Glossary in British English

Please note however that this glossary is for guidance only and is not intended as an exhaustive or comprehensive source of definitions. The meanings provided are those commonly associated with the words and phrases in a legal context and it should be borne in mind that those same words and phrases may have a different meaning in a different context.


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Acknowledgement of Service Court form used by a party to legal proceedings to confirm receipt of a Statement of Case (such as a claim form).

Acquittal A finding by a court of not guilty to a criminal charge.

Action Legal proceedings / Claim.

Advocacy Representing a party by means of spoken submission to a court or tribunal.

Advocate A court lawyer.

Affidavit A written statement sworn on oath.

Agenda An itinerary or list of matters for discussion at a meeting.

Aggravated Damages Additional compensation awarded by a court to compensate for particularly objectionable conduct on the part of the Defendant.

Agreement Contract or arrangement agreed orally or in writing between different parties.

Alibi A defence to a criminal charge based on the contention that the accused was elsewhere when the crime is alleged to have been committed.

Appeal Challenge to the validity or correctness of a decision of a court or tribunal (usually based on the contention that the law was incorrectly interpreted).

Appellant Term used to describe a party appealing against a court or tribunal decision.

Applicant Person or organization commencing Employment Tribunal proceedings or making an application to court for a specific remedy prior to trial.

Arrest The physical seizure of an individual (normally by a policeman) on suspicion of a crime having been committed by that individual or to prevent a crime being committed.

Attorney American term for lawyer.



Bail The release of an individual from police custody pending further appearance by that person in court or at a police station.

Barrister A lawyer who is a specialist court advocate and referred to as ‘counsel’ (often being instructed by a solicitor to appear in court on behalf of a client).

Brief to Counsel Set of instructions prepared by a solicitor and provided to a barrister, setting out details of a case (including relevant facts and law etc.) to enable the barrister to provide representation in court on behalf of a client.

Burden of Proof Term used to indicate which party the onus is placed on to establish or prove a case and to what degree. E.g. in a civil case the burden of proof is on the Claimant to establish the case on the ‘balance of probabilities’ (whereas in a criminal case the prosecution must normally establish the case beyond all reasonable doubt).



Case-law Law created by court decisions, i.e. law created by cases which provide precedents of relevance for future legal disputes (see ‘Precedent’ below).

Cause of Action The legal grounds or basis of a claim or ‘action’ commenced in court (e.g. breach of contract).

Case A legal dispute between specific parties.

Certificate of Incorporation Certificate issued by the Registrar of Companies confirming that a company has been incorporated (i.e. legally recognized as having been created).

Chambers Has two main meanings:

(1) to refer to a hearing in private as opposed to in open court (ref. to as being ‘in chambers’) and

(2) to refer to a barrister’s place of work (‘counsel’s chambers’).

Charge Allegation (usually in writing) of specific criminal conduct against an individual. (That individual is then said to have been ‘charged’ – such as with theft for instance.)

Civil Action / Proceedings Legal action based on a civil right (as opposed to a criminal action) such as breach of contract, for instance.

Claim Form Court form used to commence legal proceedings in court.

Class Action A legal action commenced in the name of one or a few named Claimants on behalf of a class of Claimants.

Client Term used by lawyers to refer to their ‘customers’.

Common Law Legal rules and principles founded on court decisions as opposed to statutes or similar written laws or regulations.

Conference with Counsel Meeting between a barrister and a client (usually in the presence of a solicitor).

Contempt of Court Refusal or failure to comply with a court order or requirement.

Contingency Fees Fees charged by a lawyer for legal work which are based on a percentage of the damages recovered on behalf of that client. (Generally only permissible in the USA albeit contingency fees can be charged in Employment Tribunal cases in the UK.)

Contract A legally enforceable agreement.

Contributory Negligence Degree to which a Claimant is deemed to have contributed to or caused the accident or degree of injury for which damages are being claimed. (Damages can be reduced to reflect this degree of contributory negligence.)

Conviction A finding by a court or tribunal that an individual is guilty of the offence charged. (That person is then said to have been‘convicted’ of the offence charged–e.g. theft.)

Corroboration Evidence from an independent source which substantiates a party’s version of events.

Costs Term used to refer to legal costs or expenses of legal work conducted by lawyers on behalf of clients.

Counsel Term used to refer to a barrister. (Barristers awarded the distinction of being known as ‘Queen’s Counsel’ are known as ‘senior counsel’; also a term in the US for an attorney.)

Counsel’s Opinion Legal advice proposed by a barrister.

Counterclaim A claim by a Defendant in legal proceedings who in turn alleges that he has a legal claim against the Claimant.

County Court Civil court which usually deals with lower value civil cases.

Court List List or schedule prepared by a court which provides details of the date and time that each trial or hearing is scheduled for.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) A Government scheme to provide monetary compensation to victims of crimes of violence. 

Cross-Examination Questioning of a witness in court by a party other than the party calling that particular witness to provide evidence.

Crown Court Criminal court of the Supreme Court of England and Wales with jurisdiction over the most serious criminal cases. (There are a number of Crown Courts located throughout England and Wales.)

Custodial Sentence A sentence of imprisonment by a court or tribunal.



Damages Monetary compensation (such as for personal injury).

Defense Statement of case setting out the legal grounds and details on which a Defendant is defending legal proceedings being pursued against that Defendant.

Defendant The party to legal proceedings against whom the claim is being made by the Claimant.

Deposition A written or recorded witness statement taken on oath.

Directions A list of steps or instructions, usually issued by a court, setting out the specific actions which each party in a legal action is required to comply with prior to the case being heard in court. (In order to ensure that the legal proceedings concerned proceed efficiently and that the parties in the case have properly prepared their cases in readiness for trial.)

Director Individual with management responsibilities within a company. (All directors of a company are collectively referred to as the ‘board of directors’.)

Disbursements Costs incurred in the course of legal work other than a solicitor’s fees (e.g. travelling expenses and fees payable to expert witnesses).

Discontinuance A situation whereby the Claimant in civil proceedings voluntarily confirms that the case is no longer being pursued (i.e. is being ‘discontinued’).

Disclosure Revealing to another party to legal proceedings the past or present existence of evidential material (usually documents) which may be relevant to the case.

Discovery The process whereby each party to legal proceedings reveals details of documentation and information in their possession which may be relevant to the case. (Thereby providing another party in the case with the opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of such material. The court usually orders that discovery should take place simultaneously between the parties.)

District Judge A judicial officer of the County Court who acts as judge in many straightforward County Court cases.

Documentary Evidence Evidence in written form (e.g. letters and contracts etc.).



Evidence Information and material (such as witness testimony and documentation) relevant to a case and on which a court or tribunal bases its findings.

Evidence in Chief Evidence elicited from a witness by the party calling that witness.

Examination in Chief Questioning of a witness in court by the party calling that particular witness to give evidence.

Exemplary Damages Additional compensation awarded by a court amounting to more than the actual losses sustained by a party and intended as a penalty to reflect the court’s particular disapproval of the Defendant’s conduct. (Usually only awarded in US courts, where some exemplary damages awards have amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.)

Exparte A hearing in court which takes place with one of the parties to the proceedings being absent. (A more modern equivalent phrase now commonly used is ‘without notice’.)

Expert Witness Witness called to provide evidence involving professional expertise in a particular field which is relevant to a particular case (e.g. a doctor).

Express Term Term or provision in an agreement which is specifically (i.e. expressly) stated or written.

Extraordinary General Meeting Any general (shareholders’) meeting of a company other than its Annual General Meeting (AGM).



Further and Better Particulars More specific detail or information of a specific aspect of the case referred to in the statements of case (court documents). (Such further detail or information will usually be provided in response to a request by a party for such further detail or information in order to clarify the claim being made.)



General Damages Compensation which can only be determined by reference to previous cases of a similar nature or by the court (including for instance damages for pain and suffering).



High Court Civil court which deals with higher value civil cases.



I.e. Abbreviation for Latin phrase ‘id est’ and meaning ‘that is’ or ‘in other words’.

Illegal Against the law. (E.g. stealing is illegal.)

Implied Term Term of an agreement not expressly stated but recognised in law by virtue of the obvious understanding between the parties or by their conduct or the circumstances of the agreement. (An implied term can also be imposed by statute, e.g. implied term of satisfactory quality.)

In Camera In private. (E.g. a court hearing closed to the public is sometimes referred to as being ‘in camera’.)

Injunction A court order compelling a person to do or refrain from doing something.

In Open Court A trial or court hearing in public.

Instructions to Counsel Written information prepared by a solicitor and provided to a barrister to enable that barrister to provide advice to a client or to draft legal documentation on behalf of a client. Such ‘instructions to counsel’ usually include a summary of the facts of the case, relevant law and any relevant supporting documentation.

Interim Order An order made by a court prior to the final trial or hearing of a particular case (e.g. an order for directions setting out the further steps each party is required to take prior to trial).

Interlocutory Application / Hearing / Order An application to court, court hearing or court order made prior to trial. 

Inter partes Term used to refer to a court hearing at which all parties are present (as opposed to an ‘ex-parte’ hearing at which at least one party is absent).

Interrogatory A request for further information.

Issue (of Proceedings) To commence legal proceedings by lodging relevant papers at court (such as a claim form). (This is referred to as ‘issuing proceedings’.)

Intellectual Property Law relating to copyright, rights to inventions (patents) and trademarks etc.



Judge Trier or adjudicator of a case responsible for making findings of law (and sometimes of fact albeit also see ‘jury’ below).

Judg(e)ment A decision or declaration of the court, usually setting out the court’s findings and details of any damages (compensation) or other remedy which the court has decided to grant to any party in the case.

Jurisdiction The authority to decide and enforce the law. (E.g. the County and High Courts have jurisdiction to try breach of contract cases in England and Wales.)

Jury Group of individuals (usually 12) who make findings of fact in the most serious criminal cases (usually in the Crown Court in England and Wales).



Law A system of rules and regulations governing and determining permissible conduct within society.

Leading Question A question which suggests the answer or which implies the existence of some particular fact(s) or circumstances.

Leave Permission. (E.g. to seek ‘leave of the court’ is to seek permission of the court.)

Legal Privilege A legal right to refuse to disclose or produce documentation or other evidence on the basis of some special interest recognised by law. (Typically relating to the legally recognized right for discussions and correspondence between lawyer and client to remain ‘privileged’ and thus protected from disclosure.)

Letter Before Action Correspondence sent by a prospective Claimant or his legal advisor intimating to another party an intention to commence legal action against that other party along with brief details of the proposed legal action. (Note that a more modern equivalent is ‘letter of claim’.)

Letter of Claim Modern term for ‘letter before action’ (see above).

Liability Legal responsibility to comply with or discharge a legal obligation or indebtedness.

Limitation Period The time-limit prescribed by law in which a Claimant must commence a claim in court. Failure to issue the claim in court within this time-limit will usually result in the Claimant losing the legal right to pursue that particular claim. (E.g. the limitation period for a personal injury claim is three years in the UK.)

Listing for Trial Procedure for providing the court with final documentation and information in order to enable the court to finalize a date for trial.

Litigant A party to legal proceedings (i.e. to litigation – see below).

Litigation Legal action / proceedings involving a dispute between parties.

Liquidated Damages A term used to refer to a specifically quantifiable amount of monetary compensation which a Claimant is seeking from another party. (I.e. a sum which can be precisely calculated as opposed to an amount which is variable at the court’s discretion.)

Locus Location of an incident, particularly of an accident.



Magistrates’ Court Criminal Court in England and Wales which tries the relatively less serious criminal cases. (Usually conducted by a ‘Magistrate’.)

Member A company shareholder.

Minutes Record of matters discussed and decided in the course of directors’ and shareholders’ meetings.

Minor An individual under 18 years of age.

Mitigation A term used in criminal law to refer to submissions seeking to justify or at least provide some explanation for a party’s conduct and aimed at persuading a court or tribunal to show some sympathy towards that party. (See also ‘Mitigation of Damages’ below.)

Mitigation of Damages A term used in civil law to refer to efforts made by a Claimant to minimize or alleviate loss and damage sustained.



Negligence Used in a legal sense to refer to a failure to comply with a duty of care towards others imposed by law or by generally accepted standards.



Oral Evidence Spoken (as opposed to documentary) evidence.



Party Person or organization entering into an agreement or engaged in legal proceedings.

Plaintiff Person or party commencing a legal action. Note that the term ‘Claimant’ is now used in English courts in place of ‘Plaintiff’ (the term ‘Plaintiff’ still being in general use however in American courts).

Pleadings A term previously used to refer to the court documents setting out each party’s case and now largely superseded by the term ‘Statements of Case’.

Poll Means of voting at shareholders’ meetings whereby votes on a particular resolution are counted on the basis of the number of voting shares held by each person voting (as opposed to ‘on a show of hands’).

Precedent Existing document, draft or court decision which is relevant to and used as the basis for subsequent legal drafting or decisions. (‘Doctrine of Precedent’ refers to a concept whereby previous court decisions establish the general legal position for subsequent legal disputes involving similar circumstances.)

Privilege (See ‘Legal Privilege’ above.)

Proceedings Term used to refer to an ongoing court action (known as court or legal proceedings).

Proxy An individual appointed to represent a shareholder at a shareholders’ meeting.



Quantum (of Damages) The level or amount of monetary compensation (damages) awarded by a court or agreed between the parties to a case by negotiation.

Quash Over-rule or annul a previous court decision.

Queen’s Counsel A title bestowed on barristers who have demonstrated a high level of professional expertise and competence. Barristers appointed as ‘Queen’s Counsel’ may use the letters ‘QC’ after their names and are sometimes referred to as ‘silks’ or ‘Leading Counsel’.

Quorum Minimum number required to be present at a meeting in order for decisions taken at that meeting to be valid.



Registered Office Official address of a company as recorded with the Registrar of Companies at which official documents and legal proceedings can be served on a company.

Registrar of Companies Official responsible for maintaining the ‘Company Registry’ recording details of incorporated companies.

Remedy The specific means by which a party receives restitution or satisfaction for loss caused by another. (E.g. the usual remedy for personal injury is damages.)

Resolution A decision made by members of a company.

Respondent Person defending an application to court for a specific order or defending Employment Tribunal proceedings.

Return Date Date set by a court for an interlocutory hearing.

Restrictive Covenant Clause to prevent an employee competing etc. with his/her employer.

Rights of Audience Right to appear in and address a particular court or tribunal.



Service Provision or delivery of court documentation (such as a claim form or notice of a forthcoming court hearing etc.). A person receiving such documentation is referred to as having been ‘served’.

Set Aside A subsequent order or direction from a court cancelling a previous judgment or order (referred to as ‘setting aside’ the previous order or direction).

Setting Down for Trial Now usually referred to as ‘listing for trial’. (See ‘Listing for Trial’ above.)

Settlement An agreement reached between parties to a legal dispute which concludes that dispute.

Shareholder Owner of shares in a company (i.e. who is a ‘member’ of that company).

Solicitor A lawyer who prepares cases and legal transactions on behalf of a client (often instructing a barrister to provide representation in court).

Special Damages Actual financial losses which can be specifically ascertained as having been incurred between the date the cause of action arose and the date of trial. (E.g. loss of earnings up to trial and property damage sustained etc.)

Standard of Proof The criterion or degree of proof required in order for a party to establish its case. (E.g. in civil cases the standard of proof is ‘on the balance of probabilities’ whereas in a criminal case it is usually ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’.)

Statute Legislation in the form of written laws and regulations (such as ‘Acts of Parliament’ created by the UK Parliament).

Stay A halt to court proceedings. Proceedings which are thus ‘stayed’ do not continue any further (although a stay can subsequently be ‘lifted’ to enable those proceedings to continue).

Strike Out To ‘strike out’ means that the court has ordered that a particular aspect of a case (such as particular written details in a statement of case) is to be removed from the court records and can therefore no longer be relied upon. The court can strike out an entire case if a party is sufficiently dilatory in complying with steps required by the court, thereby effectively terminating those proceedings.

Subpoena Witness summons requiring a witness to attend court to give evidence.

Sue Informal term meaning to issue legal proceedings.



Testimony Statement or assertion made to a court by a witness.

Tort A breach of a duty imposed by civil law (e.g. negligence).



Unliquidated Damages Damages (monetary compensation) which cannot be precisely quantified upon commencement of legal proceedings (as opposed to liquidated damages which can–see above).



Vicarious Liability A legal concept whereby a person or entity can be held liable for the fault or wrongdoing of another. (A typical example of this is an employer being liable for the negligence of an employee acting in the course of his employment, i.e. vicariously liable.)



Without Prejudice A legal concept whereby oral or written communication can be entered into between parties with a view to reaching a negotiated settlement. I.e. on the basis that the details of such communication cannot be disclosed to the court or relied upon in court in the event that a settlement is not achieved.

Writ Court form traditionally used to commence legal proceedings in court. (Note that claim forms are now used far more commonly for commencing legal proceedings.)