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  • Polly Lord


The following is a provisional explanation of words and phrases which appeared in last week’s blog and which in my experience I have had to explain to students and clients or which have a technical legal meaning different from their normal usage.

Actus reus: Conduct of the accused: see R v Miller (1983)

Advocacy: Professional pleading in court

Advocate: Any person who represents another in legal proceedings

Attorney General: The principal law officer of the government, and head of the Bar

Bands: The development of a neckband into two hanging strips.

Bear Garden: Rooms in the Law Courts where Masters hear short applications (see Chapter 3 for full description)

Bench wig. The wig worn by judges when they are sitting in court.

Bencher: A senior member of an Inn of Court

Bibliography: A systematic list of books and articles used as source material

Black bag. The bag at the back of the barrister’s gown is often called a fee bag. The origin of this is said to be that the barrister’s fee was placed in the bag so that the barrister did not have to demean himself by handling money.

Blue bag. The traditional bag used by junior barristers for carrying fancy dress.

Bona fide: Genuine

Breach of statutory duty: Breaking a duty imposed by statute

Breeks: A Scottish term for trousers

Bundle: A collection of documents

Cab rank principle: A barrister has a public obligation, based on the paramount need for access to justice, to act for any client in cases within their field of practice. A barrister cannot refuse a case because of disapproval of what the client has done or is alleged to have done

Call: A formal ceremony, conducted at the Inns of Court, when a student barrister has completed vocational training and is qualified to act as an advocate under the supervision of another barrister

Case law: Law created by decisions of courts

Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware: a disclaimer of responsibility

Chambers: A judge sitting in chambers does not mean that he is sitting in any particular room, but that he is not sitting in open court: also, the traditional name for a group of barristers sharing office space Chambers tea: A traditional gathering of barristers for light refreshments at a particular time

Champerty: The offence of assisting in a case with a view to receiving a share of the disputed property.

Civil action/proceedings: Legal proceedings based on a civil right as opposed to a criminal prosecution

Civil Procedure Rules (CPR): Procedural rules prescribed for civil courts

Class justice: Justice which operates in favour of one class and against another

Clerk: An administrative assistant to judges, magistrates or barristers

Client: Customer

Collar stud: A device for attaching a collar to a tunic shirt. There are two types of collar stud. One is short and used at the back of the shirt. The other is long, hinged and is used at the front

Collarette: A female barrister’s collar. It consists of a high, round, soft collar. The extra fabric forming the front sits over the shoulders and chest and hides clothing

Common law: Law which has been developed by the judiciary through the setting of precedents, as opposed to being created by the legislature through statutes and regulations

Conditional fee agreement: An agreement for the supply of legal services where a fee is payable only in certain circumstances, normally if the client wins

Conduct of litigation: Steps taken by a restricted group of lawyers to progress a case

Conspiracy: An agreement to carry out an unlawful act

Contingency fee: An agreement for the supply of legal services where a fee is payable only if the client wins.

Conveyancing: The transfer of an interest in land.

Corporate manslaughter: Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, a company is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised amounts to a gross breach of the duty of care which it owes to employees or the public and those failings have caused a death

Counsel: Barrister

Crown immunity: The ancient principle that the sovereign and many government departments are exempt from legal sanctions

Damages: Financial compensation

Devil: A barrister paid by another barrister to do the latter’s work

Directives: European legislation which imposes a duty on member states to enact legislation

Director of Public Prosecutions: The head of the Crown Prosecution Service who has power to decide whether prosecutions should proceed

Disability Under the Naturalisation Act 1870, “disability” meant “the status of being an infant lunatic, idiot or married woman”. The most recent definition is now set out in the Equality Act 2010 as “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to perform normal day-to-day activities”

Discovery: A civil procedure which enables a party to a case to obtain evidence before a trial by asking the other party questions or requiring the production of documents

Employment Appeal Tribunal: The appellate tribunal for decisions made by employment tribunals

Employment Tribunal: The tribunal with jurisdiction to hear employment disputes

Entail: A settlement of succession in land so that it cannot be bequeathed at pleasure

Eructation: Belching

Ex parte: In summary, legal proceedings brought by one party in the absence of other parties

Fee bag. See Black bag

First instance: The first decision made by a court or tribunal in a case which has subsequently been appealed

Folio: (Obsolete)The number of words (72 or 90) taken as a unit in reckoning the length of a document

Full bottomed wig: The wig worn by judges on ceremonial occasions

Green bag. A bag for exclusive use by judges.

Grievance procedure: Employers’ procedure for complaints by employees

Guinea: 21 shillings. Replaced in 1816 as currency in Britain but retained in legal circles until decimalisation in 1971

Habeas corpus (Have your carcase): An ancient remedy requiring the production of a deatined person to a court

Hearing: A formal session in a court or tribunal.

Human rights: Fundamental rights and freedoms

In camera: Private hearing

Incorrigible rogue: A criminal offence of vagrancy under the Vagrancy Act 1824. Last known to be invoked in 2000 against a 19 year old

Inns of Court: Four legal societies having the exclusive right of admitting persons to practise at the Bar (Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn)

Intellectual property: Exclusive rights to a range of intangible assets, for example copyright, trademarks and patents

Judiciary: Professional judges in a legal system

Justice: Fairness

Ladies’ collar. Similar to a collarette but without the extra fabric front

Law Centre: In summary, an organisation providing free legal assistance

Legal aid: Financial assistance given by the state to those who cannot afford legal advice or representation. Now largely of historical interest

Legal expenses insurance: Insurance, often contained in a wider policy, which provides cover for the cost of legal assistance

Letters Patent (Literae patentes): Writings of the sovereign, sealed with the Great Seal, whereby a person or company is enabled to do acts or enjoy privileges which he or it could not do or enjoy without such authority

Libel: A statement in writing which attacks a person’s reputation

Lightweight pincetta gown: A gown which is “ideally suited to warmer climates”

Litigant in person: A party to legal proceedings who is not represented by a lawyer

Litigation: The conduct and progression of a case

Lord: A member of the House of Lords

Manslaughter: In summary, killing without the intention required for murder

Master: A member of the judiciary who deals, generally, with procedural matters

Mediation: A type of alternative dispute resolution involving negotiation with an independent third party

Mens rea: Guilty mind

Miscarriage of justice: The conviction and punishment of an innocent person

Murder: In summary, killing with intent. May not be criminal if committed by the state

Natural justice: Based on innate moral sense: minimum standards of fairness in judging a dispute

Natural law: Belief in a system of justice common to all men, with vaguely mystical origins

Neckband shirt see Tunic shirt

Negligence: A civil wrong developed by the courts, involving a duty of care, breach of that duty and resulting loss

Novus actus interveniens: A new intervening act which breaks the chain of causation and avoids liability

Ogden Tables: Actuarial tables for use in personal injury and fatal accident cases, based on various factors

Parliamentary draftsman: Professional drafters of legislation

Party: A person involved in litigation

Pecunia non olet: Money does not smell. Reputedly originating from the Roman Emperor Vespasian’s urine tax

Perpetuities: This property law concept is impossible to define concisely. See Chapter 3

Practice: Work as a lawyer

Pro bono: Pro bono publico, for the public good. Professional work done without charge

Pro hac vice. An appointment for a particular occasion only

Public access: Direct access for the public to a barrister without having to employ a solicitor as a go-between

Punter see Client

Pupil: A trainee barrister working under the supervision of another barrister

Pupilmaster: The barrister who supervises a pupil

QC tail. A coat worn by Queen’s Counsel

Quantum: The amount of compensation

Quantum meruit. As much as has been earned: reasonable value

Queen’s Counsel: An honour conferred on barristers of standing and experience

Red bag. A bag bestowed as a gift from a QC to a junior barrister for outstanding work. The bag carries the initials of the junior barrister and there is parchment in the bag for the QC to write a message

Refreshers: A barrister’s additional fee when a case overruns its estimated length: effervescent confectionery

Res ipsa loquitur: A circumstantial rule of evidence based on the concept that, where an accident happens under circumstances where it is so improbable that it could have happened without negligence, the mere happening of the accident gives rise to an inference of negligence

Risk assessment: The assessment of potential hazards

Rogue and vagabond: “Every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects; every person wandering abroad and lodging in nay barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon… and not giving a good account of himself or herself… every person, wilfully, openly, lewdly, and obscenely exposing his person … with intent to insult any female; every person wandering abroad, and endeavouring by the exposure of wounds or deformities to obtain or gather alms; every person going about as a gatherer or collector of alms, or endeavouring to procure charitable contributions of any nature or kind, under any fals or fraudulent pretence … every person being found in or upon any dwelling house, warehouse, coach-house, stable or outhouse, or in any inclosed yard, garden or area, for any unlawful purpose … and every person apprehended as an idle and disorderly person, and violently resisting any constable, or other peace officer so apprehending him or her, and being subsequently convicted … shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond. (Vagrancy Act 1824, section 4, as amended).

Royal Bencher: A member of the Royal family who holds the office of Bencher in an Inn of Court without having to obtain legal qualifications

Rule of law: The subordination of all authorities to certain legal principles

Senior barrister: A proposal that a barrister with a number of years’ experience should be described as a senior barrister was rejected by the Bar Council because it would confuse the public

Serious Fraud Office: An organisation responsible for the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal offences.

Silk: King’s Counsel or Queen’s Counsel, so-called because they wear silk gowns

Supreme Court: The new name for the House of Lords, the highest appeal court

Table/Tabling: Lists of statutes and cases which appear in legal textbooks

Taxonomy: Principles of classification

Temple. Two Inns of Court – Inner and Middle – originally occupied by the Knights Templars. Part of London between the Strand and the Thames.


For those, like me, who have no idea what a tippet is, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives the following guidance:

  • A long narrow strip of cloth or hanging part of dress, either attached to and forming part of the hood, head-dress or sleeve, or loose, as a scarf or the like.

  • A garment, usually of fur or wool, covering the shoulders, or the neck and shoulders; a cape or short cloak.

  • A band of silk or other material worn round the neck, with the two ends pendent from the shoulders in front.

  • A hangman’s rope.

Touting: Soliciting custom

Trousering: Obsolete slang for stealing

Tunic shirt. A collarless shirt worn by lawyers.

Vesting: Conferring an immediate right

Volenti non fit injuria: No injury is done to a person who consents to it. A largely obsolete defence of consent to a claim for compensation for a civil wrong

War crime: A violation of the laws of war

Welfare law: Generally, the law of social security

Wig: A horsehair wig is worn in most courts by barristers. Reputedly imported from France in the seventeenth century to indicate social standing and wealth

Work-related stress: Mental disorder caused by workplace conditions

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