Unjumbling the Jargon: Basic Definitions of Some Common Legal Terms (Part 1)

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If you’ve ever been involved with any aspect of the law – from making a contractual agreement, putting together a Will, or filing for divorce, to actioning a claim, handling child matters, or building a strong criminal defence – “legal talk” can often seem like an entirely different language. 

In this two-part blog series, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly used legal terms and offered basic, easy-to-understand definitions for each. 

 

Acquittal 

Used in criminal trials. When the trial ends in a verdict that a person is not guilty of committing the crime for which they’ve been charged. 

An acquittal signifies that the prosecutor failed to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt

Example sentence: “The trial ended in an acquittal.”

 

Absente reo 

Any event which takes place in the absence of the defendant. 

Example sentence: “The testimony was given absente reo.” 

 

Testimony 

A formal written or spoken statement given in a court of law. 

Example sentence: “The judge called for the testimony of the eyewitness.” 

 

Affidavit 

A written statement, confirmed to be true under oath, which can be used as evidence in a court of law. 

Example sentence: “The business owner swore an affidavit in support, setting out her case.” 

 

Appeal 

A request made by the losing party after a trial has concluded to have the case reviewed by a higher court. 

Example sentence: “The claimant filed an appeal following the trial’s end.” 

 

Dispute 

A disagreement, usually between two parties. Disputes may arise following the breakdown of a relationship, or the death of a loved one. They may even arise following a conflict with a friend or neighbour, or in any case where harm has been caused or money lost due to negligence on the part of a professional or tradesperson. 

Example sentence: “The couple opened a dispute with their contractor.”

 

Probate 

The legal process of dealing with the property, finances and possessions of a person who has died. 

Example sentence: “His property was valued for probate.” 

 

Force majeure, or act of God 

A natural hazard outside of human control, such as an earthquake or hurricane, for which no person can be held responsible. 

Example sentence: “The claim was discontinued due to the force majeure clause.” 

 

Ad litem 

Used when a person is appointed to act on behalf of a child or other person who is not considered to be capable of representing themselves in a court of law. 

 

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