I did my law training in 2000, around the time of the ‘Woolf Reforms’. I recall being relieved to learn that part of these reforms involved the abolition of latin in the law, which was helpful since I didn’t know any, being an interloper and all. Ever since then I have considered it a point of principle never to learn any latin unless absolutely necessary – thereby proving to the posh kids that their expensive education was wasted.
But in truth, over 20 years later, we do still use latin, albeit fortunately not that often. And there are a few terms that have become so normalised in the law that we maybe even forget they are latin and that non-lawyers might not have a scooby what they mean (pro bono being the best example – giving an organisation providing free legal representation to non-lawyers a latin name was rightly recognised as less than optimal signposting a few years ago when the excellent Bar Pro Bono Unit renamed itself Advocate). And I still don’t have a clue what most of them mean…
Recently, I’ve seen a few things that have reminded me of the prevalence of latin… This thread on twitter set me off…
This is a US video – its kind of amusing, and I was interested to see that whilst there are a few familiar terms, there are also quite a few that I have never heard of before! Actually, most of these aren’t latin, but the same difficulties with impenetrable technical language arise.
Anyway, I thought I’d give you a run down of some key latin terms used in the law* and what they probably** mean. A sort of (entirely unreliable and made up) urban dictionary of legal latin…
Inter alia – what goes on tour stays on tour
Res ipsa loquitor – I lost my keys
Pro bono – your argument was the dogs b***ks
Pro se – professional speaker
Mar a lago – I deny everything and plead the fifth
Ad idem – by my calculation…
Bona fide – good dog
Certiorari – absolutely sure, your honour
A posteriori – talking out of one’s backside
Voire dire – baggsie my turn to speak now
Mutandis mutandi – Another X Men sequel (likely to bomb)
Prima facie – one sided
Mutandi facie – your lips are moving but you seem to be on mute
Habeus Corpus – there is a body in my basement
Forum non conveniens – can we have a remote hearing please? I will have to get a very early train in order to make it to Haverfordwest by 9am.
A fortiori – an Englishman’s home is his castle
Stare decisis – when the judge’s decision is conveyed merely through his facial expression
In camera – case involving a celebrity (B list or above)
Espresso – hurry up, time for a caffeine break
Ex parte – the morning after
Quantum meruit – the number of followers a celebrity litigant has on twitter
void ab initio – get in the bin
Decree nisi – the order I wanted
Ultra Vires – covid secure courtroom
Expeliamus – you lose!
(Writ of) fieri facias – the red face of the losing party post-judgment
Mens Rea – objectification, Milud!
Decree absolute – she got everything, even the house
Caveat emptor – Avengers baddie
Ratio – probability of winning your case (see Thanos)
Thanos ratio – 50% chance of complete annihilation at trial
Ejusdem Generis – Just give me everything I ask for oh kind judge.
Per incuriam – this judgment is so long lost the will to live
Doli incapax – childrens’ toys not permitted
Mandamus – applicable to persons of both sexes
Amicus Curiae – nosey parker
Obiter – saviour of Leia
Dicta – grateful idiot
Tardisi regretix – I would like to rewind and make that submission again, please
Darth Vader – the presumption of legitimacy