Ab initio: (Latin) from the beginning.
Acceptance: Is is one of three requirements for a valid contract under common law (the other two being offer and consideration). A contract does not become legally binding until one party has made an offer and the other party indicates his readiness to accept the terms of the offer. Acceptance must be unconditionally communicated to the offeror while the offer is still open. Acceptance of an offer can, in certain circumstances, be implied by conduct.
Accord and Satisfaction: A contract may be discharged if one party, who has complied with his part of the contract, accepts compensation from the other party instead of enforcing the contract. The accord is the agreement by which the obligation is discharged. The satisfaction is the consideration (usually money and of a lesser value) which makes the agreement operative.
Acquiescence: Action or inaction which legally binds someone, even unintentionally. For example, an action such as accepting goods from a supplier will be binding if it implies recognition of the terms of a contract.
Act of God: An event resulting from natural causes, without human intervention (such as floods or earthquakes). Insurance policies often exclude acts of God.
Action: Proceedings in a civil court. Adjournment: Postponement of a hearing by a judge on whatever terms he sees fit.
Administrative law: Law which applies to hearings before quasi-judicial or administrative tribunals. Such hearings must be conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice, such as audi alteram partem and nemo judex in sua causa.
Administrator: A person appointed to manage the property of another (such as the administrator of the estate of someone who has died without leaving a will).
ADR: Alternative dispute resolution (such as arbitration, mediation and conciliation).
Adverse possession: Possession of land, without legal title, for long enough – normally 12 years – to be recognized as the legal owner (“squatter’s rights”).
Affidavit: Sworn written statement signed by a deponent, who swears that its contents are true to the best of his knowledge and belief. It must be witnessed by a practising solicitor or commissioner for oaths.
Agent: Person with power to contract on behalf of others, binding them as if they were signing the contract themselves. The person represented by the agent is called the principal.
Aggravated damages: Exceptional damages awarded by a court where a defendant’s behaviour towards the plaintiff or victim has been particularly humiliating, malicious or vindictive.
Alternative dispute resolution: Method by which conflicts and disputes are resolved privately, other than through litigation, usually by mediation or arbitration. ADR involves the appointment of a third - party to preside over a hearing between the two sides. The advantages of ADR are privacy and speed. The disadvantage is that ADR may involve compromise of legal rights.
Antedate: To date retroactively, before a document was drawn up.
Appeal: Challenge to a court decision in a higher court.
Appearance: The act of replying to a summons or turning up in court and accepting its jurisdiction to try proceedings. A barrister or solicitor may make an appearance on a client’s behalf.
Appellant: Person who makes an appeal.
Arrears: Accumulated debt which has not been paid on the due date.
Assault: Touching – or threatened touching – of another person, without that person’s consent.
Assign: To give or transfer responsibility to another person. The person who receives the right or property is the assignee; the assignor is the person giving.
Attachment and committal: Bringing a person before a court, with a threat of imprisonment for failure to obey a court order.
Attachment of earnings: Court order for deduction of salary at source in order to pay, for example, maintenance or a debt.
Attorney General: Legal adviser to the Government, appointed by the President on the advice of the party in power.
Audi alteram partem: (Latin: hear the other side) A principle of natural justice which requires that, where a decision may affect an individual’s rights, that person has a right to be heard. It includes the right to receive notice of a hearing and to be legally represented.
Bailee: Person who accepts property through a contract of bailment, from the bailor, and who has certain duties of care while the property remains in his possession.
Bailment: Temporary transfer of goods by a bailor to a bailee (for example, for storage), after which the property is either returned to the bailor or disposed of according to the contract of bailment.
Barrister: Specialist in litigation and advocacy who receives instructions from a solicitor. Barristers may not normally deal directly with members of the public.
Beneficiary: Person who receives a gift under a will, or for whose benefit property is held by an executor or trustee.
Bill of exchange: Written, signed instrument requiring the person to whom it is addressed to pay on demand (or on a future date) a fixed amount of money either to the person identified as payee or to anyone presenting the bill of exchange. A cheque is a form of bill of exchange.
Bill of lading: Document used in foreign trade, acknowledging that a company has received goods for transportation. The Bill serves as title to the goods until they have reached their destination.
Breach of contract: Failure or refusal to fulfill a term of a contract. The injured party may bring an action for damages, for enforcement or for cancellation of the agreement.
Burden of proof: A rule of evidence that requires a party to a court action to prove something, otherwise the contrary will be assumed by the court. For example, in criminal trials, the prosecution has the burden of proving the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (because of the presumption of innocence).
Case law: Published court decisions which establish legal precedents, binding lower courts.
Caveat: (Latin: let him beware.) A formal warning. Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is a warning to buyers to check for themselves things which they intend to buy, so they cannot later hold the vendor responsible for the faulty condition of the item. The Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980 extends the rights to consumers in this area.
Central Criminal Court: The High Court sitting to deal with serious criminal offences, such as rape and murder.
Certiorari: Form of judicial review whereby a court is asked to set aside the decision of an administrative tribunal, judicial officer or public organisation. Certiorari may be used where the decision of the lower tribunal was made in breach of the rules of natural justice. An application for certiorari must normally be made within six months of the decision.
Chambers: Judge’s personal rooms, where he may hear matters in private.
Charge: Form of security for payment of a debt.
Chattels: Movable items of property which are neither land nor permanently attached to land or a building. (Land or buildings are described as “real property”.) Chattels are also known as personal property (or personalty). A freehold property is not a chattel, but a leasehold is.
Cheque: Form of bill of exchange where the order to pay is given to a bank holding the payor’s funds.
Child: Person under 18.
Circuit Court: Court above the District Court and below the High Court, with power to award damages up to €38,100.
Circuit Judge: Judge of the Circuit Court, addressed as “My Lord” whether male or female.
Class action: Legal action taken by a number of different persons where the facts and the defendants are similar. Class action lawsuits may occur, for example, after a public transport accident or in the case of a faulty drug, where all the victims sue the same defendant.
Clayton’s Case: This English case established a presumption that money withdrawn from an account is presumed to be debited against the money first deposited (first in, first out).
Codicil: Written amendment or addition to an existing will.
Collateral: Property committed to guarantee a loan.
Collusion: Illegal and usually secret agreement between two or more people to deceive a court or defraud another person.
Common law: Judge-made law which has developed over centuries, also referred to as “unwritten” law. Common law (as practised in Ireland, England and the USA) is often contrasted with civil law systems (such as in France or Germany) where laws are set down in a written code.
Company: Legal entity which permits a group of shareholders to create an organization to pursue set objectives. A company may have legal rights which are usually reserved for individuals, such as the power to sue and be sued, own property, hire employees or lend and borrow money. The main advantage of a company structure is that it gives shareholders a right to participate in profits (through dividends) without any personal liability.
Consent order: Court order agreed between both sides.
Consideration: Consideration has been defined as “some right, interest, profit or benefit accruing to the one party, or some forbearance, detriment, loss or responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by the other”. Under common law, any binding contract must have some consideration, no matter how small. The courts will not normally inquire into the sufficiency of the consideration; a “peppercorn rent” would be sufficient.
Consign: To leave property in the custody of another. An item can be consigned to a transport company, for example, to move it from one place to another. The consignee is the person who receives the property and the consignor is the person who ships the property to the consignee.
Construction: Legal process of interpreting a phrase or document. If a term is unclear or ambiguous, lawyers and judges must try and interpret (or construct) its probable intention and purpose. This may be done by referring to other parts of the document, by reference to the known intentions of those who drew up the document, or, in the case of statutes, by referring to an interpretation law which gives guidelines for construction.
Constructive trust: Trust imposed by a court in certain circumstances, regardless of the intention of the parties involved (such as where a trustee has improperly profited from his position).
Contempt: Deliberate disregard of a court order.
Contract: Agreement between two or more persons which obliges each party to do (or refrain from doing) a certain thing. A valid contract requires an offer, acceptance of that offer and consideration.
Contract law: Contract law is the basis of all commercial dealings. The terms of a contract may be express or implied. Express provisions may be varied by statute. Unfair contract terms are now excluded by legislation, and, in areas such as employment and the sale of goods, the law imports a wide range of implied terms into new and existing contracts.
Contributory negligence: Negligence which is not the primary cause of a tort, but which combined with the act or omission of another person to cause the damage. In the case of a car crash, for example, an injured driver who was not wearing a seat belt may be found contributorily negligent for his injuries.