Res Ipsa Loquitur? (actually no it doesn’t) – AKA Latin and the Law

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

Yes, it’s a bank holiday weekend. Yes, I’m not sure what to do with myself when I’m not working. Yes this is a banal and pointless post. I need to get out more… I promise to write something useful next time.
For anyone who actually wants to know what all these things really mean – this wikipedia page is quite useful.
*not necessarily actual latin….**
**not necessarily their actual meanings…

Dictionary of Private Children Law

Class Legal have recently published a Dictionary of Private Children Law, co-authored by HHJ Edward Hess, Zoe Saunders, Piers Pressdee QC and Dr Rob George. The Dictionary is a sister to the Dictionary of Financial Remedies, also headed up by HHJ Hess.

The Dictionary comes in traditional Class Legal slimline A4 format, and the back cover tells me it is aimed at judges and practitioners,  but also that it is ‘a book sufficiently accessible for litigants acting without lawyers’.

I found it an intriguing mix of the very basic and the quite niche – some aspects will be redundant for experienced practitioners, whilst others will probably be beyond litigants in person. Writing for such a diverse audience is an almost impossible challenge. That said, there is basically something for everyone in it – it is a dictionary after all, and like any dictionary it doesn’t matter if you already know some of the terms, or if you never need to check on others – that’s the beauty of a dictionary I suppose! You go to the bit you need when the moment arises – and it’s there succinctly defined for you. Having read through it in a slightly artificial alphabetical way, its clear that some pretty tricky topics are quite neatly condensed with useful practical explanations – it looks simple when you just see the end product, but I know that this sort of writing requires both time and skill to do well – and these are done well. There are a few entries which read much more like a textbook with no more than the bare bones of the law rehearsed, without any indication of how they might be deployed in practice (largely those sections in what I think of as the ‘dead zone’ in the Children Act i.e. the alphabetised elevenses (S11A-O) and and s16, which rarely lift off the page in real life for reasons of resource and policy / politics – which is perhaps why they aren’t brought to life in this dictionary either).

I think this book is likely to be of most use for lawyers (including judges) starting out in a new and unfamiliar field – whether that is junior lawyers starting out on a career, established lawyers transferring over from crime, or newly appointed judges from a civil background having to get to grips with a whole new world of family law. But it also holds utility for the more established within the field. There are definitely one or two entries I have made a mental note to use as a panic button next time a particular issue crops up leaving me needing a quick refresher or signpost. I thought the entries on the media and publicity / privacy were examples of entries likely to be particularly useful for busy lawyers or judges who suddenly found themselves in a case where a journalist has attended, and who need a quick reminder of the rules (as someone with a particular interest in this area I thought it was a shame these entries don’t refer to all the relevant and helpful guidance, but I suspect that may be an unfair expectation for such a tightly condensed publication, where references seem predominantly to be to statute, caselaw, rules and PDs only throughout, no doubt for reasons of space).

I do wonder how accessible the language of some entries would really be to litigants in person – some assume a prior knowledge of latin (such as inter partes) or technical legal terms that a litigant in person would be unlikely to grasp, and it feels rather more as if the LiP market is more incidental – rather than this being a product designed for them. Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I, having written a book that is designed for LiPs! In fact, I think that this book would probably be quite useful adjunct to my book The Family Court without a Lawyer – although at £65 the pricing is more in the order of practitioner pricing than LiP pricing.

My only other gripe is that as an old crone I found the font size in the print copy almost impossibly small and I really had to squint to read it, which always makes me mildly irascible. Coupled with a column layout that sometimes had me muddling as to which bit of text belonged to which entry, I think the layout of the print copy doesn’t entirely do the content justice. I haven’t seen the electronic version, but I’m confident that these minor issues will be much reduced or eradicated in that format, which these days is very much my preference over print anyway. For me, the idea of a print copy of anything that I can slip in my ‘briefcase’ (as the foreword charmingly suggests I might) is rather quaint and unreal. I’d take an e-copy any day of the week thank you very much, to save my frozen shoulder. There is quite a lot of information about the e-reader format on the Class Legal website, which looks as if it has a good range of functionality (keyword search, annotation etc), even if it does require one to run a different app / browser alongside your normal pdf reader.

You can buy this very useful book at the Class Legal website here.

UPDATE : e-book.

Class legal, having seen my review, helpfully made a copy of the e-book available to me. It can be downloaded and viewed through a proprietary app. I have downloaded and had a play around with the e-book and it definitely is an improvement on the print copy for me – much more readable and of course I can cut and paste. My personal preference would be a pdf version of the book, so that I can have it open in a tab in my pdf reader with my bundles and other case specific materials, rather than having to switch between apps – particularly when working remotely reducing the number of windows and running applications on one device is important to me – which is why, when the publishers of the Family Court Practice decided to format their e-book in some whizzy format a couple of years ago I threw my toys out of the pram! They have gone back to pdf, albeit an eye-wateringly expensive pdf.

The app itself is reasonably easy to use once you have got it downloaded (do read the instructions – I didn’t and I think that accounts for much of my initial confusion). It does lack a ‘back’ button, which is a surprising omission, but I sent some feedback to Class Legal about this and other minor glitches – and they have responded positively to that feedback, telling me that they are working on this with their developer. Given the size of the book this is not a major issue, but it is a bit irritating to have to ‘start again’ at the main menu all the time. There is the facility to make notes (electronic post its) on the book – but I have found that the note function is a bit glitchy. Again, Class are looking at this – as best I can tell it works if you open the app up from the app icon, but not if you access it via a browser. Realistically however, I doubt that for a book of this sort, the note taking function is going to be critical.

So, for me, I’d recommend the e-book in spite of the above. It’s a useful resource that I’d prefer to have on my laptop than in hard copy – and for the reasonable price of £65 (for either hard copy or digital) I can live without a back button. For a publication like the red book that is ten times more expensive and a hundred times more voluminous this sort of limitation on navigation and searchability might be a deal breaker, but here this is no more than a mild irk, and hopefully one that the nice people at Class will sort soon anyway.


Finding the head space

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to find the head space to stop and think and really process life. Each day is about ticking off the things that have a deadline, that must be done by tomorrow or next week – or yesterday. And by the time the ‘must-do’s are done, I can’t summon up the energy for the important but not-time-limited rest.

And so it is that this blog has been even more fallow than normal. A serious case of can’t be arsed, I’m afraid. But I do have things on my mind, things I want to write about, things that matter. They are just swirling in a cotton wool cloud in my brain, tangled and confused, disordered, intangible, messy.

That ambivalence and confusion is how I find myself feeling at the idea we will be going back to face to face hearings soon. Isn’t this what we’ve been waiting for? In fact I find myself very conflicted.

The ever smaller sphere of life has its advantages for some of us – I have quite liked being able to work from home, and in some respects to attend hearings from home. But it is monotonous to have to do so ALL the time. I miss the people, the engagement – and in some cases it is inevitably less satisfactory for the clients (though for some remote works better – as the Nuffield found its a v mixed picture). I suspect once we are back it will all come flooding back and we will realise just how hollowed out our 2D version of justice has been, and that we had normalised the unsatisfactory, to make it feel more bearable.

Anyway, what has surprised me is a sensation in the pit of my stomach when I thought about the daily reality of a return to face to face – a feeling of foreboding, anxiety perhaps – at any rate not the sense of elation I have at times thought such an announcement might bring forth. It will be super not to be at the mercy of your internet speed, or someone else’s connection or technical ability, it will be good to see my colleagues and friends, to be able to give my clients the face to face service they deserve – but here are some of the things all swirling around my brain…

Getting up earlier, getting home later. Missing breakfast and dinner with the kids because : travel.

Getting used to driving again, in rush hour – yes, a good time to decompress before facing the family if you want to look on the bright side, but still 2 hours of my daily life stripped away again, stuck in a queue, shouting at Radio 4 or singing badly to Heart FM, anything to stop me nodding off at the wheel. Having to argue over travel & hotel expenses with the LAA.

Having to wear clothes and shoes that constrict, that need ironing (no, I’m kidding there I don’t buy clothes that need ironing on principle), having to remember to send in and collect the dry cleaning, Eating overpriced crap from the nearest cafe – if you actually have time to get there, queue and get back. Having to pack a bag with everything you might ever need in it (including all the chargers).

Finding a parking space. Parking tickets. Crushes on trains. Being stuck on dark, wet windy train platforms waiting for a connection. Running late for court. Crap hotels.

Not being able to do the 4 minute wee-n-tea dash, but having to go dry mouthed, decaffeinated and cross legged till lunch.

And of course, wearing a mask all day, which means long days of contact lenses and dry scratchy eyes since I have been totally unable to wear a mask without it steaming up (and yes, I’ve tried all the tips – I guess my nose is just the wrong shape).

Working on ONLY TWO SCREENS – gasp!

Finding a plug socket that works in the courtroom.

Having to actually make small talk when you really don’t feel like it. I do miss seeing people, but… I’m not sure I remember how to be sociable, and I was never very good at it in the first place.

Trying to find a room or a corner for a quiet chat with your client.

Queuing for security, enduring the irritation of another arbitrary change of search practices.

Trying to remember when to stand and when to sit. Wondering if we will still be able to whatsapp clients in the courtroom rather than reverting to ridiculous audible whispers.

Being back in a list where everyone is listed at 10am and you have no idea when you’ll be on and you can’t really get on with anything else while you wait….

And of course, almost certainly, the idea we will have the best of both worlds by being able to make use of remote for simple hearings whilst holding hearings involving live evidence in person (say) will inevitably not live up to expectations. Once judges have a choice I fully expect that we will revert to almost all face to face hearings, even where it doesn’t really need to be so. I hope that is not true, but I bet my elasticated trousers that it is.

All that said, I know and understand it will be better for all of us to be back, but it’s a much bigger deal to mentally prepare for than I’d anticipated (I know, what a big baby!). One thing is for sure, I am going to need all the caffeine to survive the adjustment… Maybe the hour long commute each way will enable me to find that head space I’ve been missing in my blended blurry un-boundaried work-from-home existence? Or maybe not…