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

UK Law Dictionary - English Legal System

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Fair market value 


The hypothetical most probable price that could be obtained for a property by average, informed purchasers.

Fee simple 


The most extensive tenure allowed under the feudal system allowing the tenant to sell or convey by will or be transfer to a heir if the owner dies intestate. In modern law, almost all land is held in fee simple and this is as close as one can get to absolute ownership in common law.

Fee tail 


A form of tenure under the feudal system  that could only be transferred to a lineal descendant. If there were no lineal descendants upon the death of the tenant, the land reverted back to the lord.



A serious crime.   In the UK felonies carried prison sentences for 5 years or more or death. Crimes of less gravity are called misdemeanours. This term is no longer used in England or other Commonwealth countries but remains a major distinction in the United States. Historically, in England, the term referred to crimes for which the punishment was the loss of land, life or a limb.  Under PACE was called an 'arrestable offence', since 1.1.2006 appears to have no name.

Feudal system 


A social structure that existed throughout much of Europe between 800 and 1400 and that revolved around a multi-level hierarchy between lords (who held land granted under tenure from the king), and their tenants (also called "vassals"). Tenants would lease land from the lord in exchange for loyalty and goods or services, such as military assistance or money. In exchange, the tenant would be protected from attack.



or Legal Fiction a rule assuming as true something that is clearly false. A fiction is often used to avoid rules that Parliament should change.  So, for example if a body has no power to sit beyond midnight but has several hours more of work still to do, it is easier to turn back the clock on their wall from time to time than it is to change their  constitution. When the High Court had a full workload of civil cases the criminal division of the same court, could help out and take on some cases by pretending that the defendant in a simple civil action had been arrested and was in custody. The fiction that a corporation is, a person separate from its members is equivalent to saying that the law deals with the group as a unit, disregarding for the group's individual members.



Normally, the term is synonymous to a trustee, which is the classic form of a fiduciary relationship. A fiduciary has rights and powers which would normally belong to another person. The fiduciary holds those rights which he or she must exercise to the benefit of the beneficiary. A fiduciary must not allow any conflict of interest to infect their duties towards the beneficiary and must exercise a high standard of care in protecting or promoting the interests of the beneficiary. Fiduciary responsibilities exist for persons other than trustees such as between solicitor and client and principal and agent, and a fiduciary duty lies in insurance.

Fieri facias 


A writ of fieri facias commands a sheriff to take and sell enough property from the person who lost the law suit, to pay the debt owed by the judgment.  Operates in the High Court.  In the County Court is called a distress warrant.

Folie à deux


A shared psychotic disorder between 2 people, usually people who are mutually dependent upon each other, or when a person is in constant attendance on a person of unsound mind

Force majeure 


[French: an act of God; an inevitable, unpredictable act of nature, not dependent on an act of man]  Used in insurance contracts to refer to acts of nature such as earthquakes or lightning.  Or other event over which a party has no control and prevents his performance of a contract.



The technical meaning of the word is to wipe out a right of redemption on a property. Generally, this is what happens when someone does not pay their mortgage. Even though there has been no payments, the borrower retains a equitable right of redemption if, some day, he or she were able to find the money and try to exercise their right of redemption. To clear the title of this potential, a lender goes to court, demonstrates the default, requests that a date be set where the entire amount becomes payable after which, in the absence of payment, the lender is automatically relieved of the requirement to redeem the property back to the borrower; the debtor's right of redemption is said to be forever barred and foreclosed. This cancels all rights a borrower would have in the property and the property then belongs entirely to the lender, who is then free to possess or sell the property. The word is frequently used to generally refer to the lender's actions of repossessing and selling a property for default in mortgage payments.

forum non conveniens


[Latin:  A forum which is not convenient]


A legal doctrine used where a party to Court proceedings wishes to transfer the case to another, more convenient, jurisdiction.


The doctrine of forum non conveniens originated in Scotland in the nineteenth century and became available in English courts in the late 1960s.


A court will not refuse to consider a case within its jurisdiction unless the claimant’s choice was oppressive or vexatious to a defendant for example, by issuing proceedings in a distant and inconvenient location), or for abuse of process.




Lord Goff in Spiliada Maritime Corp. v Cansulex Ltd [1986] HL:


"In cases where jurisdiction has been founded as of right, i.e. where in this country the defendant has been served with proceedings within the jurisdiction, the defendant may now apply to the court to exercise its discretion to stay the proceedings on the ground which is usually called forum non conveniens. That principle has for long been recognised in Scots law; but it has only been recognised comparatively recently in this country. In The Abidin Daver [1984] A.C. 398, 411, Lord Diplock stated that, on this point, English law and Scots law may now be regarded as indistinguishable. It is proper therefore to regard the classic statement of Lord Kinnear in Sim. v. Robinow (1892) 19 R. 665 as expressing the principle now applicable in both Jurisdictions. He said, at p. 668: "the plea can never be sustained unless the court is satisfied that there is some other tribunal, having competent jurisdiction, in which the case may be tried more suitably for the interests of all the parties and for the ends of justice."."


The doctrine of forum non conveniens appears to exist in common law countries but not in civil law jurisdictions.

Four Freedoms 


The four freedoms provided for in the EC Treaty, namely the free movement of goods, the free movement of persons, the right of establishment and freedom to provide services, and the free movement of capital.



Deceitful conduct designed to manipulate another person to give something of value by (1) lying, (2) by repeating something that is or ought to have been known by the fraudulent party as false or suspect or (3) by concealing a fact from the other party which may have saved that party from being cheated. The existence of fraud will cause a court to void a contract and can give rise to criminal liability.



A special right granting the full use of real property for an indeterminate time. It differs from leasehold, which allows possession for a limited time. There are varieties of freehold such as fee simple and fee tail.  If someone owns land which is freehold no one else has any rights over the land.



A person who owns freehold property rights (i.e. in a piece of real estate; either land or a building).

Freezing orders


Freezing orders or injunctions (formerly known as “Mareva Orders”) are a means by which a party to proceedings or intended proceedings can be restrained from  removing assets from the jurisdiction of the Court or restrained from dealing with assets wherever located.



Available in civil proceedings at any time, although usually obtained before proceedings are issued. Typically, draft pleadings will need to be produced to the Court to demonstrate a real intention to commence a claim.



Usually made without notice to the defendant to ensure element of surprise. In that case, the claimant is subject to a duty to make full and frank disclosure of all relevant matters to the Court. If such disclosure is not made the order can be overturned regardless of the merits of the claimant’s case or entitlement to the order.



A claimant must give an undertaking to the Court to pay any damages which the defendant (or any other party served with or notified of the order) sustains if it turns out that the order should not have been granted. If the claimant has insufficient assets within the jurisdiction to support the undertaking he will be required to provide appropriate security.


A claimant must show a good arguable case and a risk that the defendant will dispose of assets or remove assets from the jurisdiction so as to make it likely that any judgment against the defendant could not be satisfied in the absence of a freezing order.



Order cannot be used oppressively, for example to cause the defendant to cease trading. Defendant usually allowed to continue using assets, for example, to pay employees and trade creditors and to discharge reasonable living expenses and/or legal fees.


Can freeze assets legally and beneficially owned by the defendant, including those located outside the jurisdiction and in support of foreign proceedings, but usually limited to the amount of the claim so that the defendant is free to deal with assets above that sum.



A defendant and any third parties who fail to comply with the order are in contempt of Court and liable to a fine and/or imprisonment. Third parties who knowingly assist in a breach of the order are guilty of contempt (for example if a bank pays money out of the defendant’s bank account). A freezing order does not, however, bind third parties outside the jurisdiction (for example a foreign branch of a bank with a presence in England).



Order usually contains a provision requiring the defendant to disclose information about his assets or about the alleged fraud, but cannot be used as a “fishing expedition”.



In criminal proceedings, a restraint order can be obtained which has the effect of freezing assets suspected of being funded by the proceeds of crime. The order may be granted by the High Court after application by the prosecuting authority e.g. Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office or Customs & Excise.




The worldwide freezing (Mareva) injunction to English litigation lawyers is known as the nuclear weapon in the litigation armoury. Only English and a few like-minded courts have the jurisdiction to grant these very powerful orders. Courts on the continent of Europe do not, neither do courts in the US.





One who runs away to avoid arrest, prosecution or imprisonment. Many extradition laws also call the suspect a "fugitive" although, in that context, it does not necessarily mean that the suspect was trying to hide in the country from which extradition is being sought.

Functus officio 


[Latin: cessation of responsibility] An officer or agency whose mandate has expired either because of the arrival of an expiry date or because an agency has accomplished the purpose for which it was created.  So, this would include a court which has adjudicated on a matter, it cannot reopen a case because its jurisdiction has expired.



Goods which are comprised of many identical parts such as a bushel of grain or a barrel of apples or oil, and which can be easily replaced by other, identical goods. If the goods are sold by weight or number, this is a good sign that they are fungible.

Furiosi nulla voluntas est 


[Latin: mentally impaired persons cannot validly sign a will].


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