The legal jargon dictionary

21 Nov 2014

The legal jargon dictionary

Whether you are a law student, NQ or just seeking legal advice, legalese and legal speak is often complicated and confusing. It can take some time to get to grips with all of the specific terms and legal jargon, and even once you have graduated from your law degree you may still find a use for a law dictionary.

Here we have put together a list of essential terms that will make a court room or legal recruitment office more bearable for those still getting to grips with a legal setting, and a way for the Average Joe to finally understand what their solicitor is talking about.

Want to know your City in-house counsel jobs from your company secretaries? This law dictionary will look to make the world of law more accessible to those in, and out, of the field.


Acquittal – The discharge of a defendant following a case and a verdict of not guilty.

Adjournment – To postpone a case until a later date.

Adjudication – The legal process of resolving a dispute.

Advocate – A legal representative, i.e. a solicitor or a barrister, representing party before a court.

Affidavit – A written sworn statement of facts made by an affiant under oath.

Affirmation – The declaration of a witness where they cannot take an oath i.e., the witness has no religious belief or has such beliefs that prevent them from taking an oath.

Aggravated assault – A serious type of assault that results in bodily harm. You can also have aggravated burglary, damages, vehicle taking etc. where the victim of the crime has been harmed in some way either physically or mentally, or the defendant was armed with a weapon.

Amnesty – To give a person amnesty means to not punish a person for an offence and remove details of said offence from the court’s records.

Bar – The collective term for barristers.

Barrister – A barrister is a lawyer who is permitted to speak in higher courts and represent their client in a court, opposed to a solicitor, who is not.

Beyond reasonable doubt – A standard of proof used to convict defendants where the prosecutors must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Case – A dispute or claim between opposing parties presented in a court of law.

Chambers – A room or office used by barristers or a judge.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau – A charity that offers free legal advice.

Civil Case/Justice – A civil matter, either Case or Justice is one which applies to private rights rather than that of the state.

Committal – Where the defendant is charged with either a sentence, order or trial.

Common law – Law developed by judicial decisions opposed to that adopted through the legislative process.

Conditional discharge – Where a defendant is not immediately charged for an offence but should they later commit a crime they can be charged for the previous crime in addition to the new offence.

Corroboration – The confirmation of evidence through the separate evidence of an individual.

Counsel – The barrister/s or solicitor/s in the legal proceedings.

Court – A party that has the authority to conduct judicial proceedings.

Cross-examination – To cross-examine a witness means to question a witness for the other side in a particular case.

Crown Court – A court where defendants are tried for criminal offences. There are three tiers of Crown Court; First, Second and Third, in which more serious criminal cases are tried in in the Third Tier.

Damages – The money claimed as compensation awarded by the court.

Decree – An order of the court.

Defendant – Someone who has a case made against them in which they can attempt to prove their innocence or put forward an admittance of guilt.

Dismissal – The act of ceasing a claim.

Expert witness – An expert in a certain field that is relevant to the case who is called upon to give their professional opinion.

Fixed costs – The cost in civil cases that is set at a particular level and can be claimed in specific circumstances, such as when a defendant does not acknowledge a claim.

High Court – A civil court that is a part of the Supreme Court and is split into three divisions; the Queen’s Bench Division, Chancery Division, Family Division.

Indictable Offence – An offence that can only be tried by the Crown Court.

In-house – Working in-house means to be a lawyer who works for a company rather than for a firm. For example, working on behalf of a newspaper and no one else.

Injunction – A court order that determines a person’s course of action.

Interim – An interim or locum lawyer is a lawyer who works in a flexible manner on a short term basis.

Judge – The person whose job it is to settle court cases and who administers the law.

Judicial/Judiciary – Judicial acts are the acts in which justice is administered and a judiciary is a judge or officer who has the power to administer the law.

Justice of the Peace – The role appointed by the Crown to act as a magistrate.

Jurisdiction – The area and subject areas in which a court has legal authority.

Lay person/representative – A non-legally qualified individual.

Legatee – The individual who receives a legacy or estate as a result of a will.

Libel – A false statement made in a permanent record that is damaging to a person or organisation’s reputation.

Litigation – Legal proceedings or action.

Litigation Friend – Someone who assists a minor (someone under the age of 18) during the litigation process.

Long Vacation – The period of time between the 1 August and 30 September in which High Court sittings are restricted for urgent matters or cases.

Lord Chancellor – The cabinet minister who speaks on behalf of the House of Lords and holds other such responsibilities.

Lord Chief Justice – Heads the Queen’s Bench and serves as senior judge of the Court of Appeal.

Lord Justice of Appeal – A title given to a number of judges who sit on the Court of Appeal.

McKenzie Friend – An individual whose role it is to assist a litigant in a common law court, not necessarily legally qualified.

Magistrates Court – Where criminal cases are presented before justices of the peace, also regarded as the lowest court.

Mediation – The process in which an individual or mediator helps solve disagreements between two parties.

Mitigation – The act of putting evidence or facts to a judge after a defendant has already been found guilty in the attempt to lessen their sentence.

Oath – An act of swearing the truth in a court before God.

Ombudsman – Independent party or ‘referees’ who are called upon by the court and appointed by the government or parliament to consider complaints in a range of matters, including health, housing and banking.

On the balance of probabilities – A civil standard of proof that proves the case as more likely than not.

Ouster – An order that ensures a person leaves a property.

Plea – The defendant’s answer to a charge.

Preliminary hearing – A hearing before that of the final hearing in which it is determined whether there is enough evidence to stand trial.

Probate – The authority to validate a deceased individual’s will.

Prosecution – The criminal proceedings against an individual. The prosecutor is the individual who brings legal proceedings on behalf of the Crown against the accused.

Queen’s Counsel – QC is a barrister who acts as counsel to the Crown and is appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The individual in question must have served for 10 years as a barrister prior to their application for the title.

Registrar – The former name of a District Judge. This title was renamed in the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. A District Judge hears applications made within proceedings to the limit of jurisdiction.

Remand – To hold an individual in custody or place them on bail pending an additional Court appearance.

Restitution – An order in which the accused is ordered to return stolen goods or pay compensation to the victim, or an evicted defendant re-enters a property illegally and the claimant is forced to deliver a warrant of restitution.

Sanction – The penalty imposed on an individual, where it is sometimes the case that they win the case but a sanction may be imposed on them.

Settlement – The voluntary agreement between the claimant and defendant to settle their civil case.

Slander – Like libel but the damaging statement is spoken.

Solicitor – A lawyer who advises clients and the public on legal matters and can represent them in some courts. Solicitors are listed on a roll of solicitors kept by the Law Society.

Statutory law – Statutory law or Statute law is a written law created by Acts of Parliament.

Sue – The act of starting legal proceedings in a civil court against an individual or organisation.

Summons – An order by a court to attend or produce evidence at court during particular legal proceedings or a case.

Supreme Court of Judicature – The collective name of the High Court of Justice, Crown Court and the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is the highest court below the House of Lords.

Suspended Sentence – A custodial sentence that is ordered not to take effect until a later date should the offender be convicted of another offence. Similar to conditional discharge.

Trial – A public hearing in which evidence and the law that applies to the particular case is examined.

Tribunal – A body that is outside the traditional court system but hears disputes relating to specific areas e.g. immigration and employment. Similar to an Ombudsman, but a body rather than an individual.

Verdict – The jury’s decision at the end of legal proceedings.

Vice Chancellor – The senior judge and head of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice.

Warrant – A type of authorisation taking the form of a certificate or written instruction by a magistrate in which a property can be searched or an individual can be arrested. The warrant permits an otherwise illegal act to violate an individual’s rights.

Witness – An individual who gives evidence in court. Also refers to an individual who witnesses the signature of a legal document and also signs the document to testify to its verification.


CAB – Citizen’s Advice Bureau

NQs – Newly Qualified, like trainee

QC – Queen’s Counsel

PNC – Police National Computer

PSR – Pre-Sentence Report