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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Res ipsa loquitur: judicial criticism of maxims dressed up in Latin

The use of legal Latin has been the object of sustained judicial criticism. Examples of this in the context of health and safety are the concepts of res ipsa loquitur and volenti non fit injuria.

Res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) is a rule of evidence which may lead to liability for negligence without further evidence.

For example, in the case of Fryer v Pearson (2000) F, a gas fitter, was working at P’s house. As he knelt on the floor, the point of a needle buried in a deep-pile carpet pierced his knee. He claimed compensation from P. It was argued on his behalf that res ipsa loquitur applied, that the incident spoke for itself, and that he therefore did not have to prove negligence. His claim was dismissed. The court ruled that this had been a freak, unfortunate accident. Lord Justice May commented that people should stop using maxims or doctrines dressed up in Latin, such as res ipsa loquitur, which are not readily comprehensible to those for whose benefit they are supposed to exist.

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