Whether you’re thinking about law school or are already studying for LSATs, CLATs, or another equivalent entrance exam, you must be told the significance of legal maxims. They’re chic, stylish, and unsurprisingly rare in day-to-day legal parlance. You see, a lawyer or a judge in a trial wouldn’t be using legal maxims and if they did, it is occasional. However, that does not stop law institutions from putting them in our curriculums.
Nowadays, the usage of legal maxims has relatively reduced quite a bit and it is for the best. As most people who lawyers or judges meet in the courtroom aren’t exactly familiar with words like ab extra, actus reus, ad hoc, etc. Still, as future lawyers, advocates, and judges, it is highly recommended to be familiar with some of the most used legal maxims. As a law student in her penultimate year, here are few of the most common legal maxims I have come across in my journey so far:
- Ab initio – One of the most common legal maxim is ab initio that means ‘from the beginning’.
- Ad hoc – You must have read about an ad hoc committee. The term simply means made to meet a particular end or cause at hand.
- Actus reus – A guilty or an illegal act.
- Ad idem – It means ‘meeting of the minds’.
- Ab extra – From outside.
- Ad valorem – According to value.
- Amicus curiae – Someone who is a friend of the court.
- Animus possidendi – Having the intention to possess.
- Ante – Before.
- Audi alteram partem – Hear the other side. The idea behind the legal maxim is that justice can not be achieved if only one party is being heard.
- Bona fide – Having good intentions.
- Bona vacantia – Ownerless goods.
- Caveat – A warning; may he beware.
- Caveat actor – May the doer beware.
- Caveat emptor – Let the buyer beware.
- Caveat venditor – Let the seller beware.
- Certiorari – It is an order by which the judgment passed by an inferior court is quashed.
- Corpus – Body.
- Corpus deliciti – Includes the facts and circumstances that constitute a crime. For instance, a dead body.
- Contra legem – Against the law.
- Corpus juris – Body of law.
- Damnum sine injuria – Damage without injury. (Injury here implies a legal injury).
- De facto – In fact.
- De jure – By law.
- De minimis – About minimal things.
- De Minimis Non Curat Lex – The law does govern matters with respect to trifles (unimportant matters).
- Doli incapax – Incapable of crime.
- Estoppel – Stopped or barred from denying.
- Ex-gratia – By favor.
- Ex-officio – Because of an office held.
- Ex parte – When the proceedings happen in the absence of the other party.
- Ex facia – On the face.
- Ex post facto – After the fact.
- Ejusdem Generis – Of the same class, or kind.
- Factum – Beyond human foresight.
- Factum probans – Relevant facts.
- Fraus est celare fraudem – It is a fraud to conceal a fraud.
- Functus officio – Having no longer any power or jurisdiction.
- Habeas corpus – Refers to a writ where the court orders to ‘bring the body’.
- Ignorantia Juris No Excusat – Ignorance of the law excuses no one. Simply, implying that ignorance of facts may be excused but ignorance of the law may not be excused.
- Injuria sine damnum – Injury without damage.
- Ispo facto – By the face of it or by the fact itself.
- In promptu – In readiness.
- In lieu of – Instead of.
- In personam – A proceeding in which the relief I sought is against a specific person, imposing a kind of personal liability.
- Innuendo – Spoken words that are defamatory in nature because they have a double meaning.
- In status quo – In the present state.
- Inter alia – One of the most common legal maxims is inter alia that means amongst other things.
- Intra legem – Within the law.
- Intra vires – Within the powers.
- In loco parentis – In the place of a parent.
- In absentia – “In absence” or in one’s absence.
- Jus ad bellum – Laws to war.
- Jus cogens – Compelling law.
- Jus commune – Common law.
- Jus sanguinis – Right of blood.
- Jus soli – Right of soil.
- Jus tertii – Law of the third.
- Jus in rem – Right against the world at large.
- Lex communis – Common law.
- Locus standi – Right of a party to take action, appear, and be heard in the court of law.
- Mala fide – It implies having bad intentions or in bad faith.
- Mala prohibitum – It simply means that crimes are bad not because they are inherently bad but because they are prohibited by the law of the state.
- Mens rea – A guilty mind.
- Mandamus – It means ‘we command’. It can be an order by the court directing any government/public body to perform their duties.
- Modus operandi – The way of working.
- Mortis causa – Caused by death.
- Nemo bis punitur pro eodem delicto – Nobody can be twice punished for the same offence.
- Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa – It means no man shall be punished twice for the same offence.
- Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa or Nemo judex in causa suaor Nemo judex in sua causa – Nobody can be judge in his own case.
- Obiter dictum – Things said by the way. For instance, in courts the opinion given by a judge can be considered as an obiter dictum.
- Onus probandi – The burden of proof. Generally, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff.
- Pacta Sunt Servanda – It basically means that agreements must be kept and that they are legally binding.
- Per se – By itself.
- Prima facie – At first sight or on the face of it.
- Palimony – It is usually the compensation made by one member to another after the separation. The meaning is slightly different depending on the location.
- Qui facit per alium, facit per se – He who acts through another acts himself.
- Quid pro quo – Something for something.
- Quo warranto – In most jurisdictions, it usually means an order by the court asking any public office, “by what authority?”
- Ratio decidendi – If you had read any case law then you must have come across this latin phrase that simply means the basic principle or reason in a court judgment.
- Respondeat superior – Let the master answer.
- Res ispa loquitur – The things speaks for itself.
- Res judicata – A matter that has already been judged upon.
- Status quo – State of things as they are now.
- Sine die – With no day (indefinitely).
- Sine qua non – It means an essential condition; a prerequisite.
- Suo moto – On its own motion.
- Veto – The power to say a big NO to any bill.
- Vis major – Act of God.
- Volenti non fit injuria – Damage suffered and consent given. Implying that no person can claim any damages where the consent was already given.
- Vox populi – Voice of the people. Usually the opinion of a majority of people.
After three years in law school, I have never once come across a professor who would use legal maxims in day-to-day parlance, however, it’s still nice to know a few of them and besides it makes us law students look chic and cool… Although don’t overuse them. Its always better to use simple terms that can be understood by a majority of people as law is for the people.