Legal Latin Terms

A number of Latin terms are used in legal terminology and legal maxims. This is a partial list of these “legal Latin” terms, which are wholly or substantially drawn from Latin.


Term or phrase Literal translation Definition and use English pronunciation
a fortiori from stronger An 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 thoro from table and bed Divorce a mensa et thoro indicates legal separation without legal divorce. /ˌ ˈmɛnsə ɛtˈθɔər/
a posteriori from later An argument derived from subsequent event /ˌˌpɒstɪəri.ɔər/
a priori from earlier An argument derived from previous event /ˌ pr.ɔər/
a quo from which Regarding a court below in an apppeal, either a court of first instance or an appellate court, known as the court a quo. /ˌ ˈkw/
ab extra from outside Concerning a case, a person may have received some funding from a 3rd party. This funding may have been considered ab extra. /ˌæb ˈɛkstrə/
ab initio from 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.”[1] /ˌæb ɪˈnɪʃi./
absque hoc without this “Presenting the negative portion of a plea when pleading at common by way a special traverse.”[1]
Actori incumbit probatio On the plaintiff rests the proving The burden of proof falls to the plaintiff, claimant, or petitioner according to Roman law.
actus reus guilty act Part of what proves criminal liability (with mens rea) /ˌæktəs ˈr.əs/
ad coelum to the sky Abbreviated 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 bona to collect the goods
ad hoc for this Generally 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 hominem at the person Attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument. /ˌædˈhɒmɨnɛm/
ad idem to the same thing In agreement. /ˌæd ˈdəm/
ad infinitum to infinity To continue forever. /ˌæd ɪnfɨˈntəm/
ad litem for the case Describes 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 damnum according to the harm Used in tort law. Implies that the reward or penalty ought to correspond to the damage suffered or inflicted.
ad valorem according to value /ˌæd vəˈlɔərɛm/
adjournment sine die adjournment without a day When an assembly adjourns without setting a date for its next meeting. /ˌsn ˈd./
affidavit he has sworn A formal statement of fact. /ˌæfɨˈdvɨt/
alter ego another I A second identity living within a person.
amicus curiae friend of the court A person who offers information to a court regarding a case before it. /əˈmkəsˈkjʊəri./
animus contrahendi contractual intent Intention to contract
animus nocendi intention to harm The 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 possidendi intention 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)”[2]
animus revertendi intention to return “Wild animals, such as bees and homing pigeons, that by habit go ‘home’ to their possessor. Used when discussing ferae naturae.”[2]
ante before
(in) arguendo for the sake of argument
Audi alteram partem hear the other side Refers to the idea that one cannot be fairly judged unless the cases for and against them have been heard.
bona fide in good faith. Implies sincere good intention regardless of outcome. /ˈbnə ˈfd/
bona vacantia ownerless goods
Cadit quaestio The question falls Indicates that a settlement to a dispute or issue has been reached, and the issue is now resolved.
Casus belli Case of war The justification for acts of war. /ˈksəs ˈbɛl/
casus fortuitus fortuitous event Force majeure, specifically a man-made inevitable accident (e.g. riots, strikes, civil war); ex: When 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.
Caveat May he beware When used by itself, refers to a qualification, or warning.
Caveat emptor Let the buyer beware In 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.ætˈɛmptɔr/
Certiorari To be apprised A type of writ seeking judicial review. /ˌsɜrʃi.əˈrɛər/,/ˌsɜrʃi.əˈrɛər/
Ceteris paribus With other things the same More commonly rendered in English as “All other things being equal.” /ˌsɛtərɨsˈpærɨbəs/
cogitationis poenam nemo patitur Nobody suffers punishment for mere intent
communio bonorum Community of property The aggregate of marital property under a community property matrimonial regime.
compensatio morae Balance of delay Delay in payment or performance on the part of both the debtor and the creditor
compos mentis Having command of mind Of sound mind. Also used in the negative “Non compos mentis”, meaning “Not of sound mind”. /ˈkɒmpɒsˈmɛntɨs/
Condicio sine qua non A condition without which it could not be An indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient.
consensus ad idem Agreement to the same Meeting of the minds, mutual assent, or concurrence of wills. Parties must be of one mind and their promises must relate to the same subject or object[3] Also consensus in idem.
consensus facit legem Consensus makes the law Stipulates 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 servatur Custom is held as law Where no laws apply to a given situation, the customs of the place and time will have the force of law.
contra Against Used in case citations to indicate that the cited source directly contradicts the point being made.
contra bonos mores Against good morals Contracts so made are generally illegal and unenforceable.
contra legem Against the law Used when a court or tribunal hands down a decision that is contrary to the laws of the governing state.
Contradictio in adjecto Contradiction in itself A contradiction in terms.
contra proferentem Against the one bringing forth Used 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 judice Before one who is not a judge Refers to a legal proceeding without a judge, or with a judge who does not have proper jurisdiction.
corpus delicti Body of the crime A person cannot be convicted of a crime, unless it can be proven that the crime was even committed. /ˈkɔrpəs dɨˈlɪkt/
corpus juris Body of law The complete collection of laws of a particular jurisdiction or court. /ˈkɔrpəsˈʊərɨs/
corpus juris civilis Body of civil law The complete collection of civil laws of a particular jurisdiction or court. Also sometimes used to refer to the Code of Justinian. /ˈkɔrpəsˈʊərɨs sɨˈvlɨs/
corpus juris gentium Body of the law of nations The complete collection of international law.
corpus juris secundum An encyclopedia of US law drawn from US Federal and State court decisions.
crimen falsi Crime of falsifying Forgery.
cui bono As 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 inferos For whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven and down to Hell Used in reference to the rights of property owners to the air above, and land below, their property.
de bonis asportatis Carrying goods away Specifies that larceny was taking place in addition to any other crime named. E.g. “trespass de bonis asportatis”.
debellatio Warring down Complete annihilation of a warring party, bringing about the end of the conflict.
de bonis non administratis Of goods not administered Assets 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 diem From day to day Generally refers to a type of labor in which the worker is paid fully at the completion of each day’s work.
de facto In fact Literally “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 futuro Concerning the future At a future date.
de integro Concerning the whole Often used to mean “start it all over”, in the context of “repeat de integro”.
de jure According to law Literally “from law”; something that is established in law, whether or not it is true in general practice. Cf. de facto.
de lege ferenda Of the law as it should be Used in the context of “how the law should be”, such as for proposed legislation.
de lege lata Of the law as it is Concerning the law as it exists, without consideration of how things should be.
delegatus non potest delegare That which has been delegated, cannot delegate [further]
de minimis About the smallest things Various legal areas concerning small amounts or small degrees.
de minimis non curat lex The 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 bonum Of the dead, [speak] nothing unless good Social convention that it is inappropriate to speak ill of the recently deceased, even if they were an enemy.
de novo Anew Often used in the context of “trial de novo”—a new trial ordered when the previous one failed to reach a conclusion.
defalcation Cutting off with a sickle Misappropriation of funds by one entrusted with them.
deorum injuriae diis curae The gods take care of injuries to the gods Blasphemy is a crime against the State, rather than against God.
dictum (thing) said A statement given some weight or consideration due to the respect given the person making it.
doli incapax Incapable of guilt Presumption that young children or persons with diminished mental capacity cannot form the intent to commit a crime.
dolus specialis Specific deceit Heavily used in the context of genocide in international law.
domitae naturae Tame by nature Tame or domesticated animal. Also called mansuetae naturae. Opposite of ferae naturae (below)
donatio mortis causa Deathbed gift Gift causa mortis; “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.”[2]
dramatis personae Persons of the drama
dubia in meliorem partem interpretari debent Doubtful things should be interpreted in the best way Often spoken as “to give the benefit of the doubt.”
duces tecum Bring with you A “subpoena duces tecum” is a summons to produce physical evidence for a trial.
ei incumbit probatio qui dicit Proof lies on him who asserts. The concept that one is innocent until proven guilty.
ejusdem generis Of 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 nomine By that name.
erga omnes Towards all. Refers to rights or obligations that are owed towards all.
ergo Therefore
erratum Having been made in error.
et al. And others Abbreviation of et alii, meaning “and others”.
et cetera And other things. Generally used in the sense of “and so forth”.
et seq. And the following things Abbreviation 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 uxor And wife. Usually used instead of naming a man’s wife as a party in a case. /ˌɛt ˈʌksɔr/
et vir And husband. Usually used instead of naming a woman’s husband as a party in a case. /ˌɛt ˈvɜr/
ex aequo et bono Of 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 ante Of before. Essentially meaning “before the event”, usually used when forecasting future events. /ˌɛks ˈænt/
ex cathedra From the chair Where chair refers to authority or position. Authority derived from one’s position.
ex concessis From what has been conceded already Often used in a “guilt by association” context.
ex delicto From a transgression The consequence of a crime or tort.
ex facie On the face If a contract is blatantly and obviously incorrect or illegal, it can be considered void ex facie without any further analysis or arguments.
ex fida bona Good business norms
ex gratia By favor Something done voluntarily and with no expectation a legal liability arising therefrom.
ex injuria jus non oritur Law does not arise from injustice A principle in international law that unjust acts cannot create laws.
ex officio From the office Something done or realized by the fact of holding an office or position.
ex parte From [for] one party A decision reached, or case brought, by or for one party without the other party being present.
ex post From after Based on knowledge of the past.
ex post facto From a thing done afterward Commonly said as “after the fact.”
ex post facto law A retroactive law. E.g. a law that makes a past act illegal that was not illegal when it was done.
expressio unius est exclusio alterius The express mention of one thing excludes all others When items are listed, anything not explicitly stated is assumed to not be included.
ex proprio motu By [one’s] own motion Commonly 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 actio From a dishonorable cause an action does not arise A party cannot bring a legal action for consequences of his own illegal act.
exempli gratia For the sake of example Usually abbreviated “e.g.”.
ex tunc From then Term 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 nunc From now on Term 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.
extant Existing Refers to things that are currently existing at a given point, rather than things that are no longer so.
factum Deed 1. 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 facias I do, that you may do A 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 contractus Favor of the contract A concept in treaty law that prefers the maintaining of a contract over letting it expire for purely procedural reasons.
felo de se Felon of himself A 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 naturae Wild animals by nature Wild animals residing on unowned property do not belong to any party in a dispute on the land. Opposite of domitae naturae (above)
fiat Let it be done A warrant issued by a judge for some legal proceedings.
Fiat justitia et pereat mundus Let there be justice, though the world perish. Often used as a motto, notably by Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor.
fiat justitia ruat caelum Let 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 facias May you cause to be done A writ ordering the local law enforcement to ensure that damages awarded by the court are properly recovered. A writ of execution.
fortis attachiamentum, validior praesumptionem strong attachment, the stronger presumption When 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 conveniens Disagreeable forum A concept wherein a court refuses to hear a particular matter, citing a more appropriate forum for the issue to be decided. /ˈfɔərəm nɒnkənˈvni.ɛnz/
fructus industriales Industrial fruits Emblements; in property law, a co-owner profitng from her or his fructus industriales is solely responsible for any losses that my occur.[2] (vs. fructus naturales, see below)
fructus naturales Natural fruits Vegetation naturally growing from old roots (as pasturage) or from trees (as timber or fruit) (vs. fructus industriales, see above)
fumus boni iuris Smoke of a good right Refers to having a sufficient legal basis to bring legal action.
functus officio Having performed his office A person, court, statute, or legal document that has no legal authority, because its original legal purpose has been fulfilled.
generalia specialibus non derogant The 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.
gravamen Things weighing down The basic element or complaint of a lawsuit. /ɡrəˈvmɛn/
guardian ad litem Guardian 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 corpus May you have the body A 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.əsˈkɔrpəs/
hostis humani generis Enemy of the human race A party considered to be the enemy of all nations, such as maritime pirates.
i.e. That is Abbreviation of id est, meaning “that is”, in the sense of restating something that may not have been clear.
ibid. In the same place Abbreviation 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.
idem The same Used 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 excusat Ignorance of the law does not excuse A principle that states that not having knowledge of a law is not an excuse for breaking it.
imprimatur Let 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 absentia In absence A 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 mortis at the moment of death Often used in probate law, as well as for testimony in the sense of a dying declaration.
in camera In the chamber Conducted in private, or in secret. The opposite of in open court.
in curia In court Conducted in open court. The opposite of in camera.
in esse In existence Actually existing in reality. Opposite of in posse.
in extenso In the extended In extended form, or at full length. Often used to refer to publication of documents, where it means the full unabridged document is published.
in extremis In the extreme In extreme circumstances. Often used to refer to “at the point of death.”
in flagrante delicto In blazing offense Caught 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 pauperis In the manner of a pauper Someone 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 ˌfɔrməˈpɔːpərɨs/
in futuro In the future Refers to things to come, or things that may occur later but are not so now. As in in futuro debts, i.e. debts which become due and payable in the future. /ɪn fjˈtjʊər/
in haec verba In these words Used 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 limine At the threshold A motion to a judge in a case that is heard and considered outside the presence of the jury.
in loco parentis In the place of a parent Used 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 mitius In the milder A type of retroactive law that decriminalizes offenses committed in the past. Also known as an amnesty law.
in omnibus In all Used to mean “in every respect.” Something applying to every aspect of a situation.
in pari delicto In equal offense Used when both parties to a case are equally at fault.
in pari materia In the same matter Refers 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 personam In person Used 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 pleno In full
in prope persona On one’s own person One who represents themselves in court without the [official] assistance of an attorney.
in propria persona In one’s own proper person Alternate form of in prope persona. One who represents themselves in court without the [official] assistance of an attorney.
in re In the matter [of] Used in the title of a decision or comment to identify the matter they are related to; usually used for a case where the proceeding is in rem or quasi in rem and not in personam (e.g. probate or bankrupt estate, guardianship, application for laying out a public highway) and occasionally for an ex parte proceeding (e.g. application for a writ of habeas corpus). /ɪn ˈr/
in rem About a thing Used 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 situ In position Often 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/, /ɪnˈsɪtj/
in solidum For the whole Jointly and severally; where a group of persons share liability for a debt, such as co-signers to a loan, the debtor can sue a single partyin solidum, that is, to recover the entire amount owed.
in terrorem In order to frighten A warning or threat to sue, made in the hopes of convincing the other party to take action to avoid a lawsuit.
in terrorem clause Clause “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 toto In total /ɪn ˈtt/
indicia Indications Often used in copyright notices. Refers to distinctive markings that identify a piece of intellectual property.
infra Below or under
innuendo By nodding An 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 alia Among others Used to indicate an item cited has been pulled from a larger or more complete list. /ˌɪntər ˈli.ə/
inter arma enim silent leges For among arms, the laws fall silent A 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 rusticos Among rustics Refers to contract, debts, or other agreements made between parties who are not legal professionals.
inter se Amongst themselves Refers to obligations between members of the same group or party, differentiated from the whole party’s obligations to another party.
inter vivos Between the living Refers 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 Within
intra fauces terra Within the jaws of the land This term refers to a nation’s territorial waters.
intra legem Within the law Used in various contexts to refer to the legal foundation for a thing.
intra vires Within the powers Something done which requires legal authority, and the act is performed accordingly. C.f.ultra vires.
ipse dixit He himself said it An assertion given undue weight solely by virtue of the person making the assertion. /ˈɪps ˈdɪksɨt/
ipsissima verba The very words Referring to a document or ruling that is being quoted by another.
ipso facto By the fact itself Used in the context that one event is a direct and immediate consequence of another. “In and of itself.” /ˈɪpsˈfækt/
ipso jure the law itself By operation of law
iudex non calculat The judge does not calculate A 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 curia The court knows the law Concept 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) swears Appears 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 jure Of law, and from law Irrebuttable or conclusive presumptions of law. One cannot argue against, or try to otherwise refute these.
jus Law, right Essentially: law.
jus accrescendi Right of survivorship; right of accrual (1) Right of survivorship: In property law, on the death of one joint 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, the right of survivorshop takes priority over a will or interstate accession rules.[2] (2) (Civil law) right of accrual: Right of the beneficiary to succeed proportionately to a benefit that another beneficiary in the same will cannot or does not want to take.
jus ad bellum Laws to war Refers 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 civile Civil law A codified set of laws concerning citizenry, and how the laws apply to them.
jus cogens Compelling law Internationally agreed laws that bear no deviation, and do not require treaties to be in effect. An example is law prohibiting genocide.
jus commune Common law Not actually referring to common law, this term refers to common doctrine and principles of civil law that underlie all aspects of the legal system.
jus gentium Law of nations Customary 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 bello Law in war Laws governing the conduct of parties in war.
jus inter gentes Law between the peoples Laws governing treaties and international agreements.
jus naturale Natural law Laws common to all people, that the average person would find reasonable, regardless of their nationality.
jus primae noctis Right of the first night Supposed right of the lord of an estate to take the virginity of women in his estate on their wedding night.
jus quaesitum tertio Right to third-party relief Right of a third-party beneficiary to sue in order to enforce a third-party contract (i.e., the opposite of privity of contract).
jus sanguinis Right of blood Social law concept wherein citizenship of a nation is determined by having one or both parents being citizens. /ˈʌsˈsæŋɡwɨnɨs/
jus soli Right of soil Social law concept wherein citizenship of a nation is determined by place of birth. /ˈʌs ˈsl/
jus tertii Law of the third Arguments 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.
lacunae Void, gap A 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, moriuntur The laws of man are born, live, and die Illustrates that laws are made, are in force for a period, and then become obsolete.
lex commissoria Forfeiture clause for nonperformance of a contract, especially (1) a provision that a pledge shall be forfeited if a loan is defaulted, or (2) a condition that money paid on a contract of sale shall be forfeited and the sale rescinded if outstanding payments are defaulted. Also known as a pactum commissorium.
lex communis Common law. Alternate form of jus commune. Refers to common facets of civil law that underlie all aspects of the law.
lex lata The law borne The law as it has been enacted
lex loci The law of the place The 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 priori Later law removes the earlier More recent law overrules older ones on the same matter.
lex retro non agit The law does not operate retroactively A law cannot make something illegal that was legal at the time it was performed. See ex post facto law.
lex scripta Written law Law that specifically codifies something, as opposed to common law or customary law.
lex specialis derogat legi generali Specific law takes away from the general law Where several laws apply to the same situation, the more specific one(s) take precedence over more general ones.
liberum veto Free veto An aspect of a unanimous voting system, whereby any member can end discussion on a proposed law.
lingua franca The Frankish language A 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 pendens Lawsuit elsewhere pending Refers 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 pendens Suit pending Often used in the context of public announcements of legal proceedings to come. Compare pendente lite (below).
locus Place
locus delicti Place of the crime Shorthand version of Lex locus delcti commissi. The “scene of the crime”.
locus in quo The place in which The location where a cause of action arose.
locus poenitentiae Place of repentance When one party withdraws from a contract before all parties are bound.
locus standi Place of standing The right of a party to appear and be heard before a court. /ˈlkəsˈstænd/
mala fide (In) bad faith A condition of being fraudulent or deceptive in act or belief.
maleficia propositis distinguuntur evil acts are distinguished from (evil) purposes/crimes are distinguished by evil intent evil acts are distinguished from evil purposes[4] crimes are distinguished by the intention[5]
malum in se Wrong in itself Something considered a universal wrong or evil, regardless of the system of laws in effect.
malum prohibitum Prohibited wrong Something wrong or illegal by virtue of it being expressly prohibited, that might not otherwise be so.
mandamus We command A 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 clausum Closed sea A body of water under the jurisdiction of a state or nation, to which access is not permitted, or is tightly regulated. /ˈmɛərrˈklɔːzəm/
mare liberum Open sea A body of water open to all. Typically a synonym for International Waters, or in other legal parlance, the “High Seas”.
mens rea Guilty mind One 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 operandi Manner of operation A 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 accipiendi Delay of creditor Delay in payment or performance in the part of the creditor or obligor
mora solvendi delay of debtor Delay in payment or performance in the part of the debtor or the obligee
mortis causa In contemplation of death Gift or trust that is made in contemplation of death
mos pro lege Custom for law That which is the usual custom has the force of law.
motion in limine Motion at the start Motions offered at the start of a trial, often to suppress or pre-allow certain evidence or testimony.
mutatis mutandis Having changed [the things that] needed to be changed A 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 exeat Let 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 idem Not twice in the same Prohibition against double jeopardy. A legal action cannot be brought twice for the same act or offense.
negotiorum gestio Management of estate Quasi-contractual obligation arising from good works affecting other people, obliging the benefited party (dominus negotii) to reimburse the gestor for the cost that was used in doing good works
nemo auditur propriam turpitudinem allegans no one can be heard, who invokes his own guilt Nobody can bring a case that stems from their own illegal act
nemo dat quod non habet no one gives what he does not have If 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 propria no one shall be a judge in his own case In 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 causa no one shall be a judge in his own case Prevents 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 habet no one can transfer a greater right than he himself has A purchaser of stolen goods will not become the rightful owner thereof, since the seller himself was not the owner to begin with.
nihil dicit he says nothing A judgement rendered in the absence of a plea, or in the event one party refuses to cooperate in the proceedings.
nisi unless A decree that does not enter into force unless some other specified condition is met. /ˈns/
nisi prius unless first Refers to the court of original jurisdiction in a given matter. /ˈnsˈpr.əs/
nolle prosequi Not to prosecute A statement from the prosecution that they are voluntarily discontinuing (or will not initiate) prosecution of a matter. /ˈnɒlˈprɒsɨkw/
nolo contendere I do not wish to dispute A type of plea whereby the defendant neither admits nor denies the charge. Commonly interpreted as “No contest.” /ˈnl kɒnˈtɛndɨr/
non adimpleti contractus Of a non-completed contract In 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 mentis not in possession of [one’s] mind not having mental capacity to perform some legal act
non constat it is not certain Refers 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 factum It is not [my] deed A 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 inventus He is not found Reported by a sheriff on writ when the defendant cannot be found in his county or jurisdiction.
non faciat malum, ut inde veniat bonum not to do evil that good may come Performing 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 liquet it is not clear A type of verdict where positive guilt or innocence cannot be determined. Also called “not proven” in legal systems with such verdicts.
non obstante verdicto notwithstanding the verdict A circumstance where the judge may override the jury verdict and reverse or modify the decision.
novus actus interveniens a new action coming between a break in causation (and therefore probably liability) because something else has happened to remove the causal link
noscitur a sociis it is known by friends An 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 bene note well A term used to direct the reader to cautionary or qualifying statements for the main text.
nudum pactum naked promise An unenforceable promise, due to the absence of consideration or value exchanged for the promise.
nulla bona no goods Notation made when a defendant has no tangible property available to be seized in order to comply with a judgement.
nulla poena sine lege no penalty without a law One cannot be prosecuted for doing something that is not prohibited by law.
nullum crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege poenali no crime, no punishment without a previous penal law One 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 tunc now for then An action by a court to correct a previous procedural or clerical error.
obiter dictum a thing said in passing in 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
onus probandi Burden of proof
pacta sunt servanda agreements must be kept A fundamental principle of law
par delictum equal fault Used when both parties to a dispute are at fault
parens patriae parent of the nation Refers to the power of the State to act as parent to a child when the legal parents are unable or unwilling.
pari passu on equal footing Equal ranking, equal priority (usually referring to creditors)
pater familias father of the family The head of household, for purposes of considering the rights and responsibilities thereof. (Civil law) bonus paterfamilias: a standard of care equivalent to the common law ordinary reasonable man.
pendente lite while the litigation is pending Court orders used to provide relief until the final judgement is rendered. Commonly used in divorce proceedings. The adverbial form oflis pendens (above).
per capita by head dividing money up strictly and equally according to the number of beneficiaries
per contra by that against Legal shorthand for “in contrast to”
per curiam through the court A 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. /ˌpɜrrˈkjʊəri.æm/
per incuriam by their neglect A judgement given without reference to precedent.
per minas through threats Used as a defense, when illegal acts were performed under duress
per proxima amici by or through the next friend Employed when an adult brings suit on behalf of a minor, who was unable to maintain an action on his own behalf at common law.
per quod by which Used 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 se by itself Something that is, as a matter of law.
per stirpes by branch An 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 mora danger in delay A condition given to support requests for urgent action, such as a protective order or restraining order.
persona non grata unwelcome person A 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 nɒnˈɡrɑːtə/, /pərˈsnə nɒnˈɡrtə/
posse comitatus power of the county A body of armed citizens pressed into service by legal authority, to keep the peace or pursue a fugitive. /ˈpɒs ˌkɒmɨˈttəs/
post mortem after death Refers to an autopsy, or as a qualification as to when some event occurred.
post mortem auctoris after the author’s death Used in reference to intellectual property rights, which usually are based around the author’s lifetime.
praetor peregrinus magistrate of foreigners The Roman praetor (magistrate) responsible for matters involving non-Romans.
prima facie at first face A matter that appears to be sufficiently based in the evidence as to be considered true. /ˈprməˈfʃi./
prior tempore potior iure earlier in time, stronger in law (1) A legal principle that older laws take precedent over newer ones. Another name for this principle is lex posterior. (2) (Scots law, civil law), usually translated as “prior in time, superior in right”, the principle that someone who registers (a security interest) earlier therefore ranks higher than other creditors.
prius quam exaudias ne iudices before you hear, do not judge
probatio vincit praesumptionem proof overcomes presumption
pro bono For good Professional work done for free. /ˈprˈbn/
pro bono publico For the public good /ˈpr ˈbnˈpʌblɨk/
pro forma as a matter of form Things done as formalities.
pro hac vice For this turn Refers 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 per Abbreviation of propria persona, meaning “one’s own person” Representing oneself, without counsel. Also known as pro se representation.
pro rata from the rate A 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 se for himself Representing oneself, without counsel. Also known as pro per representation. /ˌpr ˈs/, /ˌpr ˈs/
pro tanto for so much A partial payment of an award or claim, based on the defendant’s ability to pay.
pro tem Abbreviation of pro tempore, meaning “for the time being” Something, such as an office held, that is temporary.
pro tempore for the time being Something, such as an office held, that is temporary.
propria persona proper person Refers to one reperesenting themselves without the services of a lawyer. Also known as pro per representation.
prout patet per recordum as appears in the record Used to cite something that has already been admitted into the record.
qua which; as In the capacity of
quareitur it is sought The question is raised. Used to declare that a question is being asked in the following verbiage.
quaere query Used in legal drafts to call attention to some uncertainty or inconsistency in the material being cited.
quantum how much
quantum meruit as 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.[3]
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.[3]
quantum valebant as much as they were worth Under 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;[3] in the case of contract remedy, quantum valebant is being used less, and could be considered to be obsolete.
quasi as if Resembling or being similar to something, without actually being that thing.
qui facit per alium facit per se who acts through another, acts himself One who delegates a task to another, takes full responsibility for the performance of that act as if he himself had done it. Basis for thelaw of agency
qui tam Abbreviation 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 quo this for that An equal exchange of goods or services, or of money (or other consideration of equal value) for some goods or services.
quo ante as before Returning to a specific state of affairs which preceded some defined action.
quo warranto by 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 hoc as to this Used 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 licitum What is necessary is lawful
R Rex or Regina King or Queen. In British cases, will see R v Freeman meaning Regina against Freeman. Changes with King or Queen on throne at time.
ratio decidendi Reason for the decision The point in a legal proceeding, or the legal precedent so involved, which led to the final decision being what it was.
ratio scripta written reason The popular opinion of Roman law, held by those in the Medieval period.
rationae soli by reason of the soil “Certain rights may arise by virtue of ownership of the soil upon which wild animals are found.”[2]
rebus sic stantibus things thus standing A qualification in a treaty or contract, that allows for nullification in the event fundamental circumstances change.
reddendo singula singulis referring solely to the last The 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.
res thing, matter, issue, affair
res communis common to all Property 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.[2]
res gestae things done Differing 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 loquitur the thing speaks for itself used 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 judicata a matter judged A 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 nullius nobody’s thing Ownerless property or goods. Such property or goods are able and subject to being owned by anybody.
res publica public affair All things subject to concern by the citizenry. The root of the word republic.
res publica christiana Christian public affair All things of concern to the worldwide body of Christianity
respondeat superior let the master answer A concept that the master (e.g. employer) is responsible for the actions of his subordinates (e.g. employees).
restitutio in integrum total 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.[3]
rex non potest peccare The king can do no wrong Used to describe the basis for sovereign immunity
salus populi suprema lex esto The good of the people shall be the supreme law Used variously as a motto, a reminder, or a notion of how the law and governments in general should be.
scandalum magnatum scandal of the magnates Defamation against a peer in British law. Now repealed as a specific offense.
scienter knowingly Used when offenses or torts were committed with the full awareness of the one so committing.
scire facias let them know A writ, directing local officials to officially inform a party of official proceedings concerning them.
scire feci I have made known The official response of the official serving a writ of scire facias, informing the court that the writ has been properly delivered.
se defendendo self-defense The act of defending one’s own person or property, or the well-being or property of another.
seriatim in series Describes 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 laedas use your property so as not to injure that of your neighbours While 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.[2]
sine die without day Used when the court is adjourning without specifying a date to re-convene. See also adjournment sine die.
sine qua non without which, nothing Refers to some essential event or action, without which there can be no specified consequence.
situs the place Used to refer to laws specific to the location where specific property exists, or where an offense or tort was committed.
solutio indebiti performance of something not due Undue performance or payment, obliging the enrichee (accipiens) to return the undue payment or compensate the impoverishee (solvens) for the undue performance
stare decisis To 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 which In contract law, in a case of innocent representation, the injured party is entitled to be replaced in statu quo. Note the common usage isstatus quo from the Latin status quo ante, the “state in which before” or “the state of affairs that existed previously.”[3]
stratum a covering, from neuter past participle of sternere, to spread 1) In property law, condominiums has said to occupy stratum many stories about the ground.[2]
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 sponte of its own accord Some action taken by the public prosecutor or another official body, without the prompting of a plaintiff or another party. (compare ex proprio motu, ex mero motu which are used for courts)
sub judice under the judge Refers to a matter currently being considered by the court.
sub modo subject to modification Term in contract law that allows limited modifications to a contract after the original form has been agreed to by all parties.
sub nomine under the name Abbreviated 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 silentio under silence A 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.
subpoena under penalty A writ compelling testimony, the production of evidence, or some other action, under penalty for failure to do so.
subpoena ad testificandum Under penalty to be witnessed An order compelling an entity to give oral testimony in a legal matter.
subpoena duces tecum bring with you under penalty An order compelling an entity to produce physical evidence or witness in a legal matter.
suggestio falsi false suggestion A false statement made in the negotiation of a contract.
sui generis of its own kind/genus Something that is unique amongst a group.
sui juris of his own right Refers to one legally competent to manage his own affairs. Also spelled sui iuris.
suo motu of its own motion Refers to a court or other official agency taking some action on its own accord (synonyms: ex proprio motu, ex mero motu). Similar tosua sponte.
supersedeas refrain from A 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 veri suppression of the truth Willful 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.
supra above Used in citations to refer to a previously cited source.
tantum et tale thus and such (Scots law) “as is”, to disclaim implied warranties, as in to purchase or convey something tantum et tale
terra nullius no one’s land Land that has never been part of a sovereign state, or land which a sovereign state has relinquished claim to.
trial de novo trial anew A 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 necessitas three-knotted need Refers to a threefold tax levied on Anglo-Saxon citizens to cover roads, buildings, and the military.
uberrima fides most abundant faith Concept in contract law specifying that all parties must act with the utmost good faith.
ultra posse nemo obligatur no one is obligated (to do) more than he can Specifies 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 vires beyond the powers An act that requires legal authority to perform, but which is done without obtaining that authority.
universitas personarum Totality of people Aggregate of people, body corporate, as in a college, corporation, or state
universitas rerum Totality of things Aggregate of things
uno flatu in one breath Used to criticize inconsistencies in speech or testimony, as in: one says one thing, and in the same breath, says another contradictory thing.
uti possidetis as you possess Ancient 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.
uxor wife Used in documents in place of the wife’s name. Usually abbreviated et ux.
vel non or not Used when considering whether some event or situation is either present or it is not.
veto I forbid. The power of an executive to prevent an action, especially the enactment of legislation.
vice versa the other way around Something that is the same either way.
vide see Used in citations to refer the reader to another location.
videlicet Contraction of videre licet, meaning “it is permitted to see” Used in documents to mean “namely” or “that is”. Usually abbreviated viz.
vinculum juris the chains of the law Something which is legally binding.
vis major greater or superior force Force majeure, specifically events over which no humans have control, and so cannot be held responsible. Equivalent to an “Act of God”. Compare casus fortuitus (see above).
viz. Abbreviation of videlicet Namely
volenti non fit injuria injury is not done to the willing Notion 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 subvenit Equity aids the vigilant, not the sleeping Concept 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.


  1. ^ a b Yogis, John (1995). Canadian Law Dictionary (4th ed.). Barron’s Education Series.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Benson, Marjorie L; Bowden, Marie-Ann; Newman, Dwight (2008). Understanding Property: A Guide (2nd ed.). Thomson Carswell.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Willes, John A; Willes, John H (2012). Contemporary Canadian Business Law: Principles and Cases (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
  4. ^ Latin for Lawyers. E. Hilton Jackson (editor) (abridged, reprint ed.). The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. 1915. p. 189. ISBN 9780963010643. citing Jenk. Cent. 290
  5. ^ Blacks Law Dictionary, 9th edition

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