List of Basic Legal Terms

List of Basic Legal Terms

Affirm: To ratify; to confirm the law or judgment passed by the former court.

A fortiori: Literally, a stronger reason; a logic or term which denotes that if one argument is true, then the less improbable and unusual fact analogous to the former argument must also exist.

Amicus Curiae: Literally, a friend of court; a party not involved in litigation may petition the court to give expert testimony, a rationale consistent with its own views.

Averment: Positive statement of facts in pleading.

Cause: Legal action; Litigation; any question initiating a legal proceeding.

Cause of action: Fact or combination of facts, on which a party initiates a lawsuit.

Certiorari: Literally, to be informed of; to be made certain in regard to; the name of the writ issued by the appellate court to the inferior court, to convey the record of the proceeding.

Declaratory Judgment: A judgment defining the rights of the parties or an interpretation of law, without ordering anything to be done. When a party is unclear about a law or about the rights and status of litigants, it can ask for a declaratory judgment.

Demurrer: Court issuing an order, that the alleged facts are true but they do not form the grounds for civil damages or violation of law.

De novo Trial: Trying a matter anew; a trial or hearing which is being conducted for the second time in the lower court, as if no decision has been previously rendered, on the order of the appellate court.

Dicta: Opinion, observation or remark of a judge, which is not binding on the subsequent cases as legal precedent.

Directed Verdict: It is issued in cases where a party with the Burden of proof has failed to present a Prima Facie case for jury consideration, a trial judge orders for the verdict being determined by law rather than fact.

En BancLiterally, in the bench; full bench; when the case is heard or re-heard by a panel of judges, it is heard en banc.

Enjoin: To require; command; admonish; Ordering a person by writ of injunction to perform or abstain from some specific act.

Ex Contractu: From contract; Action arising out of a contract or cause of action from a breach of promise, in common law cases.

Ex Delicto: From wrong; from a transgression; a common law action due to misconduct or fraud, beyond the terms of contract.

Ex Ante: Before the fact or event in question has occurred.

Ex Post: After the fact or event in question has occurred.

Finding: Formal decision by a judge or jury on the Question of fact.

Holding: Opinion of the court or a legal principle drawn from the decision of the court, which is applied to the facts and is binding on the lower courts.

Injunction: A writ prohibiting a party from performing a specific act or commanding them to undo some wrong. It is aimed at future acts and is a protective and preventive remedy.

Inter alia: Literally, among other things; a term used in Pleadings, where a particular part of the statute is being recited or written and not the entire statute.

Judgment: Final disposition of legal proceedings, determining the rights and obligation of parties.

Judgment Nov.: Judgment non obstante veredicto, translates as judgment notwithstanding the verdict, where a judge reverses the verdict given by the jury.

Overrule: To declare a judgment or a precedent void. This can be done by the same court which previously issued it or by a superior court, while passing a judgment on the same question of law.

Per Curium Opinion: An unsigned opinion of the whole court, where there are more than one judges, distinguishing it from the opinion written by any one judge.

Prima Facie Case: Literally, on the first appearance; A case which has minimum sufficient evidence to initiate a legal proceeding. If the defendant presents a contradictory evidence the case is dismissed.

Remand: To send a case back in the lower court, usually it is done by appellate court, so that further proceedings if any, may be taken there.

Res Judicata: Literally, a thing to be adjudged; once a lawsuit is decided it cannot be contested again involving the same cause of action.

Reverse: To overthrow; repeal; to declare the judgment of lower court void either by substituting it or by returning it to a lower court and ordering a retrial.

Sine Qua Non: Literally, without which is not; Indispensable condition or action.

Stare Decisis: Literally, let the decision stand; a doctrine that courts will adhere to the decisions previously taken.

Summary Judgment: It is also known as accelerated judgment. When material facts are not disputed, court can dispose of a claim using affidavits and briefings.

Trespass: An action brought to recover damages for causing an injury to one’s person, property or relationship with other, by using direct and immediate use of force, either expressly or impliedly in law.

Trespass on the case: An action brought to recover damages where defendant’s act was indirect and unaccompanied with force.

Writ: An order or a legal document issued by the court to perform a specified act or giving authority for an act or to institute an action.

Writ of Mandamus:  An order issued by court directing a public officer to perform an act.

Writ of Habeas Corpus: Literally, produce the body; to obtain a writ seeking release from unlawful confinement; a writ requiring a person to be brought before a judge to determine the legality of the detention.


The list of the terms has been taken from Law Student’s toolkit, a massive online open course on Coursera.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any other organization with which she might be associated.

Ayesha Klair

Author: Ayesha Klair

The writer is a law student at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad and is an intern at Courting The Law. She has keen interest in national politics and global affairs.