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Dictionary of legal terms - C
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[Home][Index - Dictionary][Dictionary of legal terms - C]

UK Law Dictionary - English Legal System

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The Cabinet is where political power resides. A 15-25 member Cabinet is appointed by the Monarch on the prime minister's recommendation, from the membership of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, or even from outside Parliament. The number varies according to the prime-ministerial style.




These persons serve as chief executive officer of the largest and most important government departments. This select group also meets collectively to plan government policy and programs and, together, ensure that all government departments support the government's legislative and political agenda.




Cabinet's policy directions are translated into laws that are then brought before Parliament for approval. In this manner, the political will of the government is implemented. Ministers are responsible to Parliament for the proper functioning of their departments and would be expected to resign if their department failed or erred in an important duty or matter of state.




There are more departments than there are vacancies in the Cabinet. Consequently, not all department heads appointed from the ranks of Parliament, are members of the Cabinet.

Canon law 


The law of the Christian Church. Has little or no legal effect today. Canon law refers to that body of law which has been set by the Christian Church and which, in virtually all places, is not binding upon citizens and has virtually no recognition in the judicial system.




Some citizens resort to canon law, however, for procedures such as marriage annulments to allow for a Christian church marriage where one of the parties has been previously divorced. Many churchgoers and church officers abide by rulings and doctrines of canon law. Also known as "ecclesiastical law."



CAFCASS looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. It works with children and their families, and then advises the courts on what it considers to be in the children's best interests. CAFCASS only works in the family courts.



An expression used to denote the experience of a barrister.  One who was called to the bar in 1998 would be said to have 6 years call in 2004

Capital punishment 


The most severe of all sentences: that of death, which in the UK was by hanging. Also known as the death penalty, capital punishment has been banned in many countries including the UK, in the UK the death penalty was permanently removed for all offences by the Human Rights Act 1998.




In the United States, an earlier move to eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are resorting to capital punishment for serious offences such as murder

Case law


The entire collection of published legal decisions of the courts, which, because of stare decisis, contributes a large part of the legal rules that apply in modern society.




If a rule of law cannot be found in written laws, lawyers will often say that it is a rule to be found in "case law." In other words, the rule is not in the statutes  but can be found as a principle of law established by a judge in some recorded case. The word jurisprudence has become synonymous for case law.



The rule particularly in criminal law that the defendant has to have caused the result or consequence. The causation can be either in law or in fact. So, death is the result or consequence of murder and has to be strictly proved by the prosecution. Often the 'but for test' is applied, 'but for what the defendant did would the result have occurred?'.

Causa sine qua non 


[Latin:  without which not].


Literally translated = cause without which - the event - could not have occurred. 

Similar to the "but for test" that is found in articles on causation in criminal law.  "But for" the action of D would the consequences have occurred?  If the answer is "No" then there is no factual causation.


See Sine qua non,



[Latin: let him beware]. A formal warning. Caveat emptor means let the buyer beware or that the buyers should examine and check for themselves things that they intend to purchase and that they cannot later hold the vendor responsible for the broken condition of the thing bought.  Consumer legislation has radically reduced the impact of caveat emptor in consumer sales.



The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution is the leader in the development of neutral-assisted dispute resolution.




It is a non-profit organisation and its mission is to encourage and develop cost effective dispute prevention and dispute resolution in commercial and public sector disputes and in civil litigation.




CEDR operates in the UK and internationally and has been instrumental in helping to bring mediation into the heart of business practice and into the judicial system. CEDR Mediator Accreditation is recognised as an international standard.



[Latin: to inform] Now called a 'quashing order'. A writ of certiorari is a form of judicial review whereby a court is asked to consider a legal decision of an administrative tribunal, judicial office or organisation (e.g. government) and to decide if the decision has been regular and complete or if there has been an error of law.




For example, a certiorari may be used to quash a decision of an administrative tribunal that was made in violation of the rules of natural justice, such as a failure to give the person affected by the decision an opportunity to be heard.




A prerogative order since 1938, and since 1977 only available by way of Judicial Review

Cestui que trust or cestui que use 


[Latin: for the beneficiary or donee of a trust].

Ceteris paribus 


[Latin all things being equal or unchanged.]



When a person agrees to finance someone else's lawsuit in exchange for a portion of the judicial award.



[carta partita, a deed cut in two] A written agreement by which a ship owner lets an entire ship, or part of it, to the charterer.  The charterer agrees to convey goods to a particular place.




Principally, the agreement stipulates places of loading and delivery and how the freight is to be paid for. In addition, it includes details of lay days, and demurrage.  The test is: has the owner parted with the whole possession and control of the ship?



A person who has never voluntarily had sexual intercourse outside of marriage such as unmarried virgins.



A chattel is any property except freehold land. Moveable items of property that are neither land nor permanently attached to land or a building, either directly or vicariously through attachment to real property.




A piano is chattel but a flat, a tree or a concrete building foundation are not. The opposite of chattel is real property, which includes lands or buildings. All property, which is not real property, is said to be chattel.




"Personal property" or "personalty" are other words sometimes used to describe the concept of chattel. The word "chattel" came from the feudal era when "cattle" was the most valuable property besides land

Chattel mortgage 


When an interest is given on moveable property other than real property (in which case it is usually a "mortgage"), in writing, to guarantee the payment of a debt or the execution of some action. It automatically becomes void when the debt is paid or the action is executed.

Chattels personal


These are tangible goods (goods that can be touched) such as furniture, clothes, watches and so on.

Chattels real


This is another name for leasehold land.



A form of bill of exchange where the order to pay is given to a bank which is holding the payor's money.

Chose in action (pronounced "shows in action")


Rights of property in intangible things or which are not in one's possession, enforceable through legal or court action.




Examples may include salaries, debts, insurance claims, shares in companies and pensions. 




An intangible asset such as a claim to money as where A owes money to B. In such a case, the debt is a chose in action. Other forms of property are also included such as copyright in a book and a potential claim on an insurance policy. In essence, a chose in action is a piece of property, which the owner has the right to recover by court action if it is withheld.




The financial entitlement is often represented by a cheque. In an A.P. Herbert story the fictitious character Albert Haddock wrote a cheque to the Inland Revenue on the side of a cow, and led the cow to the tax offices. Missing the joke, an American paper The Memphis Press-Scimitar published the case of "the negotiable cow" as true, since when the myth of this being a real case has often been repeated.

Circumstantial evidence 


Evidence that may allow a judge or jury to deduce a certain fact from other facts that have been proven. In some cases, there can be some evidence that cannot be proven directly as with an eyewitness, yet, that evidence may be essential to prove a case.




In these cases, the lawyer will provide the judge or jury with evidence of the circumstances from which a jury or judge can logically deduct, or reasonably infer, the fact that cannot be proven directly; it is proven by the evidence of the circumstances; hence, "circumstantial" evidence.




Fingerprints are an example of circumstantial evidence: while there may be no witness to a person's presence in a certain place, or contact with a certain object, the scientific evidence of someone's fingerprints is persuasive proof of a person's presence or contact with an object.



1. The calling on a person who is not a party to an action or proceedings to appear before the court.

2.  The quoting of decided cases during legal argument, as authorities.  

3.  In the USA an order of a court to either do a certain thing or to appear before it to answer charges. The citation (in UK a summons) is typically used for lesser offences (such as traffic offences) because it relies on the good faith of the defendant to appear as requested, as opposed to an arrest or bail.

Civil law 


Law inspired by old Roman Law, the primary feature of which was that laws were written into a collection; codified, and not determined, as is common law, by judges. The principle of civil law is to provide all citizens with an accessible and written collection of the laws, which apply to them and which judges, must follow

Civil restraint order


Formerly a Grepe v Loam order, used to prevent further actions by a 'vexatious litigant.




A civil restraint order may be made at any level of court and by any level of judge. In its simple form it is only apt to prohibit the issue of further applications within a single set of proceedings without the permission of a judge.




A civil restraint order is likely to be appropriate when the litigant’s conduct has the hallmark of one who is content to indulge in a course of conduct which evidences an obsessive resort to litigation and a disregard of the need to have reasonable grounds for making an application to the court.




Normally, a civil restraint order would not be made until after the litigant has made a number of applications in a single set of proceedings all of which have been dismissed because they were totally devoid of merit


Created in the judgment of Bhamjee v Forsdick [2003].



Something that is purposely kept from the view or knowledge of others either in violation of the law or to conduct or conceal some illegal purpose. A "clandestine marriage" would be one that does not comply with laws related to publicity.

Class action


When different persons combine their lawsuits because the facts and the defendant are so similar. This is designed to save Court time and to allow one judge to hear all the cases at the same time and to make one decision binding on all parties.




Class action lawsuits would typically occur after a plane or train accident where all the victims would sue the transport company together in a class action suit.  Recent class actions have occurred against tobacco companies

Clayton's Case 


The case, which established a presumption that monies withdrawn from a money account are presumed to be debits from those monies first, deposited. First in, first out. The proper citation is Devaynes v Noble (1816) and the presumption is not applicable to fiduciaries, who are presumed to withdraw their own money first, and not trust money

Clean hands


A maxim of equity to the effect that any person, individual or corporate, that wishes to ask or petition a court for judicial action, must be in a position free of fraud or other unfair conduct.  "He who comes to equity must come with clean hands".

Client-solicitor privilege 


A right that belongs to the client of a lawyer that the latter keep any information or words spoken to him during the provision of the legal services to that client, strictly confidential.




This includes being shielded from testimony before a court of law. The client may, expressly or impliedly, waive the privilege and, exceptionally, it may also be waived by the lawyer if the disclosure of the information may prevent a serious crime.

Codecision procedure


Since the Amsterdam Treaty came into force, the simplified codecision procedure under art 251 (ex art 189b) of the EC Treaty has applied to 39 legal bases in the EC Treaty that allow for the adoption of legislative acts.  It may therefore be considered a standard legislative procedure.




It puts Parliament, in principle, on an equal footing with the Council. If they agree the act is adopted at first reading; if they do not agree the proposal undergoes a second reading; if the second reading is unsuccessful the act can only be adopted after successful conciliation; see also Consultation Procedure; Cooperation Procedure and Conciliation Committee.



An amendment to an existing will. Does not mean that the will is totally changed; just to the extent of the codicil. The codicil must be signed by the testator and the signature must be witnessed by two people who do not benefit under the will.



In most countries whole areas of law are contained in a single code rather than, as in England and Wales, being divided between the common law, which is derived from decisions of judges over the centuries, and statute law enacted by Parliament.

Coke, Sir Edward


Sir  Edward Coke was born February 1, 1551, called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1578, became Recorder of London, 1591-92, Solicitor- General, 1592, member and speaker the House of Commons, 1593, Attorney-General, 1594, was knighted on the accession of James I, made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, 1606, of the King’s Bench, 1613, from which he was removed in 1616 and committed to the Tower in consequence of resistance to the king and the Court of Chancery; he was again returned Parliament in 1621, and died on September 3, 1633.




Coke, as a champion of the common law was bitterly hostile to the courts of equity, and the controversy between Coke and Lord Ellesmere, the Chancellor, was acute. He stood up to James I on the question of interfering with the judges, and also protested against capital punishment - ‘the cursed gallows tree’ - frequently in use in his day for the most trivial of offences.




His principal works are the Institutes of the Laws of England; commentary on many Acts of Parliament; and an account of various courts; thirteen volumes of law reports; and a volume of law tracts


Although he was a famous text-writer and reporter among English lawyers, one of his characteristics was said by Sir James Stephen to be an ‘utter incapacity for anything like correct language or consecutive thought.’  Lord Campbell, however, wrote in the nineteenth century that his works ‘may be studied with advantage, not only by lawyers, but by all who wish to be well acquainted with the…manners and customs prevailing in England in times gone by’.



[by the side of] As in collateral insurance, agreement, which is independent of, but subordinate to, the main agreement, but affecting the same subject matter.  Property that has been committed to guarantee a loan.  Sometimes collateral contracts.

Collateral descendant 


A descendant that is not direct, such as a niece or a cousin.

Collateral source rule 


A rule of tort law which holds that the tortfeasor is not allowed to deduct from the amount he or she would be held to pay to the victim of the tort, any goods, services or money received by that victim from other "collateral" sources as a result of the tort (e.g.. insurance benefits



A secret agreement between two or more persons, who seem to have conflicting interests, to abuse the law or the legal system, deceive a court or to defraud a third party. For example, if the partners in a marriage agree to lie about the duration of their separation in order to secure a divorce.

Comfort letter


Letter from an EU official stating that the European Commission intends to close the file on a case involving a possible breach of the competition rules.



A formal group of experts brought together on a regular or ad hoc basis to debate matters within that sphere of expertise, and with regulatory or quasi judicial powers such as the ability to license activity in the sphere of activity or to sub poena witnesses.




Commissions usually also have advisory powers to government, for example the Law Commission. The organisational form of a commission is often resorted to by governments to investigate exhaustively a matter of national concern, and is often known as a "commission of inquiry."




This legal structure can be contrasted with a council, the latter not enjoying quasi-judicial or regulatory powers

Committal hearing 


A procedure in the magistrates’ court where, in either way cases, the defendant is committed to stand his or her trial in the Crown Court, provided the court is satisfied on the evidence that the defendant has a case to answer.



A term of parliamentary law that refers to a body of one or more persons appointed by a larger assembly or society, to consider, investigate and/or take action on certain specific matters.  A committee only has those powers that have been assigned to it by the constituent assembly.




Most are merely created to study matters in detail and to then report to the larger group. This saves the larger assembly time when it meets and allows it to review and approve a greater number of items, relying on the committee's report and recommendations. Committees are either standing or ad hoc (this latter kind is also known as a "special committee). 




The committee stage of a bill through parliament.

Common law 


Judge-made law or 'case law'. Has its origins in the reign of Henry II.




A body of legal rules and principles contained in the decisions of the judges, particularly judges in the higher courts in the hierarchy. 




Judges develop rules and principles in cases coming before them, therefore these are practical in nature and not hypothetical rulings. 




Common Law can be identified by legal precedents some dating back hundreds of years.  For example, murder is an offence created by common law.  Judges apply rules and principles found in precedents, or they create a precedent to apply to a difficult or novel problem in cases before them. 




Common law is so called because of the gradual change, during the Middle Ages, from separate systems of local customary law in various regions to a uniform legal code common the entire country.  What developed were powerful central courts spreading their tentacles to all the regions.




Common law is to be contrasted with Parliamentary law which is produced by politicians and civil servants through Parliament and by delegated powers.


Where Parliamentary law and common law conflict Parliamentary law prevails.




Common law is to be contrasted with civil law or Roman Law which are typified by written codes.




Common law is to be contrasted with Equity which developed to soften the rigid judgments of medieval common law judges.




The rise of Equity was spurred by the need to obtain a writ (claim form) 500 years ago which was accompanied by bureaucratic complications and cases were lost because of minor technical defects.




Furthermore, the only remedy at common law was damages (money compensation) and there was no remedy for breach of contract.


A further development of Equity was to allow the transfer of property through trusts.




For several hundred years, there were separate courts for common law and for equity.




Where Equity and Law conflict Equity prevails.




Common Law offences include murder and kidnapping.

Common share 


The basic share in a company. Typically, common shares have voting rights and a prorata right to any dividends declared. They differ from preferred shares, which, by definition, carry some kind of right or privilege above the common shares (e.g. first to receive any dividends).



A legal entity, allowed by legislation, which permits a group of people, as shareholders, to create an organisation, which can then focus on pursing set objectives, and empowered with legal rights which are usually only reserved for individuals, such as to sue and be sued, own property, hire employees or loan and borrow money.




Also known as a "corporation." The primary advantage of a company structure is that it provides the shareholders with a right to participate in the profits (by dividends) without any personal liability (the company absorbs the entire liability of the business).

Comparative negligence (see Contributory negligence below) 


A principle of tort law which looks at the negligence of the victim and which may lead to either a reduction of the award against the defendant, proportionate to the contribution of the victim's negligence, or which may even prevent an award altogether if the victim's negligence, when compared with the defendant, is equal to or greater in terms or contributing to the situation which caused the injury or damage

Condition precedent 


A contractual condition that suspends the coming into effect of a contract unless or until a certain event takes place.




Many house purchase contracts have a condition precedent that states that the contract is not binding until and unless the property is subjected to a surveyor's inspection, the results of which are satisfactory to the purchaser. Compare with "condition subsequent."

Condition subsequent 


A condition in a contract that causes the contract to become invalid if a certain event occurs e.g. marriage, a Royal event etc.




This is different from a condition precedent. The happening of a condition subsequent may invalidate a contract that is, until that moment, fully valid and binding. In the case of a condition precedent, no binding contract exists until the condition occurs

Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA)


Usually referred to as a 'no win no fee' arrangment.




A Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) is a type of arrangement whereby payment to the solicitor is dependent upon the result of the proceedings, and is permitted (in certain instances) by Section 58 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and the Conditional Fee Agreements Order 1998.




Under a CFA, a solicitor can charge his client his usual hourly rate (charge out rate), plus an uplift (or "success fee"), if he pursues his clients' case successfully.



A court will refuse to grant a divorce if there has been "condonation," which is the obvious or implied forgiveness of the fault. For example, if the "injured" spouse resumes cohabitation with the "guilty" spouse after being informed of the adultery, and for a long period or time, the "injured" spouse may be barred from divorce on the grounds of adultery because of "condonation".




Divorces can be obtained by showing that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. 


Section1(1) MCA 1973 provides the sole ground for divorce - the irretrievable breakdown of marriage.  But, this can only be proved by one of the 'five facts' set out in 1(2) MCA 1973: 


a.  adultery - by the respondent and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent 


b.  behaviour - the respondent has behaved in such as way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent 


c.  desertion by the respondent for a continuous period of two years 


d.  separation for two years AND the respondent's consent to divorce 


e.  five years separation without the respondent's consent 


s1(4) MCA 1973, presumes that where one of the five facts has been proven, the marriage will be taken to have broken down irretrievably. 




The s1(2) grounds also apply for those seeking a decree of Judicial Separation, whereby the marriage is not dissolved but the parties no longer under any legal duty to live together, although here the marriage does not have to be shown to have broken down irretrievably (s17 MCA 1973). 



Criminal confiscation  is governed by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. (previously by the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Drug Trafficking Act 1994).



“Confiscation” is a misnomer.
If an offender has benefitted from his criminal conduct the court will make an order for the value of the benefit so obtained, subject to the offender’s ability to pay. This creates a statutory debt that may be enforced against any of the offender’s assets, whether or not they are the proceeds of crime. The offender cannot evade a confiscation order simply because, say, the property he stole has been recovered. Parliament intended confiscation to be draconian.



What is meant by “obtaining” a “benefit” is not always clear but is of central importance in criminal confiscation.



A statement made by a person suspected or charged with a crime, that he (or she) did, in fact, commit that crime.



A result achieved through negotiation whereby a hybrid solution is arrived at between parties to an issue, dispute or disagreement, comprising typically of concessions made by all parties, and to which all parties then subscribe unanimously as an acceptable resolution to the issue or disagreement.

Consensus ad idem 


[Latin: an agreement, a meeting of the minds], between the parties where all understand the commitments made by each. This is a basic requirement for each contract.



Under common law, there can be no binding contract without consideration, it was defined in an Currie v Misa (1875)  as "some right, interest, profit or benefit accruing to the one party, or some forbearance, detriment, loss or responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by the other".




Common law did not want to allow gratuitous offers, those made without anything offered in exchange (such as gifts), to be given the protection of contract law. Therefore, they added the criteria of consideration.




Consideration is not required in contracts made in civil law systems and many common law states have adopted laws that remove consideration as a prerequisite of a valid contract.



To leave an item of property in the custody of another. An item can be consigned to a transport company, for example, for the purpose of transporting it from one place to another. The consignee is the person to receive the property and the consignor is the person who ships the property to the consignee.



Consolidation of statute law involves putting together in one Act of Parliament, or in a group of Acts, all the existing statutory provisions previously located in several different Acts, all of which can then be repealed.




In 1992 all the law on social security was consolidated into three Acts. The law itself remains unchanged, but those who use it - both lawyers and the courts, and the general public - can now find it all in one place.



An agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act. Those forming the conspiracy are called conspirators



The basic law or laws of a nation or a state that sets out how that state will be organised by deciding the powers and authorities of government between different political units, and by stating and the basic principles of society.




Constitutions are not necessarily written and may be based on aged customs and conventions, as is the case in the UK, Israel and New Zealand.  Other nation states have written constitutions



The legal process of interpreting a phrase or document; of trying to find its meaning. Whether it is a contract or a statute, there are times when a phrase may be unclear or have several possible meanings. Then, either lawyers or judges must attempt to interpret or "construct" the probable aim and purpose of the phrase, by extrapolating from other parts of the document or, in the case of statutes, referring to rules of interpretation, or the Interpretation Act that gives legal construction guidelines. Generally, there are several types of construction methods including: literal (strict) or liberal.

Constructive dismissal 


Where there has been a fundamental breach of an employment contract by the employer, so severe that the employee considers that the breach goes to the root of the contract it gives him the right to consider himself as dismissed.




In these cases there is in fact, no dismissal on the part of the employer. For example, if an employer bullies or discriminates against an employee in such a manner that the employee feels he cannot continue in the employment, the employee can sue for constructive dismissal.




The remedy for such a breach usually lies in an employment tribunal.

Constructive trust 


A trust which a court declares or imposes onto participants of very specific circumstances such as those giving rise to an action for unjust enrichment, and notwithstanding the lack of any willing settlor to declare the trust (contrast with express trusts and resulting trusts).

Contempt of court 


An act of defiance of court authority or dignity. Contempt of court can be direct (swearing at a judge or violence against a court officer) or constructive (disobeying a court order). The punishment for contempt is a fine or a brief stay in jail (e.g. overnight or until the contempt is purged by an apology).

Contingency fee 


A method of payment of legal fees represented by a percentage of an award. Lawyers get paid in one of two ways: either you pay a straight hourly rate as you might pay a plumber (e.g.. 10 pounds an hour) or the lawyer might "gamble" (i.e. "contingency" fee) and agree to only get paid if the claim is successful and by taking a portion (e.g.. one third) of any award that comes after the action.




For example, if you go and see a lawyer because, your have had an accident at work,  the law firm might say: "no money up front - in fact, we are not paid a penny unless you win your case - but then, we take one third off the top of any award you might get." This allows the client to receive legal services without putting any money down and it allows the lawyer to advertise, "we don't get paid unless you do."




The lawyer associations in some counties prohibit contingency fee arrangements. In those countries that allow them, they are very prevalent in personal injury cases.  They are allowed in the UK in many cases, notably personal injury.

Contingent legacy


This is a gift in a will which depends on a particular event happening.

Contingent will


This is a will that only becomes effective if a stated event happens.

contra bonos mores


[Latin: "wrong in the judgment of the majority of fellow citizens"




In the view of the European Court of Human Rights, the expression "contra bonos mores" is particularly imprecise.  It does not give sufficiently clear guidance as to future behaviour.  Hashman and Harrup v United Kingdom, [ 1999l

Contra proferentem


[Latin: "against the person who proffers"]

In contract law this rule is used to decide which party should benefit from a clause of doubtful meaning. Where there is doubt the clause is read in favour of the person who did not draft the clause, the party who did not proffer it.




The reason is that courts expect the person who drafted the contract to take care and in some cases to have been in a more powerful position, for example a business writing standard contracts for consumers.



An agreement between persons that obliges each party to do or not to do a certain thing. Technically, a valid contract requires an offer and an acceptance of that offer, and, in common law countries, consideration.

Contract law 


That body of law that regulates the enforcement of contracts. Contract law has its origins thousands of years as the early civilisations began to trade with each other, a legal system was created to support and to facilitate that trade.




The English and French developed similar contract law systems, both referring extensively to old Roman contract law principles such as consensus ad idem or caveat emptor. There are some minor differences on points of detail such as the English law requirement that every contract contain consideration.




More and more states are changing their laws to eliminate consideration as a prerequisite to a valid contract thus contributing to the uniformity of law. Contract law is the basis of all commercial dealings from buying a bus ticket to trading on the stock market.




International contracts are often subject to the UNIDROIT rules.



A right of someone to recover from a third person all or part of the amount which he himself is liable to pay. (Civil Justice Rules).

Contributory negligence 


The negligence of the claimant which, while not being the primary cause of a tort, nevertheless combined with the act or omission of the defendant to cause the tort, and without which the tort would not have occurred



The action of conversion is a common law legal proceeding for damages by an owner of property against a defendant who came across the property and who, rather than return the property, converted that property to his own use or retained possession of the property or otherwise interfered with the property.




The innocence of the defendant who took the property is not an issue. It is the conversion that gives rise to the cause of action. This common law action replaced the old action of trover by English law dated 1852. See now Tort Interference With Goods Act.   Compare with detinue.



A written document that transfers property from one person to another. In land law, the conveyance usually refers to the actual document which transfers ownership, between persons living (i.e. other than by will), or which charges the land with another's interest, such as a mortgage. 




A mode of transport relevant in the Theft Act 1968.



The formal decision of a criminal trial that finds the accused guilty. It is the finding of a judge or jury, on behalf of the state, that a person has, beyond reasonable doubt, committed the crime for which he, or she, has been accused. It is the ultimate goal of the prosecution and the result resisted by the defence. Once convicted, an accused may then be sentenced.



To distinguish between child pornographic content, authorities rank material on a sliding scale of severity from one to five.  This system is based upon the COPINE Typology and ranges from semi-nude/nude photographs (level one) through to penetrative sexual assault (level four) and sadism or bestiality (level five). 




Sentencing guidelines are based upon categorisation with tariffs reflecting the quantity of images, the severity of such, how long they have been held, whether the materials have been catalogued and organised, how the images were acquired/created, and whether they are a “trophy of the offender’s own sexual abuse of a child.”



An obsolete co-ownership mechanism of English law where property, if there was no will, always went to the eldest son. If there was no male heir, the property went to all the female children collectively as a form of co-ownership.



The exclusive right to produce or reproduce (copy), to perform in public or to publish an original literary or artistic work. Most countries have expanded the definition of a "literary work" to include computer programs or other electronically stored information



Judge or judges present during a hearing or trial, or the judge who makes a ruling.




Always recorded by a barrister on his/her brief to show before whom he/she appeared, sometimes used by case reporters.



A public official who holds an inquiry into violent or suspicious deaths. A coroner has the power to summon people to the inquest.

Corporal punishment 


A punishment for some violation of conduct which involves the infliction of pain on, or harm to the body. A fine or imprisonment is not considered to be corporal punishment (in the latter case, although the body is confined, no punishment is inflicted upon the body).




The death penalty is the most drastic form of corporal punishment and is also called capital punishment.




Some private schools still use a strap to punish pupils, but it is unlawful in state schools and has been held to be contrary to a child's rights by the European Court of Human Rights.




Some countries still punish habitual thieves by cutting off a hand. These are forms of corporal punishment, as is any form of spanking, whipping or bodily mutilation inflicted as punishment.

Corporate secretary or Company Secretary 


Officer of a corporation responsible for the official documents of the corporation such as the official seal, records of shares issued, and minutes of all board or committee meetings.



A legal entity, allowed by legislation, which permits a group of people, as shareholders (for-profit companies) or members (non-profit companies), to create an organisation, which can then focus on pursuing set objectives, and empowered with legal rights which are usually only reserved for individuals, such as to sue and be sued, own property, hire employees or loan and borrow money.




Also known as a "company." The primary advantage of for profit corporations is that it provides its shareholders with a right to participate in the profits (by dividends) without any personal liability because the company absorbs the entire liability of the organisation.



Of land law, capable of being physically possessed as are bricks and soil, it includes some structure erected on land.  As in incorporeal hereditaments (Theft Act 1968)



When a litigant of defendant is required to pay for the legal expenses of the other party and sometimes the court fees in either civil proceedings or criminal actions he is made the subject of a costs order.  Costs can be extensive and can include witness expenses and disbursements of the other side.




The usual rule is that "costs follows the event" which means that the loser pays.  The court has the final say on costs and may decide not to make an order on costs.  An award of costs is entirely discretionary



The local body that operates from the town hall to raise local taxes and administer local services.  A formal group of experts brought together on a regular basis to debate matters within that sphere of expertise, and with advisory powers to government.




It can be contrasted with a commission, which although also a body of experts, is typically given regulatory powers in addition to a role as advisor to the government.



A claim brought by a defendant in response to the claimant's claim, which is included in the same proceedings as the claimant's claim. (Civil Justice Rules).

Court of Session 


Scottish court.  Note not the Court of Sessions.

Court martial 


A military court set up to try and punish offences committed by members of the army, navy or air force.

Court of admiralty 


A rather archaic term used to denote the court that has the right to hear shipping, ocean and sea legal cases. Also known as "maritime law."  Now the Admiralty Court a division of the High Court



A written document in which signatories either commit themselves to do a certain thing, to not do a certain thing or in which they agree on a certain set of facts. They are very common in real property dealings and are used to restrict land use such as amongst shopping centre tenants or for the purpose of preserving heritage property.  As in a deed of covenant for tax free payments to charity



A person to whom money, goods or services are owed by the debtor

Crack, Cracked trial


The informal expression used to describe a trial which has started with a not guilty basis but the defendant changes his plea to guilty.  Usually relevant to Crown Court cases.  This can have huge implications for costs of trails as much work in preparation is wasted.  The emotional strain on witness is also wasted as they are not required to give evidence in a trial where the defendant pleads guilty.



An act or omission that is prohibited by criminal law. Each country sets out a limited series of acts (crimes) which are prohibited and punishes the commission of these acts by a fine, imprisonment or some other form of punishment. In exceptional cases, in some countries - but not always in the UK, unless a special relationship exists - an omission to act can constitute a crime, such as failing to give assistance to a person in peril

Criminal conversation 


Synonymous with adultery. In old English law, this was a claim for damages, which the husband could institute against the adulterer

Criminal Cases Review Commission, The


A statutory body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 following the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice report in 1993 that recommended such a body to take over the role of the Home Secretary.




The Royal Commission was announced on the day that the Birmingham 6 were freed by the Court of Appeal.

Website here.

Criminal Damage 


Criminal Damage Act 1971, s. 1(1) A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence

Criminal law 


That body of the law that deals with conduct considered so harmful to society as a whole that it is prohibited by statute, or common law, and is prosecuted and punished by the state.



In trials, each party calls witnesses. Each party may also question the other's witness(es). When you ask questions of the other party's witness(es), it is called a "cross-examination" and you are allowed considerably more latitude in cross-examination then when you question your own witnesses (called an "examination-in-chief"). For example, you are not allowed to ask leading questions to your own witness whereas you can in cross-examination. 




Cross-examination:  (and see 'evidence in chief') 




Cross-examination: questioning of a witness by a party other than the party who called the witness. (Civil Justice Rules).



The word refers specifically to the British Monarch, where she is the head of state of Commonwealth countries.




Prosecutions and civil cases taken (or defended) by the government are taken in the name of the Crown as head of state. That is why public prosecutors are referred to as "Crown" prosecutors and criminal cases take the form of "The Crown v Buggins" or "Regina v Buggins", 'Regina' being Latin for "The Queen" "Rex" being the Latin for "The King".

Crown Office 


The Scottish equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service in England.

Cuius est solum, ejus est usque ad caelum et ad inferos 


[Latin: who owns the land, owns down to the centre of the earth and up to the heavens]. This principle of land ownership has been greatly tempered by case law that has limited ownership upwards to the extent necessary to maintain structures. Otherwise, aeroplanes would trespass all the time.

Culpa lata 


[Latin: gross negligence]. It is more than just simple negligence and includes any action or an omission in reckless disregard of the consequences to the safety or property of another.

Culpable homicide 


The Scottish equivalent of the English  'manslaughter'.

Curator bonis 


In Scotland loosely equivalent to UK legal guardian-usually of a mentally incapable or extremely infirm adult.



The land surrounding a residence or dwelling house that is reserved for or used by the occupants for their enjoyment or work. Curtilage may or may not be enclosed by fencing and includes any outhouses such as stand-alone garages or workshops. It is a term one might come across in a search warrant, which calls for a search of the residence and its curtilage.



1.    The keeping in detention of a defendant before trial, as in a remand in custody, or in prison after sentence. 


2.    Means the charge and control of a child including the right to make all major decisions such as education, religious upbringing, training, health and welfare. Custody, without qualification usually refers to a combination of physical custody and legal custody. For other varieties of custody, see joint custody, split custody and divided custody.

Cut-throat defence


A defence frequently used in criminal trials, notably in cases of homicide and other offences against the person where there are co-defendants; D1 will blame D2 and D2 will blame D1, and both attack the character of the other. Their previous convictions become admissible: ss.101(3)(e) and (g) and 106 Criminal Justice Act 2003.




In R v Randall [2003] HL D1 and D2 were jointly charged and jointly tried for murder. Both denied the charge and blamed the other. Both attacked the character of the other. Both had previous convictions for violence. Those convictions were held to be admissible because they were relevant, they went to propensity, they went to credibility, likelihood and probability of truth, and both D1 and D2 had thrown away their shields under the Criminal Evidence Act 1898, s.1.



"As near as may be": a technical word used in the law of trusts or of wills to refer to a power that the courts have to, rather than void the document, to construct or interpret the will or a trust document "as near as may be" to the actual intentions of the signatory, where a literal construction would give the document illegal, impracticable or impossible effect. 


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