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

UK Law Dictionary - English Legal System

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This is a word with two contradictory meanings. To "sanction" can mean to ratify or to approve but it can also mean to punish. The "sanction" of a crime refers to the actual punishment, usually expressed as a fine or jail term.



Thought to have be abolished from the common law in 1624, it existed in medieval times to persons who had just committed a crime, allowing them to seek refuge in a church or monastery. There, they could be exempted from normal prosecution.

Schengen Agreement


Agreement signed at Schengen on 14 June 1985 between Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in which these countries agreed that they would gradually remove their common frontier controls and introduce freedom of movement for all individuals who were nationals of the signatory member states, other member states or third countries.




The Schengen Convention was signed by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands on 19 June 1990. It lays down the arrangements and guarantees for implementing freedom of movement. It amends the relevant national laws and is subject to parliamentary ratification. Italy (1990), Spain and Portugal (1991), Greece (1992), Austria (1995), Sweden, Finland and Denmark (1996) have since joined the list of signatories, while Iceland and Norway are also parties to the Convention; see also the Schengen Agreement.



[Latin: knowledge]. In legal situations, the word is usually used to refer to "guilty knowledge". For example, owners of vicious dogs may be liable for injuries caused by these dogs if they can prove the owner's "scienter" (i.e. that the owner was aware, before the attack, of the dog's vicious character).



A seal is a mark which the court puts on a document to indicate that the document has been issued by the court. 


(Civil Justice Rules)

Search Order 


Formerly an Anton Piller Order. The civil law equivalent of a criminal search warrant, but without the power to use force.




Can be obtained against a party to proceedings or intended proceedings in order to preserve evidence which is or may be relevant or for the purpose of preserving property which may be the subject of proceedings.




In civil proceedings search orders are available by application to the Court (usually without notice to the defendant).




A claimant must show real grounds for suspecting that the defendant is destroying or will destroy documents or would not comply with an order for disclosure.




A search order must be supervised by a Supervising Solicitor who must be experienced in the operation of search orders and who is independent of the claimant.


The Supervising Solicitor’s obligations include, amongst other things, listing all material removed from the defendant’s premises and explaining the terms and effect of the order to the defendant.




As a matter of principle the Court in England and Wales may order a search of premises located overseas, but in practice it is unlikely to do so.


Extremely effective tool in determining the whereabouts of assets and proceeds of fraud.




Search orders can also be obtained in criminal proceedings, either from the County Court (e.g. under tax legislation) or from the Magistrates’ Court (search warrants). Evidence obtained from a search in criminal proceedings cannot be used directly in civil proceedings but transcripts of the evidence used in court in the criminal proceedings are permitted.

Search warrant 


A court order (i.e. signed by a magistrate or a judge) that gives police, customs and excise or other law enforcement agent the authority to enter private property and to search for evidence of the commission of a crime, for the proceeds of crime or property that may be suspected of being used to commit a crime. These court orders are obtained on the basis of a sworn statement by the requesting law enforcement officer and will precisely describe the place to be searched and, in some cases, the exact property being sought.



The legal possession of property. In law, the term refers more specifically to the possession of land by a freeholder. For example, a owner of a building has seisin, but a tenant does not, because the tenant, although enjoying possession, does not have the legal title in the building.



The punishment given to a person who has been convicted (i.e. found to be guilty) of a crime. It may be time in prison, a Community Penalty Order (formerly community service) or a Community Rehabilitation Order (formerly probation), a fine or discharge.



The taking of someone's property, voluntarily (by deposit) or involuntarily (by seizure), by court officers or into the possession of a third party, awaiting the outcome of a trial in which ownership of that property is at issue.



Steps required by rules of court to bring documents used in court proceedings to a person's attention.


(Civil Justice Rules)

Servient tenement 


The land which suffers or has the burden of an easement. The beneficiary of the easement is called a dominant tenement.



From Roman law, referring to rights of use over the property of another; a burden on a piece of land causing the owner to suffer access by another. An easement is type of servitude as is a profit á prendre.

Session, Court of, 


Scottish court.  The Court of Session always sits in Edinburgh, unlike the High Court of Justiciary, which can sit on circuit.   This is why Glasgow murder trials will generally be heard in Glasgow, whereas personal injury actions for large sums of money will generally be heard in Edinburgh, regardless of where the people involved live. 


The Court of Session consists of the Lord President, Lord Justice-Clerk and other Judges known as ;Lords in Ordinary.

Set aside 


Cancelling a judgment or order or a step taken by a party in the proceedings. (Civil Justice Rules)



The person who actually creates a trust by donating property to be managed and administered by a trustee but from which all profits would go to a beneficiary. The law books of some countries refer to this person as a "donor."

Several liability 


(and see 'joint liability') A person who is severally liable with others may remain liable for the whole claim even where judgment has been obtained against the others. (Civil Justice Rules)



A defence used in Canadian courts where the accused has been acquitted of sexual assault charges because they suffered an exotic form of parasomnia, or sleep disorder, and had been so deep in sleep that he could not form the intention to commit the sexual assault of which they are charged.




First used in 1985, there have only been seven cases in Canada of these, only two succeeded.



  There have been acquittals in UK courts but the defence has not been heard in an appeal court.  An example of acquittal was reported in 2007 in York Crown Court, press report here.


Jan Luedecke, a 35-year-old landscaper, found on top of Toronto woman entered the plea and his case reached the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2008 (outcome not known).

Sexual harassment 


A term used in human rights legislation and referring primarily to harassment in employment situations, related to sex or gender, which detrimentally affects the working environment. The most overt variation of sexual harassment is the quid pro quo offer of work favour in exchange for sexual favour.

Sexual intercourse 


A vital agreement for sexual crimes such as rape. Penetration of a man's penis into a woman's vagina, even to the slightest degree.



A portion of a company bought by a transfer of cash in exchange for a certificate, the certificate constituting proof of share ownership. Persons owning shares in a company are called "shareholders". There are two basic kinds of shares: common and preferred. A shareholder is not liable for the debts or other obligations of the company except to the extent of any commitment made to buy shares. The two other benefits of shares include a right to participate in profits (through dividends) and the right to share the residue of assets of the company, once liabilities have been paid off, if it is ever dissolved.

Shareholder agreement 


A contract between the shareholders of the company and the company itself, in which certain things, usually the purview of the board of directors, are detailed. For example, a shareholder might be allowed to manage the company, instead of a board of directors. The shareholder agreement will also, typically, control inflows to the company (purchase of shares), how profits are to be distributed, dispute resolution and what to do if a shareholder dies.

Sheriff Court 


Scottish court. Note: not; Sheriff's Court;.  The adjective from Sheriff; is; Shrieval; (pronounced to rhyme with; weevil;)  The smaller civil disputes go to the Sheriff Court. There is no upper limit to the value of cases which can be dealt with in the Sheriff Court - you can raise a million-pound action there if you wish, although in practice that does not happen often. There are two special procedures for smaller claims, the small claim procedure and the summary cause procedure. Appeal from the Sheriff Court lies with the Sheriff Principal, or else to the Inner House of the Court of Session.

Sheriff Officers 


In Scotland have a function similar to English bailiffs.

Silent partner 


A person who invests in a company or partnership but does not take part in administering or directing the organization; he or she just shares in the profits or losses.

Sine die 


[Latin: without day]. Adjourned without giving any future date of meeting or hearing. A court that adjourns sine die essentially dismisses the case by saying that it never wants to hear the case again!  A meeting which adjourns sine die has simply not set a date for it's next meeting.

Sine qua non


[Latin:  without which, not] An essential condition, something that is indispensable.


See causa sine qua non.

Single European Act


Signed in 1987 this was an amendment to the founding treaties and dealt primarily with the implementation of the internal market.



Verbal or spoken defamation.

Slander of title 


Intentionally casting aspersion on someone's property including real property, a business or goods (the latter might also be called "slander of goods"). A form of jactitation. For example, stating that a house is haunted or alleging that a certain product infringes a patent or copyright.



When a person (called "master") has absolute power over another (called "slave") including life and liberty. The slave has no freedom of action except within limits set by the master. The slave is considered to be the property of the master and can be sold, given away or killed. All the fruits of the slave's labour belongs to the master (see, for example, the extract from The 1740 South Carolina Slave Code in the History of the Law). Slavery was once very prevalent in the world but is now illegal in most countries.

Small claims 


A form of arbitration for matters less than £5000.  Heard in the County Court using simplified rules of procedure. Hearings are quicker and representation by lawyer is not required or encouraged.



Synonymous with buggery and referring to "unnatural" sex acts, including copulation, either between two persons of the same sex or between a person and an animal (the latter act is known as "bestiality"). Most countries outlaw bestiality but homosexual activity is gradually being decriminalized.



A lawyer who gives legal advice drafts documents such as contracts and wills, and arranges the purchase and sale of land and property.  A solicitor's main work would not, typically, involve regular attendance at court for advocacy.  His/ her involvement in litigation is usually confined to the pre-hearing stages. 


In England and Wales and some other Commonwealth jurisdictions, a legal distinction is made between solicitors and barristers; solicitors are the main providers of oral or written advice, and barristers conduct litigation in the courts, although the distinctions are increasingly becoming blurred.


Nevertheless, in England and Wales, barristers and solicitors work together: the solicitor would typically make the first contact with a client and if the issue cannot be resolved and proceeds to trial, the solicitor would transfer the case to a barrister for an opinion or advocacy in the courts.


Lawyers in other countries sometimes use the title "barrister and solicitor" because there is no legal distinction between the roles. In the USA all lawyers are referred to as "attorneys". 


In the UK a lawyer cannot be both a solicitor and barrister. 



Has two meanings. The first one is a technical word for the monarch (king or queen) of a particular country as in "the Sovereign of England is Queen Elizabeth." The other meaning of the word is to describe the supreme legislative powers of a state: that they are totally independent and free from any outside political control or authority over their decisions. The people of Quebec, for example, has, at times, supported governments which have proposed that Quebec become a "sovereign" state; that all legislative authority of the government of Canada over their territory cease and that the government of Quebec be enabled to regulate in any matter at all; and that the government of Quebec represent itself internationally.

Specific gift or specific legacy


This is an item left in a will which can be identified and be given to the beneficiary.

Special verdict 


An acquittal on the grounds of insanity is followed by custody during His Majesty's pleasure. 




By the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964 the verdict is now “not guilty by reason of insanity” [previously it had been “guilty but insane”]




Legislation acknowledged the essential principle that a proper conviction depended on proof of mens rea at the time when the criminal act was committed. 




If the defendant was of unsound mind at that time the right verdict, mens rea being absent, was an acquittal.  However, to protect the public from an individual whose actions constituted the actus reus of a crime, an acquittal on the grounds of insanity was to be followed by custody during His Majesty's pleasure.

Split custody 


A child custody decision which means that legal custody goes back and forth between parents in turn they take care of the child. Also known as "divided custody".

Squatters' rights


Commonly used to describe "adverse possession", where a person "squats" on another's land for so long that the squatter becomes the owner because the true owner has left it too long to take action to repossess the land.


Squatter is a barrister who has not been granted a tenancy in a set of chambers, but nevertheless continues to practice from the set.  This arrangement is seldom hostile.

Standing committee 


A term of parliamentary law which refers to those committees which have a continued existence; that are not related to the accomplishment of a specific, once only task as are ad hoc or special committees. Standing committees generally exist as long as the organization to which it reports. Budget and finance or nomination committees are typical standing committees of a larger organization.

Stare decisis 


[Latin: stare rationibus decidendi keep to the decision of past cases].  A basic principle of the law whereby once a decision (a precedent) on a certain set of facts has been made, the courts will apply that decision in cases which subsequently come before it embodying the same set of facts. A precedent which is binding; must be followed.



A term of international law: those groups of people which have acquired international recognition as an independent country and which have four characteristics; permanent and large population with, generally, a common language; a defined and distinct territory; a sovereign government with effective control; and a capacity to enter into relations with other states (i.e. recognized by other states). The USA, Canada and China are examples of states. States are the primary subjects of international law. The United Nations is comprised of all the states of the world. Some large states have subdivided into smaller units each having limited legislative powers normally restricted to subjects which are more properly regulated at a local, rather than a national level. Thus, the states of the USA are not really "states" under international law. It is common for the general public and English dictionaries to use the word "nations" to refer to what international law calls "states."

Statute Book


"Statute Book" is the collective noun for statutes.   It is a metaphor for all the laws of England and Wales. There is no one book that contains all statutes.


Over 700 years they have been produced on various materials, either in scrolls or flat documents.  The nearest modern equivalent of a statute book is the UK Statute Law Database (SLD).




The SLD carries most (but not all) types of legislation, both primary and secondary.




Most types of primary legislation are held in updated  form incorporating amendments. Most types of secondary legislation on SLD are not revised and are held only in the form in which they were originally made.



The written laws approved by legislatures, parliaments or houses of assembly (i.e., politicians). Also known as "legislation". The written laws of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland, for example, are in a multi-volume set of books called the Statutes of Newfoundland.

Statutory Instrument


A Statutory Instrument is a secondary source of legislation. The term is generally abbreviated to SI. A SI can be identified by the presence of the letters SI, then the year followed by ‘/’ and a running number (e.g. SI 1989/1673). SIs are needed to cover the details of principles and operation that are too complex to be included in the main body of Acts. They are also used for regularly updating Acts for example to introduce new fees or costs. SIs are also known as Regulations, Rules or Orders.

Statutory rape 


Not a concept familiar to English Law; however, since the Sexual Offences Act 2003 intercourse with a child under 13 is called rape, even if the child consents.  It is said that the common law definition of rape has not proven adequate to reflect modern values in countries such as the USA. Rape is limited to sex without consent. Many states have enacted laws which include under the charge of rape, sex with a minor even if done with the minor's consent, sex without consent regardless of whether the victim is male or female, and sex without consent regardless of the matrimonial bond between victim and rapist.

Statutory trust 


A trust created by the effect of a statute. They are usually temporary in nature and serve the purpose of bridging ownership of property to benefit a certain class of individuals which the statute is designed to protect. Some examples are the temporary trusts that the law of some states impose on the executor of an estate, the holding and administration of tax or other pay deductions (including holiday pay) by employers, the trust accounts of lawyers and the statutory trust on money paid for a construction project on behalf of any person who might have a construction lien on the property.



(Also "Stay of Proceedings") A stay imposes a halt on proceedings, apart from taking any steps allowed by the Rules or the terms of the stay. Proceedings can be continued if a stay is lifted. (Civil Justice Rules)



[Latin: the offspring of a person; his or her descendants]. For example, inheriting per stirpes means having a right to a deceased's estate because you happen to be a descendant of the deceased.




This principle is used to try to ensure equal division of property.




So, the Administration of Estates Act 1925 s 46(1)(ii) says …
"(1) … (2) … (3) the share of any member who predeceases the testator is taken by his children or remoter issue equally among them per stirpes, but contingently upon attaining 18 or marrying under that age."

Strict liability 


1.Tort liability which is set upon the defendant without need to prove intent, negligence or fault; as long as you can prove that it was the defendant's object that caused the damage. 2. Criminal liability without mens rea intention recklessness or it is sufficient that the offence occurred. Often associated with the term absolute offence, and 'state of affairs' offences. Usually offences regulating health and safety, possession offences, motoring offences, currency and control of pollution. These are usually preventive in nature.

Strike out 


Striking out means the court ordering written material to be deleted so that it may no longer be relied upon. 


(Civil Justice Rules)



A plea attached to a writ of habeus corpus 

Sub judice 


[Latin: under a judge].  A matter that is still under consideration by a court. You will hear of politicians declining to speak on a certain subject because the subject matter is "sub judice".



To be subject to the orders or direction of another; of lower rank.



[Latin: under penalty].  An order of a court which requires a person to be present at a certain time and place or suffer a penalty. This is the traditional tool used by lawyers to ensure that witnesses present themselves at a given place, date and time to make themselves available to testify (see also duces tecum).



When you pay off someone's debt and then try to get the money from the debtor yourself. (Compare with "novation".)


If one person is subrogated to another, he is said to "stand in the other's shoes", for example an insurance company is subrogated to the rights of the insured on paying his claim, in other words the insurance company takes on the rights of the client.

Subservient tenement 


The real property that supports or endures an easement. The real property benefiting from an easement is called the dominant tenement.

Substituted service 


If a party appears to be avoiding service of court documents, a request may be made with the court to, instead of personal service (i.e. giving the document directly to the person), that the document be published in a local newspaper, served on a person believed to frequent the person or mailed to his (or her) last known address.



A person who takes over the rights of another.



The act of killing yourself.  Formerly a crime.

Suicide pact 


An agreement between two or more people to kill themselves, usually at the same time or within a short space of time.  If one party survives he is criminally liable for the death of the other(s), very rarely seen.

Sui juris 


[Latin: of one's own right].  A person who possesses full civil rights and is not under any legal incapacity such as being bankrupt, of minor age or mental incapacity. Most adults are sui juris.
One who has all the rights to which a freemen is entitled; one who is not under the power of another, as a slave, a minor, and the like.
To make a valid contract, a person must, in general, be sui juris. Every one of full age is presumed to be sui juris.

Summary offence 


A less serious offence than indictable offences. Both the procedure and punishment tends to be less onerous.  The trial for a summary offence takes place in a Magistrates' Court.  Many offences, particularly motoring offences are summary only offences and can never be tried elsewhere.



An order signed by a magistrate or a magistrate's clerk ordering the person named in the document to appear at a certain place at a certain time, usually to answer a charge.  The summons also gives the court which issues it the authority to dispose of the matter. It does not involve the arrest of the accused and is used where the police, either by the relatively less serious nature of the crime or because of the standing of the accused in the community, do not believe that arrest is necessary to ensure the attendance of the accused at court.   In the USA, this is one of the initial documents issued in a civil suit; giving the defendant notice of the claim and an opportunity to defend it.



Political or economic influence that is above or overarches established national borders or spheres of influence of separate nations.





The person who has pledged him or herself to pay back money or perform a certain action if the principal to a contract fails, as collateral, and as part of the original contract. Technically, where a person provides collateral after or before the original contract is signed, and as a separate contract, the person is called a "guarantor" and not a "surety."




In bail situations a security is cash that stands to be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear in answer to his bail.  More usually a surety is offered from a friend or relative.



[Middle English via Old French silogisme or Latin syllogismus from Greek sullogismos, from sullogizomai (as syn-logizom "to reason" from logos "reason")] 



Deductive reasoning as distinct from induction, often ascribed to judges. 



A form of reasoning, in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed propositions (premisses): a common or middle term is present in the two premisses but not in the conclusion, which may be invalid (e.g. all fathers are male; some horses are male; therefore some horses are fathers: the common term is male).



[Middle English via Old French sillogiser or Late Latin syllogizare from Greek sullogizomai (as syllogism)]  Use syllogisms, or to put (facts or an argument) in the form of syllogism.

Synallagmatic contract 

  A civil law term for a reciprocal or bilateral contract: one in which both parties provide consideration. A contract of sale is a classic example, where one party provides money and the other, goods or services. A gift is not a synallagmatic contract.


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