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Dictionary of legal terms - N-O
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[Home][Index - Dictionary][Dictionary of legal terms - N-O]

UK Law Dictionary - English Legal System

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Nation state 


A sovereign state of which most of the citizens or subjects also share factors such as language or common descent, a common history and traditions and culture. A common language is not necessary, for example Switzerland has 4 main languages.

National Law 


Domestic law of a member state, as distinct from EU law.

National treatment 


A tenet of international trade agreements whereby nations must afford imported goods the same treatment that they afford domestic or "national" products (no discrimination).

Natural justice 


A word used to refer to situations where audi alteram partem (the right to be heard) and nemo judex in parte sua (no person may judge their own case-the rule against bias) apply. The principles of natural justice were derived from the Romans who believed that some legal principles were "natural" or self evident and did not require a statutory basis. These two basic legal safeguards govern all decisions by judges or government officials when they take quasi-judicial or judicial decisions.

Ne bis in idem


[Latin: not for the same thing] A principle in criminal law that a person should not be tried or punished twice.


It is generally recognised as a legal principle in most states and might be considered a principle of International Law, however, jurisdictions are not bound by it.


The EU is working towards a Europe wide principle to prevent second trials in other countries.


This principle is closely linked to autrefois acquit (convict) and is often used interchangeably with "double jeopardy".



Not only are people responsible for the intentional harm they cause, but their failure to act as a reasonable person would be expected to act in similar circumstances (i.e. "negligence") will also give rise to compensation. Negligence, if it causes injury to another, can give rise to liability in tort. Negligence is always assessed having regards to the circumstances and to the standard of care which would reasonably be expected of a person in similar circumstances. Everybody has a duty to ensure that their actions do not cause harm to others. Between negligence and the intentional act there lies yet another, more serious type of negligence which is called gross negligence. Gross negligence is any action or an omission in reckless disregard of the consequences to the safety or property of another. See also contributory negligence and comparative negligence.



To communicate on a matter of disagreement between two parties, with a view to first listen to the other party's perspective and to then attempt to arrive at a resolution by consensus.   Barristers are often instructed by solicitors to negotiate for a settlement for a client to avoid court action.

Nemo dat quod non habet


[Latin: nobody gives what he does not have].

Nemo judex in parte sua 


[Latin: no person can judge a case in which he is a party]. A fundamental principle of natural justice  (the rule against bias). May also be called nemo judex in sua causa or nemo debet esse judex in propria causa.

Nemo tenetin ipsum accusare


[Latin: no one may be compelled to betray himself] It is this principle is behind the right to silence.  The rule requires the prosecution to provide evidence not the defendant.  there are exceptions for example blood samples have to be supplied for drink driving allegations.

Next of kin 


The nearest blood relative of a deceased. The expression has come to describe those persons most related to a dead person and therefore set to inherit the deceased's property.



From the Latin nepos for nephew. Used when a member of your family hands you a job.  Nepotism was coined in the Middle Ages to describe the behaviour of certain Popes and other high Church officials. In the modern age, the heads of the Church have usually been widely respected moral leaders, but in earlier times some were corrupt.  Their appointment of their "nephews" (a polite way of referring to their illegitimate children) to church offices was one of the practices that helped to bring on the Reformation.

Nice Treaty


Signed in December 2000 this Treaty makes provision for the future enlargement of the European Union. To this end the Treaty lays down new rules for the composition of the European Commission and expands the areas that can be decided by majority voting.

Nobile officium 


In Scotland,  the equitable jurisdiction of the High Court of Justiciary or the Inner House of the Court of Session to give a remedy where none would otherwise be available, or to soften the effect of the law in a particular circumstance.

Nolo contendere 


[Latin: I will not defend it].  Used primarily in criminal proceedings whereby the defendant declines to refute the evidence of the prosecution.

Non est factum 


[Latin: not his deed]. A special defence in contract law to allow a person to avoid having to respect a contract that she or he signed because of certain reasons such as a mistake as to the kind of contract. For example, a person who signs away the deed to a house, thinking that the document signed was only a guarantee for another person's debt, might be able to plead non est factum in a court and on that basis get the court to void the contract.



Not doing something that a person should be doing. Compare with malfeasance and misfeasance.



When a person who should have been made a party to a legal proceedings has been forgotten or omitted. This is usually addressed by asking the court to amend documents and including the forgotten party to the proceedings. It is the opposite of mis-joinder.



Also known as "notary public": a legal officer with specific judicial authority to attest to legal documents usually with an official seal. Most countries do not have notaries vesting administrative legal authority in lawyers or court officers. In the UK this function is carried out by solicitors or court officers.



In spite of, even if, without regard to or impediment by other things. 


If a sentence containing 'notwithstanding' does not seem to make sense try changing the word "notwithstanding" to "even though", see if that helps.



Substitute: novation can refer to the substitution of one thing for another. 

In contract law it can occur when three parties (tripartite) agree to change the contract that exists between two of the parties, the contract is rescinded and a new contract is substituted.  The new contract will usually be on the same terms the only difference will be the substitution of the new party (hence tripartite). 

For example, a creditor at the request of the debtor agrees to take another person as his debtor in the place of the original debtor, its effect is to release the obligation of the former party and to impose them on the new party.  This typically occurs when there is a change in the membership of a partnership in a firm. 

Other novations can occur when an original borrower is substituted by a new borrower; the original borrower is released from all liability to the original maker of the loan.
(Compare with "assignment", "sub-participation",

novus actus interveniens 


[Latin: a new intervening act] An intervening act that breaks the chain of causation.

Nudum pactum 


[Latin: a bare promise] A contract law term which stands for those agreements which are without consideration, such as a unilateral undertaking, which may bind a person morally, but not under contract law.   A contract without consideration.



Excessive or unlawful use of one's property to the extent of unreasonable annoyance or inconvenience to a neighbour or to the public. Nuisance is a tort.

Nulla Poena Sine Lege


[Latin: no punishment except in accordance with the law]. A principle of Natural Justice. 

Nunc pro tunc 


[Latin: now for then]. It refers to the doing of something late (after it should have been done in the first place), with effect as if it had been done on time.




A religious or solemn affirmation to tell the truth or to take a certain action.

Obiter dictum 


[Latin: an observation by a judge on a matter not specifically before the court or not necessary in determining the issue before the court; a side opinion which does not form part of the judgment for the purposes of stare decisis May also be referred to as "dicta" or "dictum."



The person who is to receive the benefit of someone else's obligation; that "someone else" being the obligor. Also called a "promisee." Some countries refer to the recipient of family support as an "obligee".



A person who is contractually or legally, committed or obliged, to providing something to another person; the recipient of the benefit being called the obligee. Also known as the "promisor."



Usually used in the context of the portrayal or description of sexual matters.


A human body is not of itself obscene.


Can include something that is offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency.  This would include obscene jokes and obscene literature.


It would include behaviour that is offensive to moral principles, or is repugnant.  It can include expressions such as "using animals' skins for fur coats is obscene".


The issue of obscenity is entirely one for the jury and expert evidence on the issue is not admissible.


 A performance of a play is deemed to be obscene if, taken as a whole, its effect was such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who were likely, having regard to all the relevant circumstances.


An article is deemed to be obscene for the purposes of the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964 if its effect or, where the article comprises two or more distinct items, the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.

Obstructing justice 


An act which tends to impede or thwart the administration of justice. Examples include trying to bribe a witness or juror or providing law enforcement officers with information known to be false.



A crime; any act which contravenes the criminal law of the country in which it occurs.



A explicit proposal to contract which, if accepted, completes the contract and binds both the person that made the offer and the person accepting the offer to the terms of the contract. See also "acceptance".

Official copy 


" copy of an official document, supplied and marked as such by the office which issued the original." (Civil Justice Rules)

Official Journal of the European Communities


Official Community publication containing (in the L series) the texts of regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations, agreements and other measures, and (in the C series) notices, particulars of cases brought before the European Court, with the operative part of the judgment or order, and other information. The Supplement to the Official Journal (also known as the S Series) contains notices of public contracts.



A person whose occupation consists of investigating customer complaints against a variety of institutions. Many government bodies including parliament have ombudsmen who will investigate citizen complaints. Others include, building society ombudsman, health service ombudsman and local authority ombudsman.

Ombudsman (EU)


Appointed by the European Parliament after each election for the duration of Parliament's term of office, the ombudsman is empowered to receive complaints from any citizen of the Union or any natural or legal person residing in a member state concerning instances of maladministration in the activities of the Community institutions or bodies (with the exception of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance).

Omnibus bill 


A draft law before parliament which contains more than one substantive matter, or several minor matters which have been combined into one bill, ostensibly for the sake of convenience. The omnibus bill is an "all or nothing" tactic.



[Latin: the burden]. It is usually used in the context of evidence. The onus of proof in criminal cases lies with the crown. It is the prosecution that has the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt.


In civil cases, the onus of proof lies with the claimant who must prove his case by balance of probabilities. So "onus" refers both to the party with the burden, and to the scope of that burden, the latter depending whether the context is criminal or civil. 


The burden of proof, onus probandi, can shift between parties and between crown and defendant, for example offensive weapons when the prosecution has shown the defendant possessed the item it is then his burden to prove he had it for a lawful purpose.

Onus probandi 


[Latin: the burden of proof], this normally lies on the prosecution, but it can shift during a trial.

Open ended agreement 


An agreement or contract which does not have an ending date but which will continue for as long as certain conditions, identified in the agreement, exist.



Act of the EU Council or European Commission under the EC Treaty, art 249, which lacks binding force.

Decision of the Court of Justice under the EC Treaty, art 300, as to whether an envisaged agreement is compatible with the provisions of the Treaty.

Reasoned statement made to the Court of Justice in open court by an advocate general recommending to the court a solution to the issues of fact and law in a case pending before it.



A formal written direction given by a member of the judiciary; a court decision without reasons.



A person who has lost one or both of his or her natural parents.



An abbreviation, meaning "others", used in case names.




Afzal, R (on the application of) v Election Court & Ors [2005] EWCA Civ 647


This abbreviation is never used by the House of Lords in case names.

Ouster clauses also called Finality clauses


A provision in an Act of Parliament to restrict or eliminate judicial review.

Out-of-court settlement 


An agreement between two litigants to settle a matter privately before the Court has rendered its decision.  Most civil actions are settled in this way.



Oyer and Terminer


[Norman French: To hear and determine]. Not in current usage.  Formerly indicated jurisdiction of criminal courts.


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