Legal English Terms Explained

Legal English is a specialized area of English that relates to the law. It includes specific vocabulary and phrases used in legal contexts, ranging from courtrooms to business contracts. Here we’ll go through some common legal English terms and explain what they mean, alongside examples that contextualize each term.

Affidavit
An affidavit is a written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation, for use as evidence in court. This document is typically used when a witness cannot be present and is taken as a statement of truth regarding legal matters.

The witness could not attend, so her affidavit was submitted as evidence to the court.

Tort
A tort is a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to civil legal liability. Torts are actions that cause injury or harm to another person, which can be the basis for a lawsuit without the need of a contractual obligation.

The company was sued for a tort after their product caused injury to numerous customers.

Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction refers to the official power to make legal decisions and judgments, often within a defined area of responsibility. It can also be related to the geographical area where such legal authority applies.

The court in Texas declared it did not have jurisdiction over the criminal case as the crime occurred in Oklahoma.

Litigation
Litigation is the process of taking legal action, a legal case, or lawsuit. This refers to the proceedings initiated between two opposing parties to enforce or defend a legal right.

The company decided to avoid litigation and instead agreed to a settlement with the plaintiff.

Plaintiff
The plaintiff is the person who brings a case against another in a court of law. This term refers to the party who initiates the lawsuit seeking relief or damages from the defendant.

The plaintiff claimed damages for the breach of contract by the defendant.

Subpoena
A subpoena is a writ ordering a person to attend a court. It may also require the submission of documents relevant to a case. Failure to comply with a subpoena can result in penalties.

The financial records were obtained after the accountant received a subpoena to provide them.

Deposition
A deposition is an out-of-court oral testimonial of a witness that is reduced to a written transcript for later use in court or for discovery purposes. During a deposition, the witness is under oath and must answer questions from both parties’ legal representatives.

In preparation for the trial, the legal team took the deposition of the key witness.

Indictment
An indictment is a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime. The term is generally associated with felonies and often involves a grand jury.

The grand jury returned an indictment against the official for corruption charges.

Acquittal
An acquittal occurs when a defendant is found not guilty of the charges against them. This can result from a trial verdict, where the evidence presented was not sufficient to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury’s verdict led to the acquittal of the accused, and she was released from custody.

Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows an individual, known as the principal, to appoint someone else, known as the attorney-in-fact or agent, to make decisions on their behalf. The authority can be broad or limited to specific activities.

Due to his illness, he granted his daughter Power of Attorney to manage his financial affairs.

Understanding these terms is essential for non-native speakers involved in the legal field or those interested in bridging the gap between general English and the complex language of law. Legal English requires precision and clarity, making knowledge of these terms not just useful, but necessary for effective communication within the legal domain.

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