunder penaltyA writ compelling testimony, the production of evidence, or some other action, under penalty for failure to do so.
subpoena ad testificandumUnder penalty to be witnessedAn order compelling an entity to give oral testimony in a legal matter.
subpoena duces tecumbring with you under penaltyAn order compelling an entity to produce physical evidence or witness in a legal matter.
suggestio falsifalse suggestionA false statement made in the negotiation of a contract.
sui generisof its own kind/genusSomething that is unique amongst a group.
sui jurisof his own rightRefers to one legally competent to manage his own affairs. Also spelled sui iuris.
suo motuof its own motionRefers to a court or other official agency taking some action on its own accord. Similar tosua sponte.
supersedeasrefrain fromA bond tendered by an appellant as surety to the court, requesting a delay of payment for awards or damages granted, pending the outcome of the appeal.
suppressio verisuppression of the truthWillful concealment of the truth when bound to reveal it, such as withholding details of damage from an auto accident from a prospective buyer of the car in that accident.
supraaboveUsed in citations to refer to a previously cited source.
terra nulliusno one’s landLand that has never been part of a sovereign state, or land which a sovereign state has relinquished claim to.
trial de novotrial anewA completely new trial of a matter previously judged. It specifically refers to a replacement trial for the previous one, and not an appeal of the previous decision.
trinoda necessitasthree-knotted needRefers to a threefold tax levied on Anglo-Saxon citizens to cover roads, buildings, and the military.
uberrima fidesmost abundant faithConcept in contract law specifying that all parties must act with the utmost good faith.
ultra posse nemo obligaturno one is obligated (to do) more than he canSpecifies that one should do what he can to support the community, but since everyone has different levels of ability, it cannot be expected that all will perform the same.
ultra viresbeyond the powersAn act that requires legal authority to perform, but which is done without obtaining that authority.
uno flatuin one breathUsed to criticize inconsistencies in speech or testimony, as in: one says one thing, and in the same breath, says another contradictory thing.
uti possidetisas you possessAncient concept regarding conflicts, wherein all property possessed by the parties at the conclusion of the conflict shall remain owned by those parties unless treaties to the contrary are enacted.
uxorwifeUsed in documents in place of the wife’s name. Usually abbreviated et ux.
vel nonor notUsed when considering whether some event or situation is either present or it is not.
vetoI forbid.The power of an executive to prevent an action, especially the enactment of legislation.
vice versathe other way aroundSomething that is the same either way.
videseeUsed in citations to refer the reader to another location.
videlicetContraction of videre licet, meaning “it is permitted to see”Used in documents to mean “namely” or “that is”. Usually abbreviated viz.
vinculum juristhe chains of the lawSomething which is legally binding.
vis majorgreater or superior forceEvents over which no humans have control, and so cannot be held responsible. An “Act of God”. In law, the more common term is the French phrase ‘Force majeure’. See also casus fortuitus (chance occurrence).
viz.Abbreviation of videlicetNamely
volenti non fit injuriainjury is not done to the willingNotion that a person cannot bring a claim against another for injury, if said person willingly placed themselves in a situation where they knew injury could result.
vigilantibus non dormientibus aequitas subvenitEquity aids the vigilant, not the sleepingConcept that if an opposing party unreasonably delays bringing an action, that it is no longer considered just to hear their claim, due to fundamental changes in circumstance brought upon by their delay.
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