Legal Terms in Detail [A to F]

Legal Terms in Detail


abduction Wrongfully taking away or detaining another person, usually by force or fraud.

ab initio Void from the beginning. Fundamentally void

Void in principle

abortion The termination of a pregnancy: a miscarriage or the premature expulsion of a fetus from the womb before the normal period of gestation is complete.

It is an offence to induce or attempt to induce an abortion.

absconding The failure of a person to surrender to the custody of a court in order to avoid legal proceedings.

accomplice One who is a party to a crime, either as a principal or as an accessory.

acquittal A decision by a court that a defendant accused of a crime is not guilty.

act of God An event due to natural causes (storms, earthquakes, floods, etc.) so exceptionally severe that no one could reasonably be expected to anticipate or guard against it.

actus reus [a guilty act]

The essential conduct element of a crime that must be proved to secure a conviction (compare mens rea).

In most cases, the actus reus will simply be an act (e.g. appropriation of property is the act of theft) accompanied by specified circumstances (e.g. that the property belongs to another).

Sometimes, however, the actus reus may be an omission to act (e.g. failure to prevent death may be the actus reus of manslaughter) or it may include a specified consequence (death resulting being the consequence required for the actus reus of murder or manslaughter).

In certain cases, the actus reus may simply be a state of affairs rather than an act (e.g. being unfit to drive through drink or drugs when in charge of a motor vehicle on a road).

adjournment The postponement or suspensions of the hearing/session.

adjudication The formal judgment or decision of a court or tribunal.

admissibility of evidence The principles determining whether or not particular items of evidence may be received by the court. The central principle of admissibility is relevance. All evidence  that  is  sufficiently  relevant is admissible and all that is not sufficiently relevant is inadmissible.

admonition A reprimand from a judge to a defendant who has been discharged from the further prosecution of an offence.

adverse possession The occupation of land to which another person has title with the intention of possessing it as one’s own.

The adverse possessor must occupy the land as if he were entitled to it to the exclusion of all others. And he must intend to occupy it as his own.

affidavit A sworn written statement of evidence used mainly to support certain applications and, in some circumstances, as evidence in court proceedings.

The person who makes the affidavit must swear or affirm that the contents are true before a person authorized to take oaths in respect of particular kind of affidavit.

affray The offence of using or threatening, other than by words alone, unlawful violence. The conduct must be such as would have caused a reasonable person to fear for his safety, though no such person need be present.

The defendant must intend to use or threaten violence or, alternatively, must be aware that his conduct may be violent or threaten violence. The offence is found in the Public Order Act, 1986, though it can be committed in private as well as in public places.

aid and abet To assist in the performance of a crime either before or during (but not after) its commission. Aiding usually refers to material assistance (e.g. providing tools for the crime).

And abetting to lesser assistance (e.g. acting as a look out or driving a car to the scene of the crime).

Aiders and abettors are liable to be tried as accessories. Mere presence at the scene of a crime is not aiding and abetting the prosecution must prove that the defendant had knowledge that he was assisting the principal in the commission of the crime.

alibi The plea that the person charged with a crime was somewhere else when the crime was committed

alienation The transfer of property (particularly real property) from one person to another.

alimony Formerly, financial provision made by a husband to his wife when they are living apart. Alimony is now known as maintenance or financial provision.

allegation Any statement of fact in a statement of case, affidavit, or indictment.

amicus curiae   [a friend of the court or tribunal]

A non-party who gives evidence before the court so as to assist it with research, argument, or submissions.

amnesty An act erasing from legal memory some aspect of criminal conduct by an offender. It is most frequently granted to groups of people in respect of political offences and is wider than a pardon, which merely relieves an offender of punishment.

animus [Intention]

The term is often used in combination; for example, animus furandi – the intention to steal; animus manendi – the intention to remain in one place (for the purposes of the law relating to domicile).

antecedents An accused or convicted person’s previous convictions or history of bad character.

arson The intentional or reckless destruction or damaging of property by fire without a lawful excuse.

asylum Refuge granted to an individual whose extradition is sought by a foreign government or who is fleeing persecution in his native state.

This can include refuge in the territory of a foreign country (territorial asylum) or in a foreign embassy (diplomatic asylum).

audi alteram partem [hear the other side]. No one should be condemned unheard.

aut punier aut dedere [either punish or surrender]

In extradition law, the doctrine that offenders must be either punished by the state of refuge or surrendered to the state that can and will punish them.


bail   The  release  by  the  police,  magistrate,  or  court of a person held in legal custody while awaiting trial or appealing against a criminal conviction.

Conditions may be imposed on a person released on bail by the police.

A person granted bail undertakes to pay a specified sum to the court if he fails to appear on the date set by the court.

bailiff An officer of a court concerned with the service of the court processes and the enforcement of its orders, especially warrants of execution authorizing the seizure of the goods of a debtor.

bailment The transfer of the possession of goods by the owner (the bailor) to another (the bailee) for a particular purpose. Examples of bailments are the hiring of goods, the loan of goods. The pledge of goods, and the delivery of goods for carriage, safe custody, or repair or bailment of luggage at the cloak room at the railway station.

bankruptcy The state of a person who has been adjudged by a court to be insolvent.

battery The intentional or reckless application of physical force to another person.

benami Nameless.

beneficiary One who benefits from a will.

bigamy The act of going through a marriage ceremony with someone when one is already lawfully married to someone else.

burden of proof The duty of a party to litigation to prove a fact or facts in issue, generally the burden of proof falls upon the party who substantially asserts the truth of a particular fact.

The burden of proof lies on prosecution or claimant or plaintiff.


capacity to contract Competence to enter into a legally binding agreement.

The capacity to contract is one of the essential ingredients to enter into a valid contract.

A minor or people of unsound mind have no capacity to enter into a contract.

The contracts with such people are void ab initio.

capital punishment Death imposed as a punishment for crime.

caveat [Let him beware] warning

caveat actor Let the doer be on his guard.

caveat emptor Let the buyer be beware.

caveat venditor Let the seller be on his guard.

conjugal rights The rights of either spouse of a marriage, which include the right to each other’s consortium company, cohabitation (sexual intercourse), and maintenance during the marriage.

citation Quoting a precedent.

clemency Pardon or mercy.

consensus ad idem [Agreement on the same thing.]

The agreement by contracting parties to identical terms that is necessary for the formation of a legally binding contract.

conspiracy An agreement between two or more people to behave in a manner that will automatically constitute an offence by at least one of them (e.g. two people agree that one of them shall steal while the other waits in a getaway car).

contempt of court  [Civil contempt]

Disobedience to a court order or process, such as breach of an injunction. If an injunction is served on a defendant with a penal notice attached, breach of the injunction can result in the defendant being imprisoned.

Criminal contempt Conduct that obstructs or tends to obstruct proper administration of justice.

contributory negligence A person’s carelessness for his own safety or interests, which contributes materially to damages suffered by him as a result partly of his own fault and partly of the fault of another person or persons.

Thus careless driving, knowingly traveling with a drunken driver, and failure to wear a seat belt are common forms of contributory negligence in highway accidents.

counterfeit False or imitation.

countermand To countermand an order, i.e., to say that an order must not be carried out.

coup Rapid change of government which removes one government by force and replaces it by another.

covenant Agreement or undertaking to do something or not to do something.


Damnum sine injuria Damage without injury.

de facto [In fact]

Existing as a matter of fact rather than of right.

As prime minister of India is the de facto head of the government though the President is the de jure or nominal or titular head of the state.

defamation The publication of an untrue statement about a person that tends to lower his reputation in the opinion of right thinking members of the community or to make them shun or avoid him. Defamation is usually in words, but pictures, gestures, and other acts can be defamatory.

defendant A person against whom court proceedings are brought.

de jure As a matter of legal right.

The President of India is the de jure head of the state

delegation The grant of authority to a person to act on behalf of one or more persons, for agreed purposes.

delegates non potest delegare A person to whom something has been delegated cannot  delegate  further, i.e., one to whom powers and duties have been entrusted cannot entrust them to another.

Delinquency  The act of committing crime, usually minor crime.

Demagogue Leader who is able to get the support of the people by exciting their feelings and prejudices.

discharge of contract The termination of a contractual obligation. Discharge may take place by:

  1. performance of contract,
  2. express agreement, which may involve either bilateral discharge or unilateral discharge,
  3. breach of contract,
  4. frustration of contract.

double jeopardy No person may be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb for the same offence. A defence to a prosecution for a crime, raising the claim that the accused is being placed on trial for a second time for the same offence.

duress Pressure, especially actual or threatened physical force, put on a person to act in a particular way. Acts carried out under duress usually have no legal effect.

For example, a contract obtained by duress is voidable.


embargo The detention of ships in port—a type of reprisal. Ships of a delinquent state may be prevented from leaving the ports of an injured state in order to compel the delinquent state to make reparation for the wrong done.

embezzlement The dishonest appropriation by an employee of any money or property given to him on behalf of his employer.

estoppel   A rule of evidence or a rule of law that prevents a person from denying the truth of a statement he has made or from denying the existence of facts that he has alleged to exist. The denial must have been acted upon (probably to his disadvantage) by the person who wishes to take advantage of the estoppel or his position must have been altered as a result.

ex gratia Done as a matter of favour. The ex gratia payment is one not required to be made by a legal duty.

ex officio By virtue of holding an office.

The vice President of India is an ex officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

The prime minister of India is the ex officio chairman of the Planning Commission.

ex post facto  [by a subsequent act]

Describing any legal act, such as a statute, that has retrospective effect.

As in the case of Indian Constitution, Article 20 deals with the ex post facto laws whereunder the civil laws can have retrospective application whereas the criminal laws can- not have retrospective application rather they would have prospective application, i.e., application from future date.

extradition The surrender by one state to another of a person accused or convicted of committing an offence in the territorial jurisdiction of the latter, which being competent to try and punish him demands his surrender.

Expunge To remove.


Factum probanda  Fact in issue, which is to be proved.

Factum probans  Relevant fact.

fiduciary Fiduciary relationships are those relationships which are based on faith and trust. The relationships between doctor and patient, lawyer and client, teacher and student, and husband and wife are fiduciary relationships.

fagrante delicto  In the commission of an offence.

Literally means to be caught red handed.

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