Legal Terms in Detail [N to R]

Legal Terms in Detail


negotiable instrument A document that constitutes an obligation to pay a sum of money and is transferable by delivery so that the holder for the time can sue upon it in his own name. The transferee can enforce the obligation even if the transferor’s title is defective, provided that he accepted the document in good faith and for value and had no notice of the defect. The most important classes of negotiable instruments are bills of exchange (including cheques) and promissory notes.

nemo debet bis vexari [no man ought to be twice vexed] No person should be twice sued upon the same set of facts if there has been a final decision of a competent court.

Next friend Person who brings an action on behalf of a minor.

Novation Transaction in which a new contract is agreed by all parties to replace an existing contract.

nullity of marriage The invalidity of a marriage due to some defect existing at the time the marriage was celebrated (or, sometimes, arising afterwards). A marriage may be null in the sense that it is void, i.e., it was never in the eyes of the law a valid marriage (and the ‘spouses’ are legally merely cohabitants).


obiter dictum [a remark in passing]

Something said by a judge while giving judgment that was not essential to the decision in the case.

It does not form part of the ratio decidendi of the case and therefore creates no binding precedent, but may be cited as persuasive authority in later cases.

Ombudsman An official who investigates complaints by the public against government departments.

offer An indication of willingness to do or refrain from doing something that is capable of being converted by acceptance into a legally binding contract. It is made by an offeror to an offeree and is capable of acceptance only by an offeree who knows of its existence.


Palimony Money which a court orders a man to pay regularly to a woman with whom he has been living and from whom he has separated.

parole  The conditional release of a prisoner from prison.

partnership An association of two or more people formed for the purpose of carrying on a business with a view to profit.

performance of contract The carrying out of obligations under a contract.

per incuriam Through lack of care. A decision of a court is made per incuriam if it fails to apply a relevant statutory provision or ignores a binding precedent.

perjury The offence of giving false evidence or evidence that one does not believe to be true (even if it is in fact the truth).

persona non grata [an unacceptable or unwelcome person]

A diplomatic agent who is unacceptable to the receiving state. The sending state should recall such an agent: if this fails to occur, the host state may ignore the presence of the agent or expel him from its territory.

pilfer To steal small objects or small amounts of money.

plaintiff Person who starts an action against someone in the civil courts.

plea bargaining Arrangement where the accused pleads guilty to some charges and the prosecution drops other charges.

piracy [piracy jure gentium]

Any illegal act of violence, detention, or robbery commit- ted on a private ship for personal gain or revenge, against another ship, people, or property on the high seas. Piracy may also be committed on or against an aircraft. Piracy also includes operating a pirate ship or aircraft and incit- ing or assisting any other act of piracy.

polygraphy Lie detector, a machine, which tells if a person is lying by recording physiological changes which take place while the person is being interviewed.

possession Actual control of a property combined with the intention to use it, rightly or wrongly as one’s own. In the case of land, possession may be actual, when the owner has entered into the land or possession in law, when he has the right to enter but has not yet done so. Possession includes receipt of rent and profits, or the right to receive them.

power of attorney Official power which gives someone the right to act on behalf of someone in legal matters.

Precedent Something which has happened earlier than the present and which can be a guide as to what should be done in the present case.

privity The relationship that exists between people as a result of their participation in some transaction or event; for example, privity of contract and privity of estate.

privity of contract The relationship that exists between the parties to a contract.

probate Legal acceptance that a document, especially a will, is valid.

pro bono publico [for the public good]

Describing legal work that is carried out unpaid for the good of the general community.

prorogue An act of ending of a session. It is the discretion of the President and the governor.

provocation Conduct or words causing someone to lose his self control.

proxy One who acts for another.


quasi judicial Describing a function that resembles the judicial function, in that it involves deciding a dispute and ascertaining the facts and any relevant law, but differs in that it depends ultimately on the exercise of an executive discretion rather than the application of law.

question hour The list of the business before the House of Legislature is given to the members in advance. Generally, the first hour, of each sitting is ‘question hour’. The government gives replies to the question already sent by the members. The members are entitled to get more information through ‘Supplementary Question’. The main purpose of the ‘question hour’ is to seek information and draw the attention of the government to the issues of public importance. After the ‘question hour’, the agenda is taken up.

quorum Minimum number of people who have to be present at a meeting to make it valid.


ratio decidendi  [the reason for deciding]

The principle or principles of law on which the court reaches its decision.

The ratio of the case has to be deduced from its facts, the reasons the court gave for reaching its decision, and the decision itself.

Statement of law applied to the material facts.

Only the ratio of a case is binding on inferior courts, by reason of the doctrine of precedent.

redeem To pay back all the principal and interest on a loan or a debt.

referendum Type of vote, where the entire adult population is asked to vote on a single question.

repudiate To refuse to accept.

rescind   To annul or to cancel.

res ipsa loquitur [the thing speaks for itself]

A principle often applied in the law of tort of negligence. If an accident has occurred of a kind that usually only hap- pens if someone has been negligent, and the state of affairs that produced the accident was under the control of the defendant, it may be presumed in the absence of evidence that the accident was caused by the defendant’s negligence.

res judicata   a matter that has been decided.

respondeat superior [let the principal answer]

The doctrine by which an employer is responsible for cer- tain wrongs committed by his employee in the course of his employment.

restitution in integrum Restoration to original position.

restraint of marriage A condition in a contract or other disposition intended to prevent someone from marrying. Such conditions are usually (unless they are very limited) void, as they are considered to be against public policy.

restraint of trade A contractual term that limits a person’s right to exercise his trade to carry on his business. An example is a term in an employment contract or partnership agreement prohibiting a party from engaging in a similar business for a specified period after the relationship ends. Such a term is void unless the party relying on it shows that it does not offend public policy; it must also be reasonable between the parties.

retrospective legislation [retroactive legislation] Legislation that operates on matters taking place before its enactment, e.g., by penalizing conduct that was lawful

when it occurred. There is a presumption that statutes are not intended to have retroactive effect unless they merely change legal procedure.

revocation of offer The withdrawal of an offer by the offeror so that it can no longer be accepted. Revocation takes effect as soon as it is known to the offeree (from whatever source); offer can be revoked at any time before acceptance unless they are coupled with an option.

rule of law  Means that all persons are equal in the eye of law without any distinction of status, color, caste, and sex, and that the government cannot exercise any arbitrary powers.

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