When using legal services, you will likely come across a lot of terminology you're not familiar with. Our jargon buster provides you with a list of words you might hear in correspondence with us and what they mean.

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Absolute - Complete and unconditional

Absolute discharge - Someone who has been convicted of an offence being released without any penalty

Absolute interest - Total and complete ownership of an asset or property

Abstract of title - A document, drawn up by the seller, summarising the title deeds to a property

Abuse of process - When criminal proceedings are brought against a person without there being any good reason

Acceptance - When an offer is accepted unconditionally and a legally binding agreement is created

Accused - The person charged with a criminal offence

Acknowledgement of service - When a defendant agrees that a writ or originating summons has been received

Aquittal - The court's decision that a person is innocent of the crime they were charged with

Action - Using the law to make a claim

Actus reus - An act which is illegal, such as theft

Adjournment - Postponing a court hearing

Adjudication - To give an official judgement about something

Administration order - An order made by a county court when a person or company cannot pay their debts

Administrator - Someone who has been appointed to manage the affairs of a bankrupt business or estate

Adoption - The system which people use to become parents, even though they are not the child's natural parents

Adverse possession - Intentionally occupying land to prevent the rightful owner or tenant using it

Advocate - Is the lawyer who speaks in court for a client or a Scottish lawyer who is the equivalent of a barrister in England and Wales

Affidavit - A written statement which is sworn to be true by the person signing it

Affirm - Solemnly promise to tell the truth

Agent - Someone appointed to act for a principal

Ambulatory will - A will which can be revoked or changed whilst the person who made it is still living

Annual general meeting - The yearly meeting of the members of an organisation which must be held to meet legal conditions

Annul - To cancel an invalid marriage or a bankruptcy order

Anton Pillar order - An order by the high Court that gives the applicant permission to search the defendant's premises for evidence

Appeal - Asking a court to overturn a lower court's decision

Appellant - The person who is appealing to a court against a decision of a lower court

Applicant - The person who is bringing the proceedings to court

Arbitration - Settling a dispute by using a referee

Articles of association - Documents which set out a company's rules

Assent - A document used by personal representatives to transfer property to a beneficiary

Asset - Something owned such as a building, a vehicle or money in the bank

Attachment of earnings - A court order that deductions be made from a person's earnings

Authorised share capital - The highest amount of share capital that a company can issue


Bail - To pay, or promise to pay, an amount of money so that an accused person is not put in prison before the trial

Bailiff - An officer of the court, who carries out the court's orders, such as taking a debtor's goods and selling them to repay debts

Bankrupt - Someone who has a bankruptcy order

Bankruptcy order - An order that a court may issue against someone if they cannot pay their debts when they are due to be paid

Bankruptcy search - A document which says whether or not someone is bankrupt

Bar - The collective term for barristers

Barrister - A lawyer who can speak in the higher courts, which a solicitor is not allowed to do

Bench warrant - A warrant issued by a court for the arrest of an accused person who has failed to attend court

Beneficiary - Someone who benefits from a will, a trust or a life insurance policy

Bequest - Something given in a will, other than land or real property

Bill of costs - The invoice the solicitor sends to a client giving details of any disbursements the solicitor has paid on behalf of the client

Binding over - An order by a court in a criminal case. If someone has misbehaved or broken the peace, magistrates can bind them over

Bona fide - Genuine, sincere or in good faith

Breach of contract - Failing to carry out a duty under a contract

Break clause - A clause in a contract which allows it to be entered

Brief - A document prepared by a solicitor containing instructions for the barrister to follow when acting for the solicitor in court


Capital gains tax - A tax charged on certain capital gains

Care order - An order by a court instructing the local authority to care for a child

Caution - Is a warning given by the police to a suspected criminal when the suspect is arrested or released without prosecution

Caveat emtor - 'Buyer beware'. It is used to warn people buying goods that they may not be able to get compensation if faulty

Chambers - The offices used by barristers and the judge's private office

Chancery Division - A section of the high court dealing with cases involving trusts, land, company law, patents and so on

Charge - Means to formally accuse someone of committing a crime or to use property as a security for debt

Charging order - A court judgement which a creditor may get against the person or organisation which owes the money

Chattel - Any property except freehold land

Child support maintenance - The amount of maintenance the parent not living with their child must pay

Circuit judge - A judge who presides over (is in charge of) cases in the Crown Court and county courts

Civil court - A court which does not hear criminal cases. It deals with people's rights such as collecting debts

Claim - Means to apply for a right, to demand a remedy, or an application for something such as a right

Claimant - The person making a claim 

Codicil - Extra pages to change a valid will which needs a minor alteration

Commissioner for Oaths - A person appointed by the Lord Chancellor to administer (manage) the swearing of oaths

Committal order - An order used to send someone to prison for contempt of court

Compensation - Money paid to make up for damage or loss caused

Completion - Transferring property in exchange for payment

Concurrent sentence - When someone is sentenced for different crimes and the sentences are to be served at the same time

Conditional discharge - A court may decide not to punish a criminal immediately and may conditionally discharge them instead

Conditional sale agreement - An agreement by which the seller remains the owner of the goods until all instalments are paid

Condition - A fundamental part of an agreement. The agreement or contract may collapse if a condition is broken

Consecutive sentence - When someone is sentenced for different crimes and the sentences have to served one after another

Consent - To agree to something

Consideration - The price you pay for something

Constructive dismissal - As the employer broke fundamental terms of the contract of employment, the employee is forced to resign

Contempt of court - Offence of disobeying a court order, abusing judges during court cases, or interfering in administration of justice

Contingency fee - The claimant's lawyer gets paid the fee only if the case is won by the claimant

Contract - An agreement between two or more people (or groups) to do (or not to do) something

Contract of service - The contract between employer and employee

Contract for services - A contract under which materials and services are provided by a contractor

Contributory negligence - Your own carelessness contributing to the damage done to you or your property

Conveyance - The name of the document which transfers the ownership of land

Conviction - Being found guilty of a criminal offence

Copyright - A legal right which stops things being copied without permission

Counsel - A barrister or groups of barristers

Counterclaim - Making a claim in court against someone who has already make a claim in court against you

County court - A court which deals with civil cases such as disputes over unpaid debts and negligence claims

Court of Appeal - A court which hears appeals against the decisions of other courts

Court of Protection - A court which administers (manages) the assets and affairs of people who cannot look after themselves

Covenant - A contract or legally binding promise

Creditor - A person you owe money to

Cross-examine - To question a witness for the other side in a case

Crown Court - The court where people indicted of criminal offences are tried


Damages - The name for money awarded by a court as compensation

Debenture - A document issued by a company which acknowledges that some or all of the company's assets are security for a debt

Debtor - Someone who owes you money

Decree - An order by a court

Decree absolute - The final court order which ends a marriage

Decree nisi - A provisional court order which orders that a marriage should be dissolved

Deed - A legal document which commits the person signing it to something

Defendant - The person defending a court action which has been taken against them

Deponent - A person who swears on oath that a statement is correct

Deposition - A statement, by a witness, made under oath

Determination - Ending an agreement

Disbursement - A payment made by a professional person, such as a solicitor or accountant, on behalf of a client

Discharge - Release from a commitment such as a debt, a contract because it has finished or a punishment for a crime

Disclaimer - To give up a claim or a right or refuse to take over an onerous (having more obligations than advantages) contract

Discretionary trust - A trust in which the trustees can decide who will benefit from the trust and how much they will get

Divorce - The legal end to a marriage

Domicile - The country where your permanent home is, even if you are living somewhere else for now

Duty - A levy charged by the Government, usually when things are brought, such as shares or buildings


Easement - A right to use someone else's land, such as a right of way

Engrossment - Preparing the final version of a legal document ready for it to be executed

Estate - Is all a person owns at the date of their death or the right to use land for a period of time

Ex parte - Done by one side only in a case 

Exchange of contract - When land is sold, the person selling and the the person buying both sign identical contracts and exchange them

Execute - To carry out a contract

Executor - Someone appointed in a will to deal with the estate, according to the wishes set out in the will

Expert witness - An expert in a particular field who is called to give an opinion in a court case

Extraordinary general meeting - A general meeting of the members of a company which is not the annual general meeting

Extraordinary resolution - A resolution for consideration by the members of a company at a general meeting of the members


Floating charge - A charge used to provide security for money lent to a company

Force majeure - An event which cannot be controlled and which stops duties under an agreement from being carried out

Forfeiture - The loss of possession of a property because the tenancy conditions have not been met by the tenant

Freehold - Describing land that only the owner has any rights over

Frustration - Stopping a contract. Sometimes contracts can't be carried out as something has happened which makes it impossible


Garnishee order - A court order to a third party who owes money to a judgement debtor to pay the money to the judgement creditor

General damages - Damages a court will give to compensate for a wrong done without needing proof that damage has been done

Grant of probate - A certificate proving that the executors of a will are entitled to deal with the estate

Guarantee - A promise by a person to repay a debt owed by a second person if the second person fails to repay it

Guarantor - A person or organisation that promises to pay a debt owed by a second person, if the second person fails to repay it

Guardian - A person appointed formally to look after the interests of a child, or someone not capable of looking after their own affairs


Harassment of debtors - The illegal act of attempting to collect debts by threatening, or habitually acting in ways that distress a debtor

Hearsay evidence - Evidence given in court of something said to the witness by another person

Hereditament -  Any property which is capable of being inherited

High Court (of Justice) - Part of the Supreme Court.

Hire - To pay to borrow something for a period

Hire purchase - A form of credit which allows the purchaser to have possession of the goods shown in the hire purchase agreement

HM Land Registry - A registry with offices in towns and cities throughout the UK which keep records of registered land

House of Lords - The upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom 


Indictable offence - An offence which can be tried by jury in the Crown Court

Indictment - A document setting out the details of the offence a defendant is accused of

Intangible property - Property which does not physically exist, such as a right or a patent

Interest - A legal right to use property

Intestacy / intestate - When someone dies without leaving a will. Their estate is divided up between their relatives by rules set by law

Issue - The legal word for children or the matter to be decided by a court action

Issued share capital - Share capital which has been allocated to shareholders who have subscribed for (asked for) shares


Joint and several liability - Two or more people responsible for repaying a debt.

Joint lives policy - A life assurance policy on more than one person's life. The policy pays out on the first death.

Joint tenancy - Two or more people having identical shares in land.

Joint will - A single will which two or more people make to cover all their estates.

Judge - A person whose job it is to adjudicate in court cases.

Judgement - A decision by a court.

Judicial separation - A court order that two married people should live apart.


Land - Includes the buildings built on the land, the subsoil, the air space above the land necessary for ordinary use of the land and property fixed to the land.

Lasting Powers of Attorney - There are two types of Lasting Power of Attorney; health and welfare, and property and financial affairs.

Lease - A contract between the owner of a property and a tenant, giving the tenant sole use of the property for an agreed time.

Leasehold - Property held by a tenant with a lease.

Legacy - A gift left to someone in a will, but not including land.

Legatee - The person who receives a legacy.

Lessee - The person a property had been leased to.

Lessor - The person who lets a property by lease.

Letters of administration - An authority the courts give to a person to deal with a dead person's estate. It is given when someone dies intestate.

Liability - A debt or obligation.

Licensed Conveyancer - A person authorised to do conveyancing (but not including solicitors).

Life assurance policy - A contract between the policyholder and the insurance company.


Magistrate - A Justice of the Peace who presides over minor cases heard in the magistrates' court.

Magistrates' court - The lowest court.

Maintenance - Money paid to support a partner and children when a marriage has failed.

Matrimonial causes - The court proceedings to divorce people, separate a marriage or dissolve a marriage.

Matrimonial home - The house that a husband and wife live in as a married couple.

Mediation - Help from an independent person to solve differences between a husband and wife whose marriage has broken down.

Memorandum and articles of association - The memorandum gives details of a company's name, objects and share capital.

Mortgage - Using property as security for a debt. It is also the name of the contract which is signed by the borrower and lender when money is lent using property as security for a loan.

Mortgagee - The lender of the money which is secured by a mortgage.

Mortgagor - The person who borrows the money to buy a property. The lending is secured with a mortgage of the property.


Naked trust - A trust which holds property for a person until they ask the trustee to return it.

Negligence - Lack of proper care to do a duty properly.

Negligent - Lacking proper care to do a duty properly.

Negotiable instrument - A document which is signed, is an instruction to pay an amount of money, can have its ownership changed by changing the name it is paid to and can have its ownership changed simply by being delivered to its next owner.

Next of kin - A person's closest blood relatives.

Nondisclosure - The failure by one side to a contract to disclose a fact to the other side that would influence their decision to go ahead with the contract.

Notary - A person who is authorised to certify documents, take affidavits and swear oaths.

Novation - Replacing an existing agreement with a new one.

Oath - Swearing the truth of a statement.

Obligation - A legal duty to do something.

Occupation - Taking control of a piece of land which belongs to someone else.

Occupier - The person who is in control of a piece of land, such as a tenant.

Offer - A promise to do something, or not to do something. If the promise is accepted it becomes legally binding.

Omission - A failure to do something.

Option - A type of contract under which money is paid for a right to buy or sell goods at a fixed price by a particular date in the future.

Order - An instruction by or command of a court.