Legal Glossary

We try our best to use plain English but there are inevitably some technical words that we have to use. So to help you navigate the legal terminology we have put together a glossary of the more common ones. But, if we ever use language that you do not understand then please do ask. When you have been doing a job a long time it is all too easy to slip into jargon.

Administrator / Attorney Someone empowered to act for another.
Advocate A barrister or solicitor representing an individual in a hearing before a court.
Affidavit A written statement of fact made on oath and signed in the presence of an authorised person (e.g. a solicitor).
Ancillary Relief Additional claims (eg. for financial maintenance) attached to a petition for divorce.
Annulment Invalidity; especially a declaration that a marriage has never existed in law because of some basic defect.
Applicant Person making a request or a demand.
Assent A document transferring land or buildings to a beneficiary of an estate.
Assured Shorthold Tenancy The most frequently used tenancy agreement by landlords when letting residential properties. It grants a degree of security to the tenant who may not be evicted without reason during an initial fixed period (typically six months).
Attachment of Earnings A court order obtained by a creditor to make a debtor’s employer deduct and hand over to the creditor a proportion of the debtor’s earnings to pay off the debt.
Barrister A lawyer who has been ‘called to the bar’ and has the right to represent clients in court. As a general rule, barristers cannot take instructions direct from the public who must first instruct a solicitor. The full title is barrister-at-law, commonly referred to as Counsel.
Beneficiary A person entitled to all or part of an estate under a will, intestacy or trust.
Capital Gains Tax (CGT) A tax charged on profits from the disposal of assets, unless the disposal is in the course of trade when the profit will be taxed as income.
Chambers A judge is said to ‘sit in Chambers’ when he is hearing a case in private, as opposed to open court. Almost all divorce proceedings are heard in this way. The word ‘chambers’ can also mean the offices in which barristers work.
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) A public body set up to look after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. Its officers work with children and families and then provide the courts with independent advice as to what they consider to be in the children’s best interests.
Civil Law Matters concerning private rights and not offences against the state.
Claimant (or Plantiff) Someone who makes a claim in court against a defendant for a remedy such as damages.
Clean Break A final settlement of financial and property matters between the parties to a marriage, so that neither party is dependant on the other.
Codicil A document that changes some parts of a will but does not cancel it altogether.
Completion Completion is the point at which the sale or purchase of land or buildings ’completes’ and legal ownership changes hands – generally the moving day.
Conveyancing The legal process of transferring ownership of a property or land from one person to another.
Co-Respondent The person with whom the respondent in a divorce case is alleged to have committed adultery.
County Court A local court dealing with ‘civil’ (non criminal) matters.
Court of Protection A court that handles the property and affairs of people who, by reason of age or infirmity, are unable to look after them for themselves.
Covenant An agreement by which someone undertakes to do (or not to do) some specified thing. For example, a seller of land covenants that he has good title to the land and the purchaser may covenant not to build on it etc.
Cross Petition A petition by a respondent in a divorce proceeding alleging different reasons for the divorce.
Crown Court A court dealing with serious criminal matters committed for trial by a Magistrates Court. Cases for trial are heard before a judge and jury.
Decree Absolute The final order of a court dissolving a marriage.
Decree Nisi A provisional order dissolving a marriage, which does not become final until a further application is made by the petitioner.
Deeds Formal paper documents recording ownership or some legal obligation – commonly title deeds which prove legal ownership of property.
Disbursements The cost of an ‘external’ item or service procured by a Solicitor in connection with a case or transaction (e.g. Property Search Fees, Court Fees, Medical Report Fees etc.)
Easement An entitlement to exercise some right over another’s land. For example a right of way, a right of light or a right of support.
Encumbrance A right or interest over land enjoyed by someone other than the owner of the land. For example an easement, a lease or a mortgage.
Enduring Power of Attorney Superseded by lasting power of attorney from 30th September 2007.
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) A report on the energy efficiency of a property generally required to sell or rent out a property.
Engrossment The final signature copy of a document.
Equity The value remaining after all prior claims on an asset have been met -commonly the value of a house less the amount outstanding on the mortgage.
Equity Release A financial arrangement which releases some of the cash value in a property with no repayment required until the property is sold.
Estate All the property belonging to a person at the time of their death.
Ex Gratia Given as a favour and not required by a legal duty.
Exchange of Contracts The point at which the parties to a written contract become legally bound to continue with a transaction.
Executor (or Executrix, if female) A person named in a will to administer the estate.
Freehold The absolute ownership of land and rights over land. Contrast leasehold.
General Power of Attorney A formal, written authority granted by one person, the donor, to another, the attorney, enabling the attorney to act on the donor’s behalf and manage his affairs for a temporary period.
Ground Rent A rent, substantially below the market rate, payable by a tenant usually of a long lease for which a capital sum (premium) was paid at the beginning.
High Court A court dealing with more complicated or high value civil matters.
Inheritance Tax (IHT) Inheritance tax, charged upon a deceased’s estate and on gifts which fall outside certain limits.
Injunction A court order either restraining a person from carrying out a course of action or directing a course of action to be complied with.
Interlocutory Interim, pending a final decision.
Intestate Someone who dies without leaving a valid will. The estate itself is then also described as intestate.
Issue All of the children, grandchildren and remoter descendants of a person, whether born within or outside marriage, including adopted children.
Joint Tenancy An arrangement wherein people own property jointly in equal shares. If one dies, his share passes to the other(s). Contrast tenancy in common.
Judicial Separation A court declaration that a couple are legally separate, without dissolving the marriage. It can include a financial settlement.
Justice of the Peace Otherwise known as a magistrate. A person appointed to administer judicial business in a Magistrates Court.
Lasting Power of Attorney A formal, written authority granted by one person, (the Donor), to another, (the Attorney), enabling the Attorney to act on the Donor’s behalf and manage his affairs, in the event that the donor becomes incapable through age or infirmity.
Leasehold Time limited ownership of land / property. Contrast freehold.
Legal Aid A system of government funding which can provide legal help to those on low incomes.
Legal Charge See Mortgage.
Legal Executive Someone who is formally qualified to practice law and is registered with the Institute of Legal Executives.
Letters of Administration An official document obtained by administrators of an estate proving that they have the legal authority to deal with a deceased’s estate.
Life Interest The right to receive the income from, or to enjoy the occupation of, property for the lifetime of the life tenant.
Limitation Period A statutory time limit within which an action must be brought. As a rough guide, claims for personal injury must be brought within three years and other claims within six years.
Magistrates Court Local court dealing with less serious criminal matters and some family matters where the ‘judges’ are magistrates.
Minor In England, a person under the age of 18.
Mortgage An arrangement by which a borrower (the mortgagor) provides a lender (the mortgagee) with security for the repayment of a loan in the form of buildings or land.
Negligence Failure to exercise a duty to take ‘reasonable care’ – which results in injury or loss to another.
Paralegal / Executive Someone who has no formal legal qualifications but who carries out legal work through virtue of experience.
Pecuniary Legacy A gift of money in a will.
Petition A method of commencing legal proceedings whereby the petitioner asks the court for a judgement. Commonly a petition for divorce.
Power Reserved A situation wherein executors in a will agree not to take out a grant of probate but reserve the right to be involved if the proving executor dies or is unable to act.
Pre Nuptial A pre marriage agreement which sets out what is to happen to the assets in the event of a divorce. Yet to be fully recognized in English law.
Pro Bono Work done by a lawyer for no fee.
Probate (Grant of) An official document issued by the Probate Registry giving legal recognition of the validity of a will and providing executors with the legal authority to deal with a deceased person’s estate.
Rack Rent Full market rent. Contrast ground rent.
Redemption The discharge of a mortgage by paying off the loan and obtaining the release of the property.
Registered Land Land or buildings the ownership of which is registered at The Land Registry who hold the records electronically. Contrast with unregistered land.
Remortgage Paying off an existing mortgage and entering into a new one, usually to obtain a lower rate of interest or a larger loan.
Residuary Beneficiary A beneficiary entitled to receive all or part of the residue of an estate (i.e. what is left after all debts and specific gifts and legacies have been paid).
Respondent The person on whom a petition is served.
Restrictive Covenant An agreement by one party not to do a specific act. Typically the owner of land may promise not to do something, like build on the land.
Service Charge A charge made to tenants by a landlord to pay for services provided for the communal benefit of all the tenants of a property.
Severance of a Joint Tenancy The act of converting a joint tenancy into a tenancy in common.
Shareholder Agreement An agreement between the owners of a company as to the key decisions that will require a unanimous vote or a special majority e.g. the appointment of directors, selling the business or issuing new shares
Solicitor Someone who is formally qualified to practice law and is registered with the Law Society.
Specific Legacy A gift of a specific object in a will.
Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) Government tax on the purchase (or leasing) of land or buildings above certain value thresholds.
Statutory Duty A legal requirement. A duty placed on a person by an act of parliament.
Subject to Contract A useful expression to prevent a binding agreement arising accidentally during negotiation. It means, ‘I am making no binding commitment at this stage but will do so when there is a fully agreed contract’. Not to be confused with ‘without prejudice” which means something entirely different.
Sue To take legal action in the civil court.
Summons A document which starts court proceedings.
Tenancy in Common An arrangement wherein people own property jointly but not necessarily in equal shares. If one dies his share passes to his heirs. Contrast joint tenancy.
Testator (or Testatrix, if female) The maker of a will.
Title Deeds Original documents proving legal ownership of property. Where land is registered at The Land Registry, the register itself proves title.
Tort A civil wrong committed against a person through which compensation may be sought through a civil court.
Transfer of Equity Changing the ownership of a property by removing one owner or adding a new one – perhaps after a divorce or separation.
Trust A legal relationship when one person (a trustee) holds property for the benefit of another (a beneficiary).
Trustee A person appointed to hold property upon trust for another. Trustees have a duty to act in good faith.
Under Offer A situation in which an offer has been provisionally accepted by the seller but confers no legal obligation. Contrast exchange of contracts.
Unregistered Land Land or buildings the ownership of which is not registered at HM Land Registry but is proved by ownership of title deeds.
Vacant Possession Empty. On completion of a sale a seller is generally obliged to deliver the property clear of occupants and of objects which are not included in the sale.
Vendor Alternative word for the seller of buildings, land or a business.
Will A legal document in which a person directs how their assets are to be distributed after their death and makes care provisions for any minors. Such documents must be executed in accordance with strict statutory requirements.
Without Prejudice A statement made which cannot be construed as an admission of liability or given in evidence.