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

UK Law Dictionary - English Legal System

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Misappropriation of money, or the amount misappropriated.




In 1988, the Privy Council dismissed an appeal by Chan Man-sin against his conviction in Hong Kong for theft. While an accountant, Chan had forged cheques for $HK4.8 million on company accounts, depositing them in his accounts. He was charged with theft when his defalcations were discovered.



A cash compensation ordered by a court to offset losses or suffering caused by another's fault or negligence. Damages are a typical request made of a court when persons sue for breach of contract or tort




"Damages: A sum of money awarded by the court as compensation to the claimant.  Aggravated damages:  Additional damages which the court may award as compensation for the defendant's objectionable behaviour.  Exemplary damages:  Damages which go beyond compensating for actual loss and are awarded to show the court's disapproval of the defendant's behaviour " 


(Civil Justice Rules) 

Death penalty 


Also known as capital punishment. Forms of the death penalty include hanging from the neck, gassing, firing squad and has included use of the guillotine




In the UK the death penalty for murder was abolished in 1965.  And in all circumstances in 2000 with the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1988.



A person who owes money, goods or services to another, the latter being referred to as the creditor



The Scottish equivalent of the English civil 'judgment'.   - although the written judgment itself (as opposed to the decision which it embodies) is still called a judgment. 

Decree absolute 


The name given to the final and conclusive court order after the condition of a decree nisi is met.   As in divorce. 

Decree nisi 


[Latin: unless order].  A provisional decision of a court which does not have force or effect until a certain condition is met such as another petition brought before the court or after the passage of a period time (usually 6 weeks), after which it is called a decree absolute.




A feature of UK divorce although no longer required in many jurisdictions, this was the model for divorce procedures wherein a court would issue a decree nisi , which would have no force or effect until a period of time passed (30 days or 6 months). 



A written and signed document which sets out the things that have to be done or recognitions of the parties towards a certain object. 




Under older common law, a deed used to have to be sealed; that is, accompanied not only by a signature but with an impression on wax onto the document (hence the expression "signed, sealed and delivered"). Since 1989 this is not the case, nor does it have to be written on particular type of paper.  The word deed is also most commonly used in the context of land law because these transactions must usually be signed and in writing.  A contract without consideration would be by a deed. 




To be a deed an instrument must make clear on its face that it is intended to be a deed and must be validly executed as a deed.   For an individual to validly execute an instrument as a deed it must be signed by him the presence of a witness who attests  the signature, or at his direction and in his presence and the presence off two witnesses who each attest the signature, and must be delivered as a deed by him or a person authorised to do so on his behalf  (Law of Property (Miscellaneous  Provisions); Act 1989. s.l)

Deed Poll 


A deed which is ; polled; or smooth; i.e. not indented: a unilateral deed; e.g. for publishing a change of names 



To accept a document or an event as conclusive of a certain status in the absence of evidence or facts which would normally be required to prove that status. For example, in matters of child support, a decision of a foreign court could be "deemed" to be a decision of the court of another for the purpose of enforcement. 

de bene esse


[Latin: for what it is worth - let’s get on with it]

De facto 


[Latin: as a matter of fact] something which, while not necessarily lawful or legally sanctified, exists in fact. A common law spouse may be referred to a de facto wife or de facto husband: although not legally married, they live and carry-on their lives as if married. A de facto government is one which has seized power by force or in any other unconstitutional method and governs in spite of the existence of a de jure government. 



A tort consisting of the publication of a false and derogatory statement respecting another person who is alive and without lawful justification. 




A defamatory statement is one exposing him to hatred, ridicule or contempt, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his office, profession or trade. 




It may constitute libel or slander. 




It must be construed in its natural add ordinary meaning; if not defamatory in such meaning, it must be construed in the special meaning, if any, in which it was understood by the person by and to whom it was published.




It is for the judge to say whether the words are reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning, but for the jury to say whether under the circumstances of the case they in fact bear that meaning.




No action can be maintained for libel or slander unless there is publication, that is a communication by the defendant of the defamatory statement to some person other than the claimant.




The Defamation Act 1952 made significant changes to defences to defamation, for example justification and fair comment.

  Damages for defamation are capped at £200,000.



1. Defaulting on a debt or other obligation such to account for public or trust funds. Usually used in the context of public officials. 
2. Setting-off of two debts owed between two people by the agreement to a new amount representing the balance, a type of novation.



1. The person defending an action in a civil case, the person being sued.
2. The person defending an action in a criminal case, the person accused of having committed a crime.



The grant of a lease of land. According to the context, it can also mean death.

See also, devise.

de minimis


[Latin: insignificant; minute, frivolous]
Something or some act which is 'de minimis' is one which does not rise to a level of sufficient importance to be dealt with judicially.




In Canadine v Director of Public Prosecutions [2007] QBD, it was held that a speed camera complied with the relevant regulations (Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002) where a minor irregularity in the casing around the sign (which was not an integral part of the sign) could only be seen on very close inspection and no motorist would have been misled as to the true nature of the sign, accordingly even if the casing had been part of the sign the transgression from the regulations would be regarded as de minimis.

de minimis non curat lex


[Latin: The law does not concern itself with trifles].

Denning, Alfred Thompson, Baron (1899–1999 ) 


English jurist who served as Master of the Rolls for twenty years (1962–82). Renowned as a champion of the rights of the individual, he was created Baron Denning of Whitchurch in 1957.




After studying mathematics and law at Oxford, Denning was called to the bar in 1923. In 1938 he became a KC and in 1944 he was appointed a High Court judge. He then progressed steadily through the judiciary until, in 1957, he joined the House of Lords as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. However, finding that he was not in the best position to exercise influence over the development of the law, Denning chose to return to the Court of Appeal in 1962 as Master of the Rolls.




In many cases between 1962 and 1982 Denning found opportunities to apply his beliefs in the rights of the individual in beleaguered circumstances, most notably those of deserted wives, victims of unfair contracts, and those caught up in administrative bureaucracy. His stand upon these issues endeared Denning to the public, although his rejection of precedent in favour of the pursuit of justice made him a controversial figure within the profession.




Denning also served on many committees and review bodies, including the enquiry into the circumstances of the resignation of the secretary of state for war, John Profumo (1915– ), in 1963 and the Committee on the Legal Education for Students from Africa.




Besides fulfilling the duties of Master of the Rolls, Denning is also the author of several popular books on legal topics, such as The Changing Law (1953), The Road To Justice (1955), The Family Story (1981), The Closing Chapter (1983), and Leaves from my Library (1986).




In his retirement Denning startled his admirers by saying that the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four were probably guilty and should have been hanged, despite their release by the court of appeal in 1991, after years of wrongful imprisonment for IRA bombings.
(From Who's Who in the Twentieth Century in History)



Exemption from the provisions of EU legislation.



Until abolished by the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, and action to obtain the return of goods in the wrongful possession of another.



To devise means to leave freehold property or land in a will, see demise.

Diplock Court


The Diplock Court system applies only in Northern Ireland.




Its main feature is trial without a jury.  The system was established in December 1972, after a Commission chaired by Lord Diplock (1907–1985) reported that the jury system as a means of trying terrorist crime was under such strain it was in danger of breaking down.




The Diplock Report highlighted the danger of perverse acquittals because of jurors favouring one side or the other and the real problem of intimidation of jurors.


The Diplock system was repealed on 31 July 2007 as part of the Government's security normalisation programme.

Diplock, Kenneth, Baron (1907–1985)


Law Lord.




The judgments of Lord Diplock have been recognised as pivotal to the development of administrative law.




After the 1960s a number of decisions marked a significant change in judicial attitudes towards judicial control of administrative action for example Re Racal Communications Ltd [1981] AC 374.




In IRC v National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd [1982] AC 617 Lord Diplock said, " '... [the] comprehensive system of administrative law [which] I regard as having been the greatest achievement of the English courts in my judicial lifetime."




Lord Diplock was involved in many leading cases concerning Judicial Review. Thus a new relationship developed between the courts and those who derive their authority from the public law.




In Freitas v Benny [1976] AC 239 (which dealt with a provision in the Trinidadian Constitution) famously said,


“Mercy is not the subject of legal rights. It begins where legal rights end.”  


In other words, the exercise of the prerogative of mercy in death penalty cases is not amenable to review by the courts.

Direct Applicability


A provision of EC law which has the capacity to become law in each member state without being re-enacted in national law.




Direct applicability means that EC law becomes part of the national law without intervention of the national parliament. This is the case for all EC regulations.




This is NOT the case for the Treaties, for example the Treaty of Lisbon 2007 has to be ratified according to the national practices of the 27 Member States (i.e. either referenda or votes by the legislator).  More here.

Direct Effect


A provision of EU law which can confer upon individuals rights which national courts must protect.




‘Vertical direct effect’ is occasionally used to describe cases where the right conveyed by the provision applies against a member state.




‘Horizontal direct effect’ is occasionally used to describe cases where the right applies against another individual.



According to art 249 of the EC Treaty, a measure adopted by the ‘European Parliament acting jointly with the Council, the Council and the Commission’, which is ‘binding as to the result to be achieved, upon each member state to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods.’

Disassociative state


A "disassociative state" is defined as a state where an individual is so focused to only one thing and forgets about the entire environment and has no recollection for a period of time.

Discretionary trust


This is a trust set up so that the trustees can decide who will benefit from the trust and how much they will get.



Disproportionality can be described as when people from a certain group, for example black or Asian people (Black, minority ethnic - BME), are more likely to be stopped and searched in relation to their numbers in the population compared to the white population.  See national statistics here



A term of maritime law where an officer or other seaman is either demoted in rank or deprived of a promotion.



To disagree. The word is used in legal circles to refer to the minority opinion of a judge which runs contrary to the conclusions of the majority.




As in 'Lord Hoffman gave a dissenting speech'. (note: in the House of Lords, their Lordships give speeches not judgments)



The act of ending, terminating or winding-up a company or state of affairs. For example, when the life of a company is ended by normal legal means, it is said to be "dissolved".




The same is said of marriage or partnerships which, by dissolution, ends the legal relationship between those persons formally joined by the marriage or partnership.




The end of a parliament, dissolved by the monarch.



The right of a landlord to seize the property of a tenant which is in the premises being rented, as collateral against a tenant that has not paid the rent or has otherwise defaulted on the lease, such as wanton disrepair or destruction of the premises.




A common way to "distrain" against a tenant is by giving notice to the tenant. A legal action to reclaim goods that have been distrained is called replevin.



A proportionate distribution of profits made in the form of a money payment to shareholders, by a for-profit corporation. Dividends are declared by a company's board of directors.



The final, legal ending of a marriage, by Court order.



Abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. A chromosome molecule which carries genetic coding unique to each person with the only exception of identical twins (that is why it is also called "DNA fingerprinting").




Through laboratory process, DNA can be extracted from body tissue such a strand of hair, semen, blood and matched against DNA discovered at a crime scene or on a victim to scientifically implicate an accused. Can also be used to match DNA between parents in a paternity suit.



An official court record book which lists all the cases before the court and which may also note the status or action required for each case.



From the Latin word doctrina meaning "teachings." Something taught as a the principle or creed especially in religion.




A rule or principle of law established through its repeated use.



The permanent residence of a person; a place to which, even if he or she were temporary absence, they intend to return. In law, it is said that a person may have many residences but only one domicile.

Dominant tenement


Used when referring to easements to specify that property (i.e. tenement) or piece of land that benefits from, or has the advantage of, an easement.

Dominion directum


[Latin: the qualified ownership of a landlord, not having possession or use of property but retaining ownership] Used in feudal English land systems to describe the King's ownership of all the land, even though most of it was lent out to lords for their exclusive use and enjoyment.

Dominion utile


[Latin: the property rights of a tenant] While not owning the property in a legal sense, the tenant, as having dominion utile , enjoys full and exclusive possession and use of the property.

Donatio mortis causa


[Latin: a gift on account of death]. A death-bed gift, made by a dying person, with the intent that the person receiving the gift shall keep the thing if death ensues.




Such a gift is exempted from the estate of the deceased as property is automatically conveyed upon death. Real property cannot be transferred by these death-bed gifts.



Another word to describe the beneficiary of a trust. Also used to describe the person who is the recipient of a power of attorney; the person who would have to exercise the power of attorney.



The person who donates property to the benefit of another, usually through the legal mechanism of a trust. In UK trust law he is referred to as the "settlor." Also used to describe the person who signs a power of attorney.

Double jeopardy


A general principle of criminal law that a person should not be at risk of being tried more than once on the same facts, nor punished more than once for the same offence.




Double jeopardy is used interchangeably with ne bis in idem


The Seventh Protocol, Article Four of the European Convention of Human Rights,




"No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings under the jurisdiction of the same State for an offence for which he has already been finally acquitted or convicted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of that State.".


However, several states including the United Kingdom have not ratified this optional convention.




The principle of double jeopardy applies to all offences in the ELS except serious offences when significant new evidence comes to light.  This change occurred as a result of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 part 10.




One person (Billy Dunlop) in the UK has pleaded guilty to a murder charge after having been acquitted of the killing of Julie Hogg.

Draft Bills


A Draft Bill is a Bill that has not yet been formally introduced into Parliament and enables consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny before a Bill is issued formally.




A Draft Bill is considered in draft, often by a departmental select committee and this allows Members who are specialised in the subject to have early influence on the Bill. This process is known as pre-legislative scrutiny.

Dublin Convention


The Dublin Convention on Asylum 1990 is a document outlining common formal arrangements on asylum which states that when people have been refused asylum in one member state of the EU they may not seek asylum in another state.

Duces tecum


[Latin: bring with you] Used most frequently for a species of subpoena (as in " subpoena duces tecum ") which seeks not so much the appearance of a person before a court of law, but the surrender of a thing (e.g. a document or some other evidence) by its holder, to the court, to serve as evidence in a trial.

Due process


The concept of 'due process' incorporates observance of all the mandatory requirements of criminal procedure, but 'due process of law' also had a narrower constitutional meaning, namely those fundamental principles which are necessary for a fair system of justice.




Arbitrary arrest and detention and lengthy pre-trial detention would reveal the absence of due process in criminal cases.




In Osman v UK [1999] it was said;


 "Another relevant consideration is the need to ensure that the police exercise their powers to control and prevent crime in a manner which fully respects the due process and other guarantees which legitimately place restraints on the scope of their action to investigate crime and bring offenders to justice, including the guarantees contained in Articles 5 and 8 of the Convention."


The doctrine applies not only to criminal matters but all court procedures, legislation and constitutional matters.

Dum casta


[Latin: for so long as she remains chaste]. Separation agreements years ago used to contain dum casta clauses which said that if the women were to start another relationship, she forfeited her entitlement to maintenance.

Dum sola


[Latin: for so long as she remains unmarried]

Dum vidua


[Latin: for so long as she remains a widow]



A house which has separate but complete facilities to accommodate two families as either adjacent units or one on top of the other.



Where a person is prevented from acting (or not acting) according to their free will, by threats or force of another, it is said to be "under duress".




Contracts signed under duress are voidable and, in some circumstances, you cannot be convicted of a crime if you can prove that you were forced or threatened into committing the crime (although this defence may not be available for serious crimes).

Duress of circumstances


Can be used as a defence, for example fleeing from a supposed attacker, and whilst fleeing committing a traffic offence.

Duress per minas


[Latin] Duress by threats, as opposed to duress of circumstances.  Not used often in ELS but favoured in Ireland and USA.


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