A Collection of Latin Law Terms and Maxims

Legal Terms

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  • Ab initio
    As per the law of contract, a minor's contract is void ab initio.
  • Actus reus
    “A guilty or prohibited act” – an act which is illegal, such as theft.
  • Ad hoc
    “For this”; “for a particular purpose” – a committee set up to deal with a particular situation is an ad hoc committee.
  • Ad idem
    “Towards the same” – Indicates that the parties to a transaction are in agreement.
  • Ad Infinitum
    “Forever”; “without limit”; “indefinitely”.
  • Ad litem
    “for the lawsuit”; “for the purposes of the lawsuit being prosecuted”. A grant ad litem is the appointment by a
  • Ad quod damnum
    “According to the harm” – Used in tort law. Implies that the reward or penalty ought to correspond to the damage
  • Ad referendum
    ‘’Subject to reference’’– Denoting a contract or other matter that is subject to agreement by other parties and finalisation of
  • Ad valorem
    “According to value” – In some specific situations, court fee is determined ad valorem.
  • Affidavit
    “Sworn written statement”.
  • Alibi
    “Elsewhere”- a claim that a person was elsewhere when a crime was committed. If someone is accused of a crime their
  • Amicus curiae
    “Friend of the court or tribunal” – a person who gives information to a court regarding a case before it  so
  • Animus
    “Intention” – The term is often used in combination; for examples: animus furandi – the intention to steal or to
  • Ante
    “Before” – for example ante mortem means before death.
  • Ante litem motam
    “After suit moved or commenced” – Depositions in relation to the subject of a suit, made after litigation has commenced, are
  • Audi alteram partem
    “Hear the other side/other party” – it refers to the idea that one cannot be fairly judged unless the cases
  • Bona fide
    “In good faith” – Implies sincere good intention regardless of outcome. For example, law gives more importance to a sale
  • Causa mortis
    “Caused by death”
  • Caveat emptor
    “Let the buyer beware” – It is a common-law maxim warning a purchaser that he could not claim that his purchases
  • Certiorari
    “To be informed/apprised” – a type of writ seeking judicial review.
  • Compos mentis
    “Of sound mind”.
  • Coram
    “In the presence of the people”.
  • Corpus delicti
    “The body of the offence” – • the body of a person who has been killed unlawfully; or • the
  • Culpa lata
    “Gross negligence”
  • Culpa levis
    “Slight negligence”
  • De facto
    “In fact” – Existing as a matter of fact rather than of right.
  • De facto
    “In fact or in reality” –  For examples:  De facto authority : Authority that exists in reality. De facto government
  • De jure
    “Of law”; “Legally”; “Rightfully”– As a matter of legal right; by right ; The condition of being in compliance with
  • De novo
    “Anew” – Usually used in the context of “trial de novo” – a new trial ordered when the previous one failed to
  • Dictum
    “A saying” – An observation by a judge with respect to a point of law arising in a case before him.
  • Doli incapax
    “Incapable of committing wrong”– A child under the age of 10 is deemed doli incapax i.e. incapable of committing any crime.
  • Donatio inter vivos
    “A donation among the living”
  • Donatio mortis causa
    “A donation due to death”
  • Ex gratia
    “Done as a matter of favour” – An ex gratia payment is one not required to be made by a
  • Ex officio
    “By virtue of holding an office” – The Chief Justice is ex officio a member of the Court of Appeal.
  • Ex parte
    “On the part of one side only”; On behalf”; “Done by one side only” – * Ex parte decree :
  • Ex post facto
    ‘In the light of subsequent events’ – Describing any legal act, such as a statute, that has retrospective effect (it affects
  • Guardian ad litem
    “Person appointed by a court to represent the interests of a minor or incompetent person in a legal proceeding.”
  • Habeas Corpus
    “May you have the body”;”You should have the body for submitting”; “The right of the prisoner to go to court.”
  • In curia
    “In open court”.
  • In personam
    “Against the person”
  • Inter vivos
    “Between the living;” or “From one person to another”.
  • Ipse dixit
    “He himself said it.” An unsupported statement that rests solely on the authority of the individual who makes it.
  • Mala fide
    “In bad faith”.
  • Mandamus
    “We command” – A writ used to compel an official to perform a required act.
  • Mutatis mutandis
    “Making such changes or alterations as the sense requires”
  • Per incuriam
    “Through lack of care” – It refers to a judgment of a court which has been decided without reference to a
  • Per se
    “In itself”.
  • Persona non grata
    “An unacceptable/unwelcome person” – A person who is officially considered unwelcome by a host country in which they are residing in
  • Prima facie
    “At first face/sight”.
  • Pro confesso
    “As if confessed”.
  • Quantum meruit
    “As much as it deserves; “As much as s/he has earned”.
  • Quasi
    “Apparently but not really”.
  • Ratio decidendi
    “Reasons/grounds for the decision”.
  • Res integra
    “An undecided question of law”.
  • Res ipsa loquitur
    “The thing speaks for itself” – Used in tort law when there is no proof of what caused the harm,
  • Res judicita
    “A thing or matter adjudged” – A matter that has been finally adjudicated, meaning no further appeals or legal actions by
  • Sine die
    “Without a day”; “Taken to mean without fixing a day for continuation” – Used when the court is adjourning without
  • Sine qua non
    “Without which (Indispensable, necessary)” – Refers to some essential event or action, without which there can be no specified consequence.
  • Stare decisis
    “Hold on to what was decided”; “To stand by things decided’.
  • Status quo
    “Current/existing state of affairs”.
  • Status quo ante
    “The way things were before”; “The state of affairs that existed previously”.
  • Sub judice
    “Under judgement”; “Under judicial consideration”; “Not yet decided”.
  • Sub silentio
    “In silence” – It is often used as a reference to something that is implied but not expressly stated. Commonly, the
  • Sui juris
    “Of his own right”.
  • Suo motu
    “On its own motion”
  • Supra
    “Above” – Used in citations to refer to a previously cited source.
  • Uberrimae Fidei
    “Of the utmost good faith” – As per the contract law, all parties must act with the utmost good faith.
  • Ultra vires
    “Without/beyond power”.
Legal Maxims

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