Glossary of legal terms

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Absolute discharge – someone who has been convicted of an offence not receiving a penalty, although compensation might be payable.

Abuse of process – when criminal proceedings are brought against a person without any good reason and with malice.

Accused – the person charged with a criminal offence.

Acquittal – when a court decides that an accused is not guilty.

Actus reus – (Latin) action or conduct which is a constituent element of a crime, as opposed to the mental state of the accused.

Adjourned sine die – (Latin) when a court case has no date fixed for it to continue.

Adjournment– postponing a court hearing to a new date.

Adjudge/adjudicate – to give an official judgement about something eg if a debtor cannot pay their debts a court may adjudge them bankrupt.

Administrator – someone who has been appointed to manage the affairs of a bankrupt business; or to manage the estate of someone who has died without leaving a will.

Admissibility of evidence – which evidence can be presented in court. Evidence must be relevant to the case but even some relevant evidence cannot be presented, such as hearsay or evidence of little value. The judge decides whether or not evidence can be used in the case.

Admission – one side in a case agreeing that something the other side has alleged is true.

Adoption – the legal process to become a parent of a child when you are not the child’s natural parent.

Adoptive child – a child who has been legally adopted.

Adoptive parent – a person who has legally adopted a child.

Adverse witness – a witness who gives evidence which damages the case of the side which asked them to testify. (see Queen’s evidence)

Advisory conciliation and arbitration service (ACAS) – an independent public body that receives funding from the government. They provide free and impartial advice to employers, employees and their representatives on employment rights, best practice and policies and resolving workplace conflict.  See our advice about employment disputes.

Advocate – the barrister or solicitor who speaks in court for a client.

Affidavit – a written statement which is sworn to be true by the person signing it. It is sworn before someone authorised by the court.

Affirmation – solemnly promising to tell the truth when giving evidence. It is an alternative to swearing an oath.

Age of consent – the age when someone can consent to have sexual intercourse.

Alias – a false name.

Alibi – a claim that a person was elsewhere when a crime was committed. If someone is accused of a crime their alibi is either there is evidence that they were somewhere else when the crime was committed; or an attempt to prove that the person was somewhere else when the crime was committed.

Alien – someone from a foreign country.

Allegation – an unproved statement that something has happened.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) – a procedure for settling disputes without litigation, such as arbitration, mediation, or negotiation. ADR procedures are usually less costly.

Alternative verdict – a person being found guilty of a less serious crime than the one they were charged with. If a more serious charge has not been proved and the defendant has been found not guilty, the defendant may be found guilty of a less serious crime instead. For example, there may not be enough evidence to convict someone of a murder but there may still be enough for a manslaughter conviction.

Ambiguity – more than one meaning. When a statement’s meaning is not clear because it is capable of more than one meaning, it contains an ambiguity.

Annul – to cancel an invalid marriage or a bankruptcy order.

Antecedents – details about the past of a defendant or a person found guilty of a crime. The information about previous crimes, background and bad behaviour is given to the court before sentence.

Ante nuptial agreement – a legal agreement between two people who are about to get married. The agreement sets out how assets will be divided if they divorce.

Anti social behaviour – behaviour by a person which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to persons not of the same household.  See our guidance on how to prove neighbour nuisance.

Appeal – asking a court to overturn a lower court’s decision.

Appellant – the person who is appealing to a court against a decision of a lower court.

Applicant – the person applying to court for an order and who then becomes “a party” to the proceedings. NB where the application is a petition for divorce, they are referred to as the Petitioner. Once papers are sent to the other person involved, they are referred to as the Respondent (to the application).

Application – the means by which you apply to the court for an order.

Assured Shorthold Tenancy – a type of tenancy agreement under which the landlord has the right to take the property back at the end of the tenancy agreement.  See our guidance on landlords and tenant disputes.

Arbitration –  the outcome of a dispute is decided by one or more persons (the “arbitrators”, “arbiters” or “arbitral tribunal”), which makes the “arbitration award”. An arbitration award is legally binding on both sides and enforceable in the courts.

Arbitrator – the independent person who settles a dispute without the need to use the courts.

Arraignment – a procedure at the start of a trial when details of the offences are read out and a defendant is asked whether they plead guilty or not guilty.

Arrangements for children – Child arrangements orders have replaced ‘residence orders’ ( previously custody orders ) and ‘contact orders’. A ‘child arrangements order’ sets out: where your child lives; when your child spends time with each parent; when and what other types of contact will take place (eg phone or video calls)

Arrest – to seize someone, usually because they are suspected of committing a crime, and take them into custody.  See our guidance on police powers

Arrestable offence – a crime for which a person may be arrested without a warrant being required.

Attachment of earnings – a court order that enables deductions from a person’s earnings. The employer pays the money collected to the court and the court pays the money to the people it is owed to.

Attest – to witness a signature on a document, by signing the document as a witness.

Attorney – a person appointed to act for another person such as when someone cannot look after their own affairs. A formal document called a power of attorney is used to appoint the attorney.  See our guidance on the Court of Protection.  It is also the term used for a US lawyer.

Attorney General – the chief legal adviser to the Government. He or she must be a Member of Parliament (or have a seat in the House of Lords) and must be a barrister.


Bail – You can be released from custody on bail at the police station after you’ve been charged. If you are given bail, you might have to agree to conditions like living at a particular address, not contacting certain people, giving your passport to the police so you cannot leave the UK, reporting to a police station at agreed times.  If you do not stick to these conditions you can be arrested again and may be taken to prison to wait for your court hearing.  See our guidance on police powers

Bail hostel – accommodation found for people charged with offences and released on bail, but who do not have a permanent address so that the police know where to find them.

Bailiff – an officer of the court who carries out the court’s orders, such as taking a debtor’s goods and selling them to get money to pay the debtor’s debts. A bailiff can also personally deliver ( called serving ) documents on someone.

Bar – the collective term for barristers. When someone becomes a barrister, it is called ‘being called to the bar’.

Barrister – a barrister (in England and Wales) is a specialist in advocacy and represents individuals or organisations in court. They’re independent sources of legal advice and can advise clients on their case.

Barristers chambers – A barrister’s chambers or barristers’ chambers are the rooms used by a barrister or a group of barristers (a judge’s chambers, on the other hand, is the office of a judge, where the judge may hear certain types of cases, instead of in open court.)

Bench – the collective name for the judges or magistrates in a court.

Bench warrant – a warrant issued by a court for the arrest of an accused person who has failed to attend court. It is also issued when someone has committed contempt of court and can’t be traced.

Beneficiary – someone who benefits from a will, a trust or a life insurance policy.

Bigamy – the offence committed by someone who is already married but who goes through a marriage ceremony with someone else.

Bill of costs – the invoice a solicitor sends to a client giving details of any disbursements the solicitor has paid on behalf of the client, the fee the solicitor is charging and any expenses.

Binding over – an order by a court in a criminal case, when someone has misbehaved or broken the peace, when magistrates can bind them over. The magistrates can order them to pay a bond. This will be forfeited (won’t be repaid) if the binding over terms are broken.

Binding precedent – following the decisions made by higher courts. Lower courts must follow the precedents set by the decisions of higher courts.

Blackmail – demanding payment from a person in return for not revealing something shameful about them.

Bodily harm – physical injury or pain.

Bona fide – (Latin) genuine, sincere or in good faith.

Breach of contract – failing to carry out a duty under a contract.

Breach of duty – failing to carry out something which is required by law, or doing something the law forbids.

Brief – a document prepared by a solicitor which contains the instructions for the barrister to follow when acting for the solicitor in court.

Burden of proof – The burden of proving the guilt of the defendant lies on the prosecution, who must prove the particulars of the offence beyond reasonable doubt; the jury or magistrates should only convict if they are sure of the defendant’s guilt.  In civil cases the duty is to produce sufficient evidence to support an allegation or argument and  the burden of proving allegations is by a preponderance of evidence i.e. more likely than not.


CAFCASS – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. They represent children in family court cases in England. Their role is to advise the family courts about what is safe for children and in their best interests, put the needs, wishes and feelings of children first and make sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court.  See our advice about complaints against CAFCASS.

CAFCASS associate family court adviser – a self-employed social worker contracted by Cafcass to help manage case demand and complement the work of employed practitioners.  See our advice about complaints against CAFCASS.

CAFCASS family court adviser – a social worker who will be working directly with vulnerable children and families, to advise the family courts on the best course of action for the child or young person. They will provide case analysis and recommendations to the court.  See our advice about complaints against CAFCASS.

CAFCASS practice supervisor – provides advanced social work-level services to children, families and courts by assessing and analysing court applications for any child protection and serious welfare issues affecting a child or young person.  See our advice about complaints against CAFCASS.

Capacity – a person may lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions through mental illness or other impairment.  See our guidance on the Court of Protection.

Care order – a family court order instructing a local authority to care for a child and giving them  parental responsibility.  See our guidance on care proceedings.

Care proceedings – the court application for a Care Order.  See our guidance on care proceedings.

Causation – one thing being done causing something else to happen.

Caution – a caution can be given by the police to anyone aged 10 or over for minor crimes – for example writing graffiti. The accused has to admit an offence and agree to be cautioned and can be arrested and charged if they don’t agree. A caution is not a criminal conviction, but it could be used as evidence of bad character if the accused goes to court for another crime.

Caution upon arrest – must be given by the police to the arrested person and should be in the following terms: “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”  It is designed to ensure that people questioned by the police understand the possible consequences if they answer questions or stay silent.  See our guidance on police powers

Caveat emptor – (Latin) meaning ‘buyer beware’. It is used to warn people buying goods that they may not be able to get compensation if the goods they buy are faulty. It also applies to buying a property.

Chambers – the offices used by barristers and the judge’s private office.

Charge –  to formally accuse someone of committing a crime; to use property as security for a debt (such as a mortgage); or a direction given by a judge to tell the jury what they must do.

Charge sheet – the document on which the police record details of the accusations against a suspect. It lists the crimes alleged to have been committed.

Child in care – a child looked after by a local authority by virtue of a care order. The local authority takes on the responsibility for the children as if it was a parent.  See our guidance on care proceedings.

Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) – a type of assessment used by CAFCASS, in parental alienation cases.  See our opinion of the CIAF.

Children Act 1989 –  provides a comprehensive framework for the care and protection of children. It centres on the welfare of children up to their 18th birthday. It defines parental responsibility and encourages partnership working with parents.  See our guidance on care proceedings.

Children’s Guardian – This is the name applied to the CAFCASS worker when dealing with children in care proceedings. The guardian’s role is to ensure that local authority arrangements and decisions for and about children protect them, promote their welfare and are in their best interests.  See our guidance on care proceedings.

Chronology – a written timeline of significant events in chronological order.  See our advice on making records to create a chronology using ONRECORD.

Circuit Judge – a judge who presides over (is in charge of) cases in the Crown Court and county courts.

Circumstantial evidence – evidence which suggests a fact but does not prove the fact is true.

Citizen’s arrest – an arrest by someone who is not a police officer. The offence must be being committed or have already been committed when the arrest is made.

Civil court – hears cases that involve disputes between people or businesses over money or some injury to personal rights. Such a case usually begins when one person or business (called the “plaintiff”) claims to have been harmed by the actions of another person or business (called the “defendant”).

Civil proceedings – cases heard in the Civil court.

Civil procedure rules (CPR) – the rules of civil procedure used by the Court of Appeal, High Court of Justice, and County Courts in civil cases in England and Wales.

Claim – to apply for a right; to demand a remedy; or an application for something such as a right.

Claimant – the person making a claim.

Clerk to the justices – a solicitor or barrister advising the magistrates in court.

Coercive control – an act or a pattern of acts of assaults, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim, designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.  See our advice and guidance on coercive control in our section on domestic abuse.

Committal for sentence –  when magistrates have found someone guilty of a crime but they think their sentencing powers are not enough. The magistrates transfer the case to the Crown Court for sentencing by a judge where a higher sentence can be imposed.

Committal for trial – when magistrates look at the evidence in a case and then send the case to be heard in the Crown Court.

Committal order – an order used to send someone to prison for contempt of court.

Committal proceedings – a hearing where magistrates work out if there is enough evidence of a serious crime to justify a trial by jury in the Crown Court.

Common assault – when someone threatens another person with physical harm, even if they are not touched. This is a less serious type of assault.

Community Service order – an order to do work in the community without pay. If someone has been convicted of a crime they may be given a community service order as an alternative to being sent to prison.

Compensation recovery Unit (CRU) – as part of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), works with insurance companies, solicitors and any DWP customers, to recover: amounts of social security benefits paid as a result of an accident, injury or disease, if a compensation payment has been made (the Compensation Recovery Scheme) or costs incurred by NHS hospitals and Ambulance Trusts for treatment from injuries from road traffic accidents and personal injury claims (Recovery of NHS Charges)

Concurrent sentence – when someone is sentenced for different crimes and the sentences are to be served at the same time.

Conditional bail – bail with conditions attached, such as living at a particular address, not contacting certain people, giving your passport to the police so you cannot leave the UK, reporting to a police station at agreed times.  See our guidance on police powers

Conditional discharge – A court decision not to punish a criminal immediately for an offence but conditionally discharge instead. If the criminal reoffends the court may impose a punishment for the original offence as well as the later ones.

Conference with counsel – a meeting in advance of a hearing for a client to meet their barrister and to discuss their case.

Consecutive sentence – when someone is sentenced for different crimes and the sentences have to be served one after another.

Conspiracy – an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime; or some people acting together and harming a third party.

Constructive dismissal –  is where an employer has committed a serious breach of contract, entitling the employee to resign in response to the employer’s conduct. The employee is entitled to treat him or herself as having been “dismissed”, and the employer’s conduct is often referred to as a “repudiatory breach”.  See our advice about employment disputes.

Contempt of court – can be the offence of disobeying a court order; abusing a judge during a court case; or interfering in the administration of justice.

Contact – There is an expectation that where parents are separated and a child lives with one of them there is a reasonable amount of contact with the other parent.

Coroner – a person who investigates the cause of death when a person has suffered a sudden, violent or suspicious death.

Counsel – a barrister or group of barristers.

County court judge – a judge who presides over (is in charge of) cases in the county courts.

Court ‘bundle’ – A court bundle is a folder(s) which contains copies of all the documents which are considered relevant to a court case. The documents in the bundle are divided into separate sections each section being separately paginated and in chronological order, earliest first.  See our advice about how to make a court bundle if required.

Court directions – the court will give instructions to the parties on how they are to prepare the case. The instructions are known as “directions”. These will include things like the filing of statements, expert reports and the timetable of everything that needs to be done leading to another hearing or the final hearing.

Court of Protection – a court which administers (manages) the assets and affairs of people who cannot look after themselves, such as people who are mentally ill or impaired in some other way. The Court of Protection in English law is a superior court of record created under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It has jurisdiction over the property, financial affairs and personal welfare of people who lack mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.  See our full guidance on the Court of Protection.

Crime – an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law.

Criminal injuries compensation authority (CICA) –  deals with compensation claims from people who have been physically or mentally injured because they were the victim of a violent crime in England, Scotland or Wales.

Cross-examination – Questioning of a witness by a party other than the party who called the witness.

Crown court – a court where people indicted (see indictment below) of criminal offences are tried.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – The organisation that prosecutes criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

Curfew – a court ordering someone to stay at a named place at stated times of the day.

Custody – Now this is referred to as residency, as part of a child arrangements order. This term refers to the child’s main residence following a breakup.

Custody is also when the police hold a suspect before they have to charge or release them.

Custody Suite – the place in a police station where suspects are held following arrest. This area will include the arrival section, cells, interview rooms and offices for the custody sergeant and other police personnel.  See our guidance on police powers


Damages – money awarded by a court as compensation.

Defence – the name for the team of people defending someone in a criminal case.

Also, in a civil case a written statement (pleading) by the defendant setting out the facts that the defence will rely on.

Defence barrister – a barrister representing the accused in a criminal trial.

Defence counsel – same as a defence barrister.

Defendant – a person defending a court action which has been taken against them e.g. the accused in a criminal case or in a civil case where the applicant is called a claimant (plaintiff)  and the other party is the defendant.

Deposition – a statement, by a witness, made under oath.

Directions – the court will give instructions to the parties on how they are to prepare the case. Each instruction is known as a direction. Combined they are ‘directions’.

Directions Hearing – a hearing in the family court for the judge to review the case and consider whether there needs to be any further information or action taken by the parties, CAFCASS or anyone else, leading to directions being made.  See our advice about family court hearings.

Disbursements – a payment made by a professional person, such as a solicitor or accountant, on behalf of a client. The money is claimed back by including it on the bill for professional services which is sent to the client.

Disclosure – in criminal law, disclosure is providing the defence with copies or access to all material that is capable of undermining the prosecution case and/or assisting the defence.

In civil law the procedure when each party may be required to collect and review potentially relevant documents and then state to the other parties (usually in a formal List) the disclosable documents which exist or have existed.

Discovery – one party in a civil case revealing to the other party the documents relevant to the case (as in disclosure above) under the first party’s control and allowing them to be inspected.

Discrimination – being treated unfairly or differently because of factors such as disability, race, religion or belief, sex or sexuality.  See our advice about employment disputes.

Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) – this is a hearing before the final hearing when all the evidence is available to make a decision.  The purpose is to try to resolve as many issues as possible so as to do without the final hearing or shorten it if possible.  See our advice about family court hearings.

Divorce – the legal end to a marriage.

Divorce petition – an application for the legal ending of a marriage.

Domestic abuse – domestic abuse is a term used to describe a form of abuse in one’s domestic circle, often by a family member, partner or loved one.  It’s a reason for divorce.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, we have information on our website offering help and advice.  Read our ‘How to prove domestic abuse’ page and our general advice on domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme (DAPP) – CAFCASS might in some cases assess the suitability of a parent to attend this programme, which aims to help people who have been abusive towards their partners or ex-partners to change their behaviour and develop respectful, non-abusive relationships.

Read our ‘How to prove domestic abuse’ page and our general advice on domestic abuse.

Domestic violence – a term used to describe domestic abuse in the form of physical violence by someone in one’s domestic circle.  It’s a reason for divorce.


Emotional abuse – a term used to describe domestic abuse which affects a person emotionally rather than physically.  It’s a reason for divorce.  Read our advice on emotional abuse and how to prove it.

Enduring power of attorney – a power of attorney which takes effect in the future. If a person is capable of dealing with their own affairs at present, they can sign an enduring power of attorney. It will only come into effect when they are no longer capable of looking after their own affairs. It gives authority to the person appointed to act for the person who signed the power of attorney.  See our guidance on the Court of Protection.

Evidence – solid reasons for believing that something has or hasn’t happened. That which tends to prove or disprove something.  See our advice on making records which serve as evidence of things that have happened, using ONRECORD

Examination in chief – The evidence given by a witness for the party who called him.

Exhibits – are things like letters, emails, photos which need to be “exhibited” to a witness statement where you want to prove something. There are strict rules about this which must be complied with.

In criminal cases they can be things like a weapon used in an attack, stolen items recovered from a property or drugs found in a house raid all of which might need to be produced during a court hearing.

See how using ONRECORD allows you to attach exhibits to your record of events.

Ex parte – (Latin) done by one side only in a case. Often referred time as ‘without notice’. Commonly this happens when a non molestation order is sought urgently without the other party being told.

Expert witness – an expert in a particular field who is called to give an opinion in a court case.


Fact Finding Hearing – a type of court hearing that considers allegations made and whether they are true. After having heard the evidence, the judge will decide whether the alleged incidents happened or not. Most commonly, these allegations concern domestic abuse, neglect, emotional and physical harm and violence.  See our advice about family court hearings and on care proceedings.

Fair dismissal – You must have a valid reason for dismissing an employee.  See our advice on employment disputes.  Valid reasons for dismissal include: their conduct or capability; redundancy; something that prevents them from legally being able to do their job, for example a driver losing their driving licence. There could be other fair reasons too, sometimes called ‘other substantial reasons’. In these circumstances though an employer must act reasonably.

Family court adviser – a social worker working for CAFCASS who you will be working directly with vulnerable children and families, to advise the family courts on the best course of action for the child or young person. They will provide case analysis and recommendations to the court.  See our advice about disputes with CAFCASS.

Filing – when you send an application or anything else you’re required to produce to the court where it’s placed on their file.

Final Hearing – a hearing at which the judge makes the final decision.  See our advice about family court hearings.

Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) appointment – a hearing to encourage parties to a divorce to come to an agreement about their finances.  See our advice about family court hearings.

First Appointment/First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) – this only applies to children cases.  It is a hearing where the court will consider the application for the first time, to find out the parties’ positions.  See our advice about family court hearings.

Fraud – lying or deceiving to make a profit or gain an advantage, or to cause someone else to make a loss or suffer a disadvantage.  Find out more about fraud


Gaslighting – a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group secrectly sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their memory, perception or judgement.  See our guidance and advice about gaslighting.

General Damages – are awarded to compensate for the direct effects of an accident, where the claimant’s injuries can be clearly linked to the defendant’s actions or behaviour.

Grooming – is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked.

Grooming gangs – groups of individuals who work together to groom children and young people.


Habeas corpus – a writ which can be applied for to order a person’s release if they have been imprisoned unlawfully.

Harassment –  behaviour ‘causing alarm or distress’ and also the more serious offence of ‘putting people in fear of violence’ which are both offences under Section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act.  See our guidance on harassment and how to prove it.

Harassment of debtors – the illegal act of attempting to collect a debt by threatening, or habitually acting in a way that humiliates or distresses, a debtor.

Harassment of occupiers – the illegal act by a landlord of using, or threatening to use, violence, or interfering with the tenant’s enjoyment of the property, in an attempt to repossess the property.  See our guidance on landlords and tenant disputes.

Hearsay evidence –  is something heard, but not known to be a fact. There are strict rules about whether hearsay evidence can be admitted as evidence in court.

Hostile witness – a witness who refuses to testify in support of the people who called them; or testifies in a way which differs from their previous statement.


In camera – a hearing held in private.

In curia – In open court; before a formally constituted tribunal.

Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) – is independent of the police, government and interest groups. They investigate the most serious and sensitive incidents and allegations involving the police in England and Wales. Most complaints about the police are dealt with by the relevant police force. Each force has a separate department that oversees complaints. These are called ‘professional standards departments’ (PSDs).  See our advice about complaining about the police

Indictment – the document containing the charges against the defendant for trial in the Crown Court.

Informed consent – permission granted in full knowledge of the possible consequences, typically that which is given by a patient to a doctor for treatment with knowledge of the possible risks and benefits.

Instructing – authorising a lawyer to represent you. An instruction describes the type of work that you want them to do.

Intimidation – threatening or frightening someone. Another word for harassment.

Issuing a claim – starting a claim at court eg a person is owed money and they complete a claim form at Court and pay the appropriate court fee.


Joint and several liability – two or more people responsible for repaying a debt. They are each responsible individually to repay all the debt as well as being responsible as a group.

Joint settlement meeting – is a meeting held to discuss a case, with a view to achieving a settlement. Either side can propose holding a joint settlement meeting once court proceedings have started on a case.

Judge – a person whose job is to adjudicate in court cases. The Crown and the Prime Minister appoint judges. Most are barristers but some are solicitors.

Judges chambers – a judge’s chambers is the office of a judge, where the judge may hear certain types of cases, instead of in open court.

Judgment – a decision by a court

Junior barrister – a barrister who is not a Queen’s Counsel.

Jurisdiction – the territory in which a court can operate; the power it has to deal with particular cases; or the power it has to issue orders.

Juror – one of the people in a jury.

Jury – a group of people (usually 12) who review all the evidence in a criminal court case and then come to a verdict.

Justice of the peace (JP) – a person appointed by the Crown to act as a magistrate.

Juvenile offender – a person aged between 10 and 17 who has committed a criminal offence.


Kerb crawling – the offence committed in a street or public place by a man in a motor vehicle (or near a vehicle he has just got out of) who approaches a woman for sexual services in return for money.

Kidnap – to take someone away by force against their will.

King’s Bench Division – part of the High Court. Its main function is to deal with civil cases.

King’s Counsel (KC)  – a barrister who has been chosen by the Lord Chancellor to serve as counsel to the Crown. A Queen’s Counsel is more senior than other barristers.

King’s evidence – evidence for the prosecution given by someone who is also accused of the crime being tried in the criminal court.

Knock for knock – an agreement between insurance companies that they will pay for their own policyholders’ losses regardless of who was to blame.


Law report –  is a record of a judicial decision on a point of law which sets a precedent. Not all decisions taken in a court of law set a precedent though. The All England Law Reports provide an up-to-date archive of cases heard by the Supreme Court, the Privy Council, both divisions of the Court of Appeal and all divisions of the High Court.

Lawyer – a general term used to describe people who provide legal services. NB unlike terms such as solicitor or barrister, lawyer has no defined meaning in UK law. Anyone can call themselves a lawyer, regardless of whether they have any professional legal qualifications or not.

Leading question – a question which suggests the answer to be given; or assumes things to be true which in fact are disputed.

Letters of administration – an authority the courts give to a person to deal with a dead person’s estate. It is given when someone dies intestate (without a will)

Legal action – using the law to make a claim.

Legal Aid – a scheme for paying legal costs out of public funds for people who cannot afford to pay for them. Read more about legal aid here

Legal aid agency – provides civil and criminal legal aid and advice in England and Wales to help people deal with their legal problems.

Legal professional privilege – is the right which attaches to certain types of confidential communication. This prevents such communication between lawyers and their clients from being disclosed, even in court.

Liability – a debt or obligation.

Limitation period – The period within which a person who has a right to claim must start court proceedings to establish that right. The expiry of the period may be a defence to the claim.

Litigant in Person (LIP) – someone who is not represented in court.  See our extensive guidance on preparing evidence and representing yourself in court as a Litigant in Person.


Magistrate – a Justice of the Peace who presides over (is in charge of) cases heard in the magistrates’ court.

Magistrates Court – the lowest court dealing with less serious adult criminal cases, most criminal cases involving 10- to 17-year-olds, issuing alcoholic drink licences and hearing children cases.

Maintenance – money paid (and things paid for) to support a partner (husband or wife) and children when a marriage has failed.

Majority – the age when a person gains full legal rights and responsibilities. In the UK it is when a person reaches 18 years old.

Matrimonial causes – the court proceedings to divorce people; to separate a married couple; or to dissolve a marriage.

Matrimonial home – the house that a husband and wife live in as a married couple.

McKenzie friend –  someone to help you in the family court by taking notes and giving advice, but they usually cannot speak for you; interfere with proceedings; sign documents on your behalf. The judge will decide whether you can have a McKenzie friend with you in court. A McKenzie friend can ask the court to grant him or her a right of audience which will allow him or her to appear before the judge, address the court and call and examine witnesses. There are very strict rules in place which regulate the exercise of the right of audience.  See our advice about family court hearings.

Mediation – help from an independent person (a mediator) to solve differences between a husband and wife whose marriage has broken down. The mediator helps them to agree what should be done about their children, money and so on.

Mediator – is a facilitator but has no power to render a resolution to the conflict.

Medical expert – A witness tendered to offer opinion evidence within the confines of his or her area of medical expertise.

Mens rea – the intent to commit a crime and also the knowledge that an act is wrong. ( Latin.)

Mental abuse – is a type of domestic abuse which could include intimidation, threats, criticism, undermining and being made to feel guilty.  The effect is on the mind of the victim rather than being physical.  Mental abuse is a reason for divorce.  See our general guidance on mental abuse.  We also give advice on how to prove domestic abuse

Ministry of Justice – The Ministry of Justice is a major government department, at the heart of the justice system. They work to protect and advance the principles of justice.

Minor – someone who has not yet reached the age when they get full legal rights and responsibilities. In the UK this is a person under 18 years old.

Minority – being under the age of full legal rights and responsibilities.

Miscarriage of justice – the court system failing to give justice to someone.

Misdirection – a judge instructing a jury wrongly.

Misrepresentation –  lying to persuade someone to enter into a contract.

Mitigation – putting facts to a judge, after someone has been found guilty, to justify a lower sentence.

Molestation – behaviour by a person including violence, abuse, verbal threats and written threats.  Molestation is usually a form of domestic abuse.  See our general advice about domestic abuse and how to prove it.

Money laundering – making money from crime and then passing it through a business to make it appear legitimate.


Negligence – lack of proper care to fulfil a duty.

Nondisclosure – the failure by one side to disclose (reveal) a fact to the other side that would influence their decision.

Not guilty – a court’s verdict that the person charged with a crime did not commit it. When criminal court cases start the defendants are asked for their pleas. If they want to deny they committed the offence they plead not guilty. If a court’s verdict is that the prosecution has not proved the defendant committed a crime, the defendant has been found not guilty.

Notice to quit – a notice to end a tenancy on a stated date. It is usually sent by the landlord to the tenant although the tenant can also send one to the landlord.  See our guidance on landlords and tenant disputes.

Nuisance – doing something that harms other people’s rights eg noise nuisance and anti social behaviour.  See our guidance on landlords and tenant disputes.


Oath – swearing the truth of a statement.

Obligation – a legal duty to do something.

Obstruction – a motoring offence involving leaving a vehicle or other obstruction in a road,or driving in a way which inconveniences other road users.

Occupier – the person who is in control of a piece of land, such as a tenant.  See our guidance on landlords and tenant disputes.

Offensive weapon – an object that is intended to physically injure someone.

Official solicitor – an officer of the Supreme Court whose duties include acting for people who cannot act for themselves, such as children or people with mental health problems.

Order – an instruction by or command of a court.

Overt act – an act done openly and from which the criminal intention of the act is clear.


Panel – a list of people who have been summoned for jury service.

Pardon – releasing someone from a court’s punishment. The Crown has the right to alter, cancel or reduce the penalties imposed by the courts.

Parole – release from prison early. If someone is given parole they may be returned to prison if they offend again.

Pain, suffering and loss of amenity – pain, suffering and loss of amenity is another term for general damages. This head of damage is intended to compensate the Claimant not only for the pain and suffering caused by the injury but also for the impact of the injury on the Claimant’s enjoyment of life.

Parental Alienation and parental alienation syndrome – in parental alienation one parent engages in an emotionally manipulative strategy to try to convince the child that the other parent is bad and doesn’t love or care about them.  Parental alienation syndrome describes the child’s behaviour in response to the alienation and is a sign of harm to the child.  See more on parental alienation here and how to prove it.

Particulars of claim – Under the Civil Procedure Rules, a document setting out the case of the claimant and specifying the facts relied upon. The particulars of claim are either contained in the claim form or served on the defendant with the claim form (or within a specified period)

Party(ies) to a case – the claimant (‘plaintiff’ before April 1999) or defendant in a civil lawsuit. It is also someone who has taken out a contract or agreement. In a divorce the parties are petitioner and respondent. In proceedings relating to children the parties are applicants and respondents.

Penalty points – points given by a court as punishment for driving offences. If enough penalty points have been collected the offenders may have their driving licences taken off them ie be disqualified from driving for a specified period.

Performance – doing what is required under a contract.

Perjury – lying to a court after you have been sworn in.

Personal representative – a person who is appointed to deal with a dead person’s estate. If there is a will, the executors appointed will be the personal representatives. If there is no will, the courts will appoint someone called the administrator.

Perverting the course of justice – doing something to interfere with the justice system eg misleading the court or intimidating witnesses.

Petitioner –  is the party who presents a divorce petition to the court. The person receiving it is the respondent.

Plaintiff – the person who goes to court to make a civil claim against someone else. (Since April 1999, this term has been replaced with ‘Claimant’.)

Plead – to declare to the court whether you are guilty or not guilty.

Pleadings – statements of the facts prepared by both sides in a civil case. Each side gives the other its pleadings so that they are both aware of what arguments will be used during the trial. (This term was replaced with statement of case in April 1999).

Police caution – can be given to anyone aged 10 or over for minor crimes – for example writing graffiti. The accused has to admit an offence and agree to be cautioned and can be arrested and charged if they don’t agree. A caution is not a criminal conviction, but it could be used as evidence of bad character if he accused goes to court for another crime.  Also see caution upon arrest.

Police community support officer (PCSO) – their role is to reduce crime, fear and antisocial behaviour in a community. They aim to provide a visible and reassuring presence. They provide crime prevention advice, supporting crime victims and reassuring the public. They do not have powers of arrest, cannot interview or process prisoners, cannot investigate crime and do not carry out the more complex and high-risk tasks that police officers perform.  Read more about the powers of the police

Police officer – is a warranted employee of a police force. They have powers of arrest, can interview and process prisoners, investigate crime and carry out the more complex and high-risk tasks of the police.

Police stop and search – read about the police powers to stop and search here

Position statement – is a short written statement, usually 1 or 2 sides of A4 paper, which sets out the position of a party in a court hearing.  See our advice about what to put in a position statement.

Post-mortem – the examination of a dead body to establish the cause of death.

Power of arrest – read about the police powers of arrest here

Power of attorney – a document which gives power to the person appointed by it to act for the person who signed the document.  See our guidance about the Court of Protection.

Practice directions – directions given by judges on matters of court practice and procedure. They are published in law reports and on relevant government websites.

Practising certificate – certificates showing a person is entitled to practise law. Every year the Law Society issues certificates to the solicitors who can practise law.

Precedent – lower courts have to follow the decisions of the higher courts. This is called precedent, binding precedent or judicial precedent.

Preliminary hearing at an employment tribunal – takes place before a main employment tribunal hearing. It helps the judge understand the case and make arrangements for the main hearing. They don’t happen for every case. At a preliminary hearing the judge could: decide when the main employment tribunal hearing will be; discuss specific parts of the case; decide whether any of the  claims or the employer’s responses should not be discussed at the main hearing (this means that they are ‘struck out’); agree for a Judicial Assessment to take place (an informal assessment of your case before the main hearing).  See our advice about employment disputes.

Privilege – the right of someone to refuse to disclose or produce a document or to answer questions based on legally recognised circumstances.

Probate – authority to deal with a dead person’s estate. When someone has died and left a will, the executors of the estate apply to the court for this authority.

Probate Registry – a registry which deals with the forms which are needed when someone applies for probate.

Probation – If a court convicts someone of an offence, the court may order that the offender is supervised by a probation officer for a period of at least six months but for no more than three years. This is known as probation and it is an alternative to sending the person to prison.

Prohibited steps order – a family court order to stop a parent from making a decision about a child’s upbringing.

Promissory note – a written promise to pay an amount of money to someone at a given time.

Proof of evidence –  is a written summary of what a witness will say in evidence during a hearing.

Prosecution – the name for the team of people (lawyers and so on) bringing proceedings against someone else. Also when legal proceedings are taken against someone it is called a prosecution.

Prosecutor – the person who brings legal proceedings, on behalf of the Crown, against the accused.

PSD – professional standards department. Each police force has a separate department that oversees complaints.

Psychiatrist – medical practitioner specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Psychologist – provides assessment and therapy to clients, help facilitate organisational or social change, conduct psychological research, or administer psychological tests to individuals or groups. They are not medical practitioners.

Putative father – the man found by a court to be the father of an illegitimate child.


Quantum of damages – the amount of damages that a person is seeking or that the court has awarded.


Race discrimination – Race discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of colour, nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins. It occurs when you are treated unfairly because of your race, or because of the race of someone else you are connected to, for example, your partner (otherwise know as race discrimination by association). Read how to prove race discrimination here

Rape – having sexual intercourse with a person without their permission (such as if they were asleep or unconscious) or forcing them to have sex against their will.

Reasonable force – necessary force. Reasonable force is a complex issue but essentially use of some force must be necessary to defend your property or yourself and the force used must be in proportion to the threat.

Receiving – taking control of stolen property. A person who does this is a receiver or also known colloquially as a fence.  See more about receiving in our guidance on theft

Re-examination – subsequent examination. After cross-examination, counsel calling a witness may wish to re-examine him, being limited to clearing up points left in doubt; if re-examination discloses some new matter, the court may permit further cross-examination.

Remedy – using the law to get compensation for damage done or for rights infringed. Also, a remedy can be using the law to prevent something from happening.

Reply – a claimant’s (‘plaintiff’ before April 1999) answer to a claim. In a civil case the defendant may offer a defence to the claim, or even make a counterclaim.

Repossession – a mortgagee recovering vacant possession of a property mortgaged.

Representation – acting on behalf of someone else (such as a solicitor acting for a client); taking someone else’s place (such as when a court gives an executor the right to deal with a dead person’s affairs); or a statement in a contract.

Resisting arrest – a person trying to prevent the police arresting him or her. A charge could be made of obstructing a police officer in the course of duty.

Respondent – the person an action is being taken against.

Restraining order – an order which a court may issue to prevent a person from doing a particular thing. For example, if someone has been harassing another person, the court may order that the harassment must stop.

Review Hearing – a hearing for the judge to review the child arrangements since the last order was made and to consider whether to amend the order.  See our advice about family court hearings.

Right of audience –  is a right to appear and conduct proceedings in court.


Schedule of loss – a document setting out how much you want a tribunal to award you if you win your claim in an Employment Tribunal. It sets out the money you’re actually owed and also includes compensation for things such as the amount of time you’ve had to spend out of work, or your loss of employment rights.  See our advice about employment disputes.

Search warrant – a warrant issued by a magistrate, or High Court judge, to allow police officers to search premises.

Sentence – the penalty the court imposes on someone found guilty of an offence.

Service of proceedings – Steps required by rules of court to bring documents used in court proceedings to a person’s attention.

Single joint expert – is an expert instructed to prepare a report for the Court on behalf of two or more of the parties (including the applicant or claimant) to the proceedings.

Single joint instruction – the instruction of the single joint expert by means of a single letter of instruction.

Solicitor – a person who can deal with legal matters for the public and give advice on legal matters. All solicitors are listed on the roll of solicitors kept by the Law Society.

Solicitor advocate – the title used by a solicitor who is qualified to represent clients as an advocate in the higher courts in England and Wales or in Scotland.

Special damages – are awarded to compensate for actual out-of-pocket expenses that a claimant has incurred as a direct result of the defendant’s actions or behaviour eg loss of income, medical expenses or travel expenses.

Specific issue order –  a family court order relating to a specific question about how a child is being brought up, for example what school they should attend, if they should have religious or non religious education, whether their name should change, whether they should have a particular medical treatment or operation, whether they should live abroad on a permanent basis.

Stalking – the name given to a form of harassment where a person is made to feel alarmed or distressed by another person’s actions. The prosecution has to prove that a reasonable person would have known that the behaviour would create distress or fear. The harassment must have happened on at least two occasions.  See our guidance on stalking and how to prove it.

Statement – a witness statement must: Start with the name of the case and the claim number; State the full name and address of the witness; Set out the witness’s evidence clearly in numbered paragraphs on numbered pages; End with this paragraph: “I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true. I understand that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.”; and be signed by the witness and dated.

Statute – an Act of Parliament

Statutory instrument – a power delegated by Parliament. Parliament can delegate its power to make and amend law to a person or organisation. A statutory instrument is one of these powers and is used by government ministers to amend legislation.

Statement of truth – must be set out at the end of a witness statement   “I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true. I understand that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.”

Stipendiary Magistrate – a magistrate who gets a salary.

Stop and search – read about the police power to stop and search here

Subject access request (SAR) – a written request made by or on behalf of an individual for the information which he or she is entitled to ask for under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The request does not have to be in any particular form.

Subject to contract – an agreement which is not binding until a contract has been signed.

Sub judice – (Latin) describes something being dealt with by a court which cannot be discussed outside the court.

Subpoena – a writ requiring the person it is addressed to to attend at a specific place (such as a court) on a specific date and at a stated time.

Summary dismissal – is when an employee is dismissed instantly without notice or pay in lieu of notice, usually because of gross misconduct (for example theft, fraud, violence). The employer must follow a fair procedure though.  See our advice about employment disputes.

Summary judgment – obtaining judgement without a trial. In an action in the High Court to recover damages or a debt, if the claimant (‘plaintiff’ before April 1999) swears an affidavit that it is believed that there is no defence to the claim, the claimant (‘plaintiff’ before April 1999) can obtain summary judgement.

Summary offence – an offence that can only be tried by magistrates. Most minor offences are summary offences.

Summary proceedings – a trial by magistrates, where the defendant has the right to choose which court should hear the case, but has agreed to be tried in the magistrates’ court.

Summary trial – a trial by magistrates.

Summing up – the judge’s summary of a case. At the end of a trial by jury the judge explains points of law in the case to the jury, explains the jury’s role and summarises the evidence.

Summons – an order by a court that a person attend at a particular court at a stated time on a particular date.

Superior Courts – the higher courts in English law, which include the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Crown Court and the House of Lords. Their decisions act as precedents for the lower courts to follow.

Supervision order – a court order that a child should be supervised by a probation officer or a local authority.  See our guidance on care proceedings.

Suspended sentence – a sentence that is postponed for a fixed period until the offender is convicted of another offence.


Taxation of costs – the scrutiny of and, if necessary, the lowering of a solicitor’s bill to a client. The scrutiny is done by a court officer.

Testator – a person who makes a will

Testify – to give evidence

Testimony – the evidence a witness gives in court

Transcript – the official record of a court case.

Trial – an examination of the evidence in a case and the law which applies.

Tribunal –  (Latin) a body, made up of 3 people, set up to act like a court, but outside the normal court system; a forum to hear disputes and with the authority to settle them; a body given power by statute to discipline members of a profession who do not keep to the high standards of behaviour demanded of members of the profession; or a body set up by the members of an association to police the members’ actions.

Trust – a financial arrangement under which property is held by named people for someone else.

Trustee – a person who holds property and looks after it on behalf of someone else.

Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) –  Regulations which preserve employees’ terms and conditions when a business (or part of a business) is transferred from one owner to another.


Ultra vires – (Latin) beyond one’s powers. If an organisation does something ultra vires, what it has done is invalid.

Undertaking – a promise which can be enforced by law such as a promise made by one of the parties or by their counsel during legal proceedings.

Unfair dismissal – sacking an employee unfairly. When an employee has been dismissed it is the employer’s responsibility to prove that the dismissal was fair. If an industrial tribunal finds that the dismissal was unfair it can insist on compensation or reinstatement.  See our advice about employment disputes.

Unreasonable behaviour – behaviour by a married person that justifies the other partner in the marriage getting a divorce.


Verbal abuse – Verbal abuse is a term used to describe being abused in spoken words.

Verdict – the decision at the end of a criminal case.

Vexatious litigant – a person who regularly brings court cases which have little chance of succeeding.

Vicarious liability – a situation where someone becomes responsible under the law for wrongs done by someone else. This often happens when an employee does something wrong while at work which becomes the employer’s responsibility (such as an employee working negligently and causing someone else to be hurt because of the negligence).


Warrant –  a magistrate’s written instruction to arrest someone; or a magistrate’s written instruction to search a property.  Read more about police powers here

Welfare checklist – is a legal list of considerations related to decision making in family law, set out in the Children Act 1989

Without prejudice – when written on a document, the document cannot be used as evidence that a contract or agreement exists

Witness – someone who watches a signature being put on a document and then signs as well to verify the signature’s authenticity; or attends court to testify about events they know

Witness intimidation –  is when an attempt is made to threaten or persuade a witness not to give evidence to the police or courts, or to give evidence in a way that is favourable to the defendant. In most cases, the offender will be the defendant or the defendant’s family or friends.

Witness a document – to watch it being signed and then add your own signature and name, address and occupation.

Witness statement –  a witness statement must: Start with the name of the case and the claim number; State the full name and address of the witness; Set out the witness’s evidence clearly in numbered paragraphs on numbered pages; End with this paragraph: “I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true. I understand that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.”; and be signed by the witness and dated.

Witness summons – Where either party to proceedings believes a witness may not attend court voluntarily, they can apply for a witness summons to be issued (an order issued to a person outlining the specific date for their appearance in court).A witness summons can take two forms: a witness summons requiring a person to give evidence; and a witness summons requiring a person to produce documents that are needed as evidence.

Words of art – words which have a fixed meaning in law so that their use in a legal document can have only one interpretation.

Wrongful dismissal – ending an employee’s contract without following the contract’s terms.  See our advice about employment disputes.


Young offender –  a child between the ages of 10 and 17 who is tried differently than an adult. They are usually tried in Youth Courts and if found guilty, may serve their sentence in a Young Offenders’ Institution.