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Abatement

In law, a termination or diminishment. Commonly used to refer to a reduction of something owed by the person to whom it is owed. A landlord might grant abatement in rent by reducing the amount owed. Estate law may use the term more specifically. When an estate is settled, debts must be paid off before any willed property can be distributed. If property has to be sold to pay off the deceased's debts, it cannot then be gifted to the beneficiary. It is then said to "abate". The gift has been terminated or diminished before it could be given. See also "ademption".

Abduction

To carry a person away by force or fraud. This term applies only to a person - a thing cannot be abducted. See also "kidnapping".

Abet

To aid, encourage or incite another to do wrong. "Aiding and abetting" is a crime in many countries.

Ab initio

A Latin term meaning "from the beginning".

Acceleration clause

A clause in a contract that allows the terms of the contract to become fully due immediately if a payment is missed, or some other default in the debtor's obligation occurs (such as the debtor becoming insolvent).

Acceptance

In law, acceptance is an express or implied act that accepts the terms and obligations of a contract or agreement. It is one of three requisites to a valid contract under common law (the other two being an offer and consideration). No contract can exist until it is accepted, but the contract begins at the moment of acceptance. See also "acquiescence".

Accord and Satisfaction

To quote from the case of British Russian Gazette & Trade Outlook Ltd. v. Associated Newspapers Ltd. (1933) 2 K.B. 616: "Accord and satisfaction is the purchase of a release from an obligation arising under contract or tort by means of any valuable consideration, not being the actual performance of the obligation itself. The accord is the agreement by which the obligation is discharged. The satisfaction is the consideration which makes the agreement operative." An example of this would be to buy out the contract of an employee, rather than insisting the contract be fulfilled. In this example, the accord would be the agreement that the employee leave and not pursue legal action against the employer, and the satisfaction would be the money paid to buy out the contract.

Accretion

The addition to land by the gradual addition of soil. This can happen by erosion washing soil onto an area; by flooding doing the same; or by a permanent retreat of water from land. A similar term is avulsion, but this refers more to a sudden transference rather than a gradual one.

Acquiescence

To consent or agree without action or protest. Inaction can bind a person legally just as direct action can. Implied recognition of the terms of a contract can be as binding as direct acceptance of that contract. For instance, if one reads a magazine at a magazine stand and tears out a page or coupon, one is obligated to pay for the magazine since that is an implied acceptance of the magazine. Acquiescence can also occur by failure to take action in a timely fashion. Failure to act before a known deadline can create a contractual obligation.

Act

A bill which has passed through the various legislative steps required for it and which has become law.

Act of God

An event, usually a disaster, caused solely by the effect of nature or natural causes. Insurance contracts often waive their obligations for damage caused by hurricanes, floods or earthquakes, calling them "acts of God". See also "force majeure".

Ad damnum

Latin: refers to the parts or sections of a petition that speaks to the damages that were suffered and claimed by the plaintiff. The ad damnum part of a petition will usually suggest an amount in dollars that the plaintiff asks the court to award.

Addendum

An addition to a written document. A petition maybe added to a writ and thus become an addendum.

Ademption

From the Latin meaning "to take away". This refers to a legacy that is extinguished by the testator by disposal of the property before his death. Property not in the possession of the testator at the time of death cannot be willed away.

Adhesion contract

A contract presenting at the point of sale, setting out the terms and conditions of the sale. There is no opportunity for negotiation and the terms are usually to the advantage of the seller. Known as the "fine print".

Ad hoc

Latin: for this purpose; for a specific purpose; a special case only. An ad hoc committee, for example, is created with a unique and specific purpose or task and once it has studied and reports on the matter, it stands disbanded (compare with standing committee).

Ad infinitum

Latin: endlessly; without limit; indefinitely. Abbreviated "ad inf".

Ad litem

Latin: for the suit. A person appointed only for the purposes of prosecuting or defending an action on behalf of another such as a child or mentally challenged person. Also called a guardian ad litem.

Administrative law

Synonymous with "natural justice." Administrative law is that body of law that applies for hearings before quasi-judicial or administrative tribunals. This would include, as a minimum, the principles of natural justice as embodied in audi alteram partem and nemo judex in sua causa. Many quasi-judicial organizations or administrative tribunals supplement the rules of natural justice with their own detailed rules of procedure.

Administrative tribunal

Hybrid adjudicating authorities that straddle the line between government and the courts. Between routine government policy decision-making bodies and the traditional court forums lies a hybrid, sometimes called a "tribunal" or "administrative tribunal" and not necessarily presided by judges. These operate as a government policy-making body at times but also exercise a licensing, certifying, approval or other adjudication authority which is "quasi-judicial" because it directly affects the legal rights of a person. Administrative tribunals are often referred to as "Commission", "Authority" or "Board."

Administrator

A person assigned by a court to manage and settle an estate in which the deceased died without a will, or intestate. A female administrator is called an "administratrix". See also "executor".

ADR

Abbreviation for alternative dispute resolution (which see).

Adultery

Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another person who is not the spouse. This is a legal ground for divorce in most countries. The person who seduces another's spouse is known as the "adulterer."

Adverse possession

Also often called "squatter's rights". The possession of land, without legal title, for a period of time sufficient to become recognized as legal owner. Different states stipulate different periods of time after which a squatter can acquire legal title. Some states prohibit adverse possession.

Affidavit

Literally, "he who has made an oath". A statement in writing which the signer swears to be true upon oath. The affidavit must be made before a notary public or other official authorized to administer oaths. Courts will frequently accept an affidavit instead of the testimony of a witness.

Agent

In law, a person who has received the power to act on behalf of another, referred to as the "principal." The principal is bound as if he or she were themselves making the decisions.

Aggravated damages

In tort law, special and highly exceptional damages awarded by a court to a plaintiff or victim who has suffered particularly humiliating or malicious acts.

Alienate

To transfer the ownership of property, especially real property, to another.

Alimony

Literally, "food" or "support". An allowance paid to one spouse to another by court order while they are separated or divorced. At one time, "alimony" referred to support paid while the couple were separated but still married, while "maintenance" referred to support paid after divorce. Today, "alimony" is used for both circumstances.

Alliance

A military treaty between two or more entities, providing for a mutually planned offensive, or for assistance in the case of attack on any member.
 

Allodial

Land ownership that is free of any superior claim and independent of rent, payment in service, or any other kind of payment. Also known as "freehold".

Allonge

A piece of paper which has been attached to a legal document to allow signatures to be added because there is not enough room on the main document.

Alternative dispute resolution

Also known as "ADR"; resolution of legal conflicts and disputes other than through litigation in the public courts. This is usually done through mediation or arbitration (which see). A third party is appointed to preside over a hearing between the parties, which is less formal than the court process. It is quicker and less costly than court litigation and has the advantage of being private. Its disadvantage is that it often involves compromise.

Amalgamation

To join together into one, such as the amalgamation of different companies to form a single company.

Ambassador

The highest ranking diplomatic position; a citizen officially appointed by their country's government to legally represent it in another country.

Ambulatory

Literally, "to walk". In law, something which can be changed or revoked, such as a will.

Amend

In law, to change or to revise a written document.

Amicus curiae

Literally: friend of the court. Specifically, person or persons asking for permission to intervene in a case in which they are not otherwise involved, usually to present their point of view (or that of their organization) in a case which has the potential of setting a legal precedent in their area of activity, for example, in civil rights cases. In some instances, this can only be done with the permission of the parties or the court.

Animus contrahendi

Latin: an intention to contract.

Annulment

To invalidate by court action; make void; to make as if it never had been. For instance, a marriage can be annulled. It is struck from all records and stands as having never transpired in law, unlike a divorce, which cancels a valid marriage only from the date of the divorce. An action annulled stands, in law, as if never performed.

Antedate

Literally, "before date". To set an earlier date for an event, for instance to date a check earlier than it was written.

Antenuptial

Literally, "before marriage". An event or document which pre-dates a marriage, such as an "antenuptial agreement" that is signed before the marriage.

 

Anti-trust

Legislation which regulates business monopolies by preventing businesses from price-setting or any other secret collaboration which circumvents the natural forces of a free market economy and gives those engaging in the anti-trust conduct, a covert competitive edge. Also known as "anti-combines" or "competition" legislation.

Appeal

To transfer a case to a more senior court or person to rehear or review a lower court ruling. In the USA, appeals can continue all the way up to the Supreme Court, where the decision is final in that it can no longer be appealed.

Appearance

To attend in court as any party to a civil or criminal suit. Appearance implies your acceptance of the power of the court to try the matter (i.e. "jurisdiction"). Most commonly appearances are made by lawyers on their clients' behalf and any appearance by a lawyer binds the client. A limited appearance, called a "special appearance", can be used to challenge the jurisdiction of the court rather than imply acceptance. For instance, if you wished to raise the fact that you were never properly served with the court papers you would make a "special appearance".

Apportionment

To divide and distribute something into proportionate parts; according to a set plan. For example, if a court ordered apportionment of a contract, the party would be required to perform only to an extent equal to the performance of the other side.

Appurtenance

Something that, although detached, stands as part of another thing. An attachment or appendage to something else. Used often in a real estate context where an "appurtenance" may be, for example, a right-of-way over water, which, although physically detached, is part of the legal rights of the owner of another property.

Arbitration

An alternative dispute resolution method by which an independent, neutral third person ("arbitrator") is appointed to hear and consider the merits of the dispute and renders a final and binding decision called an award. The process is similar to the litigation process as it involves adjudication, except that the parties choose their arbitrator and the manner in which the arbitration will proceed. The decision of the arbitrator is known as an "award." Compare with mediation. See also "alternative dispute resolution".

Arraignment

In USA criminal law, the formal appearance of an accused person to hear, and to receive a copy of, the charge against him or her, in the presence of a judge, and to then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The arraignment is the final preparatory step before the criminal trial.

Arrears

A debt that is not paid on the due date adds up and accumulates as "arrears". For example, if you do not pay your rent, the debt still exists and is referred to as "arrears". The same word is used to describe child or spousal maintenance or support which is not paid by the due date.

Arson

Some countries define "arson" as the intentional setting of a fire to a building in which people live; others include as "arson" the intentionally setting of a fire to any building. In either case, this is a very serious crime and is punishable by a long jail sentence.

Assault

The touching of another person with intent to harm, without that person's consent.

Assign

To give, to transfer responsibility, to another. The assignee (sometimes also called "assigns") is the person who receives the right or property being given and the assignor is the person giving.

Attorn or Attornment

To consent, implicitly or explicitly, to a transfer of a right. Often used to describe a situation where a tenant, by staying on location after the sale of the leased property, accepts to be a tenant of the new landlord; or where a person consents to ("attorns to") the jurisdiction of a court which would not have otherwise had any authority over that person.

Attorney

An alternate word for lawyer or "barrister & solicitor", used mostly in the USA. A person that has been trained in the law and that has been certified to give legal advice or to represent others in litigation.

Audi alteram partem

Latin: a principle of natural justice which prohibits a judicial decision which impacts upon individual rights without giving all parties in the dispute a right to be heard. Habeas corpus was an early expression of the audi alteram partem principle. In more recent years, it has been extended to include the right to receive notice of a hearing and to be given an opportunity to be represented or heard.

Autrefois acquit

French word now part of English criminal law terminology. Refers to an accused who cannot be tried for a crime because the record shows he has already been subjected to trial for the same conduct and was acquitted. If the accused maintains that the previous trial resulted in conviction, he or she pleads "autrefois convict." "Autrefois attaint" is another similar term; "attainted" for a felony, a person cannot be tried again for the same offence.

A vinculo matrimonii

Latin: of marriage. The term is now used to refer to a final and permanent divorce.

Avulsion

Land accretion that occurs by the erosion or addition of one's land by the sudden and unexpected change in a river stream such as a flash flood.

Avunculus

Latin: a mother's brother. "Avuncular" refers to an uncle.

 

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