Legal terms explained


This page explains some of the terms that are used in legal proceedings.

A - B



Where a person is found not guilty of a criminal offence or offences.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

All forms of resolving disputes other than by a court. Alternative dispute resolution includes mediation, conciliation and arbitration.

Amicus curiae

A Latin term meaning “a friend of the court”. A person or entity who is not directly involved or impacted by court proceedings but who is allowed to participate by the court on the basis that it may be able to assist the court in making its decision.

Ancillary relief

Orders which are additional to main relief sought. For example, in a divorce or judicial separation case, the ancillary relief may include orders for maintenance, custody and access and for pension adjustments

Anton Piller order

An order in civil proceedings allowing one party to enter another’s party’s property to inspect and remove documents and other items. It is normally granted to prevent an anticipated removal or destruction of possible evidence


The person who appeals a decision of a lower court or decision-making body.


An ADR process where the decision on the legal dispute is made other than by a court. Either an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators makes a decision on the dispute. Each arbitration has its own set of rules.


The initial stage in criminal proceedings where the defendant states in court whether he or she is guilty or not guilty of the offences charged


Where a witness co-signs a document


A statement of fact in a legal document, such as an affidavit



Where a person is charged with an offence but released from custody until the trial. A person is released on bail subject to conditions.


An officer of the court who carries out some of the court’s orders

Beneficial owner

The person who is ultimately entitled to an asset. In some cases, the person who legally holds the asset or the rights may do so on behalf of the beneficial owner. A person who is the beneficial owner may be said to hold a “beneficial interest”.


The person who is entitled to an asset following the death of a person or under a trust or an insurance policy. For instance, a person who is to receive a gift in a will is often called a beneficiary.

Bench warrant

A court order for the arrest of person who has failed to attend court


A gift under a will. Technically, the gift (bequest) can be any item other than land and buildings. Where the gift is land or building, it is sometimes called a devise.

Burden of proof

Where a person has to prove a particular claim or allegation. It is sometimes called the onus of proof. In criminal cases, the burden of proof is generally on the prosecution. In civil cases, the burden of proof is generally on the plaintiff/complainant.

Bye law

A law made by a local authority. For instance, local authorities often make bye laws in relation to traffic and parking.

C - D



The ability of a person to make a binding legal decision or to enter into a legal agreement. Read about legal arrangements for incapacity.

Care order

A court order placing a child in the care of Tusla (The Child and Family Agency). It is generally made where it is believed that a child is not receiving adequate care and attention. Different types of care order can be made such an emergency care order where it is believed that there is an immediate and serious risk to a child or a special care order where the child’s own behaviour is placing the child at risk.


An additional document to an already executed will. A person may make a codicil if he or she omits an asset from the will or wishes to change or further explain his or her decisions.

Collective bargaining

Bargaining carried out on behalf of a number of persons. It most commonly happens when a union is negotiating with an employer.

Commissioner for Oaths

A person authorised by the courts to administer an oath. Affidavits and statutory declarations can be made before a commissioner for oaths.

Common law

The law which is not set out in legislation. Initially, the majority of the law was made by judges. However, the majority of new law is now in the form of legislation.

Compos mentis

A latin term meaning “of sound mind”. An adult is compos mentis when he or she has capacity to make legal decisions.

Concurrent sentence

A sentence of imprisonment which runs at the same time as another sentence of imprisonment

Consecutive sentence

A sentence of imprisonment which only begins once another sentence of imprisonment is completed

Constructive Dismissal

Where a person resigns from their job, but is left with no alternative because of the behaviour of their employer. Read more about constructive dismissal.

Contempt of court

A failure to comply with a court order or interfering with the administration of justice by a court, such as interrupting a court hearing.


The legal process where ownership or an interest in land or buildings is transferred from one person to another. One of the steps involved in buying a home.


A person you owe a debt to.



The compensation in money which a person receives if they win a civil case.

Data controller

A person who controls the contents and use of personal data. Data controllers have a number of obligations under data protection law.

Data processor

A person who processes personal data on behalf of a data controller.

Data subject

A person whose personal person data is held or processed by a data controller.


A person who owes you a debt

De facto

A Latin term meaning “in fact”. For example, a person who operates as a director of a company even though not technically appointed a director is often known as a de facto director.


Making a wrongful statement which damages a person’s reputation. The law on defamation is primarily set out in the Defamation Act 2009.

De jure

A Latin term meaning “in accordance with law” or “by right”. For example, a person who is properly appointed as a director of a company can be said to be a de jure director

De novo

A Latin term meaning “afresh” or “from the start”. For example, in a de novo appeal, the case is run as if it were being heard for the first time.


A person who makes a statement under oath. For example, a person who makes an affidavit is known a deponent

Discretionary trust

A trust where the trustees decide which beneficiaries will benefit from the trust and how much they will get.


Generally, the country where your permanent home is. Read about tax domicile.


Actual or threatened violence or unlawful imprisonment. A contract entered into under duress (including a marriage contract) can be voided by the victim.

E - H



A right to use someone else’s land for a specific purpose, such as a right of way.

Enduring power of attorney

A power of attorney which comes into effect when the person (the donor) loses mental capacity or becomes unable to deal with their own affairs. The powers of the “attorney” (the person nominated) will be set out in the instrument appointing the attorney. Enduring powers of attorney are regulated by the Powers of Attorney Act 1996.


When an item is held by a third party until certain conditions are met. For instance, money may be held in an escrow account by solicitor until a dispute is finally resolved.

Ex parte

A Latin term meaning “by or for one party”. An ex parte court application is one where only one party is present. Often the other side will have a right to apply to have the ruling set aside.

Ex gratia

A Latin term meaning “out of grace”. An ex gratia payment is one which is made where there is no legal obligation to do so.


A person named in a will as being responsible for giving effect to it including distributing the dead person’s estate.


Force majeure

An event which cannot be controlled. Force majeure leave is often granted to employees when a close family member falls serious ill or dies.


Guardian ad litem

A person appointed to represent a child or a person under a mental disability and their interests in legal proceedings.


A person or organisation who promises to pay if another person is unable or unwilling to.


The General Data Protection Regulation. The primary EU data protection law.


Habeas corpus

A Latin term meaning “you have the body”. A legal procedure where a person who is detained can be brought to court to adjudicate on the legality of their detention.

Hostile witness

A hostile witness is a witness who appears to be refusing to fully testify in support of the person who called them or testifies in a way that significantly differs from their pre-trial statement. A hostile witness can be cross-examined and asked leading questions by the person who called them.

I - L


In camera

Where proceedings are heard in camera, members of public are not allowed to be present. Family law proceedings are generally held in camera.

Indictable offence

A criminal offence which can be tried before a jury in the Circuit Court or Central Criminal Court.


A court order either requiring or prohibiting someone from doing something. Failure to comply with an injunction amounts to contempt of court.

Inter alia

A Latin term meaning “among other things”. Often used by lawyers when identifying some but not all relevant things in a broader category.

Interim order

An order made on a very short-term basis where only one side is present. Emergency injunctions are an example of an interim order.

Interlocutory injunction

A temporary injunction applying until the end of the full trial.


When a person dies without a valid will.

ISI – Insolvency Service of Ireland

The state body responsible for all personal insolvency matters.


Judicial review

A challenge brought in the High Court to the decision of a lower court or an administrative body. A judicial review is separate to an appeal as it tends to focus on the validity of the decision-making process and not the merits of the decision itself.


The power of a court or judge to decide an action or make orders or the territory in which a court can operate.


The swearing clause at the end of an affidavit.


Letters of administration

An authority given to a person to deal with a deceased person’s estate. It is most commonly granted when a person dies without a valid will.

Lis pendens

A Latin term meaning “Action pending”. A person can register a lis pendens against an owner of land when an action is brought in relation to that land. The registration of a lis pendens means any interested party in the land can discover the existence of the proceedings.


A person involved in legal proceedings. A lay litigant is a litigant who is not represented by a lawyer.

Locus standi

A Latin term meaning “standing”. The ability of a person to bring proceedings or be heard by a court. Normally a person needs to have a personal interest in the subject matter of proceedings to have locus standi to bring those proceedings.

M - Q



A trial which has been declared invalid.


In criminal proceedings, mitigation refers to reasons offered for why a convicted person should receive some leniency in the penalty to be imposed. In civil proceedings, mitigation offers refers to a person’s obligation to attempt to reduce any loss they suffer from another person’s wrongdoing.


A temporary suspension on a person or entity enforcing their legal rights.



Giving a citizen of one country citizenship of another.

Nolle prosequi

A Latin term meaning “null prosecution”. Where a decision is made to end a criminal prosecution.



The conditional early release of prisoner. Parole is granted by the Parole Board.


Giving evidence under oath or after making an affirmation that you know to be false.

Personal data

Your personal data is information that relates to, or can identify you, either by itself or together with other available information. Personal data can include your name, address, contact details or CCTV footage

Personal representative

An executor or an administrator of the estate of a deceased person.

Power of attorney

A legal device that can be set up by a person (the donor) to allow another specially appointed person (the attorney) to take actions on the donor's behalf.

Pre-nuptial agreement

An agreement entered into before marriage, normally dealing with each person’s assets if the marriage later breaks down. Pre-nuptial agreements are not always fully binding in Ireland.


A person who brings a claim in the Circuit or High Court.


Evidence which one side is not obliged to provide to the other side. For instance, any communications between you and your lawyer in legal proceedings is normally privileged.


A grant of probate allows an executor named in a valid will to deal with a deceased’s estate.

Punitive damages

Damages awarded to show the court’s displeasure. They are intended as a punishment for the wrongdoer and not purely as compensation for the other party to whom the damages are awarded


Qualified cohabitant

An adult in an intimate or committed relationship with another for either (a) 2 or more years where they are the parents of one or more children or (b) five or more years. A qualified cohabitant is entitled to seek certain reliefs from a court following the breakdown of a relationship

R - S



A person in custody awaiting a criminal is said to be “on remand”.

Reserved judgment

A judgment given at a later date after the court has had time to reflect on the arguments made.

Residuary legacy

The person who receives the rest of a deceased person’s estate after all the specific gifts and debts are dealt with.


The person against whom an application or appeal is brought.

Right of way

A legal right obliging the owner of land to allow others to cross it. The extent of the right will differ in each case. For instance, some rights of way are limited to pedestrians. Rights of way can be either public or private rights of way.



The confiscation of property by a court until a person purges (remedies) their contempt.


A court officer who is empowered to seize goods pursuant to a court order. Many county registrars also perform the function of a sheriff.

Statute (Statute law)

Acts of the Oireachtas and previous Acts of other parliaments applicable in Ireland.

Statutory instrument

Secondary law such as an orders, regulations, rules, schemes or bye-laws made under a power contained in an Act.

Subject to contract

An agreement which is not binding until a contract has been signed.


An order requiring a person to attend court at a named time. In some cases, the person who is subpoenaed also has to bring specified documents with them.

Summary proceedings

Criminal proceedings being heard in the District Court. There is no jury in summary proceedings.


An order to appear in court. Civil proceedings in the High Court are often commenced using an “originating summons”, which requires the other side to enter an appearance.

Suspended sentence

A sentence or part of a sentence which will not take effect if certain conditions are met.

T - Z


Tenancy in common

Where there are multiple owners of a piece of land. Each owner has a defined share and can transfer that share.


A person who makes a will.

Title deeds

The documents which prove ownership of a property.


A civil wrong which you can sue for. For example, negligence, defamation and trespass are all torts.


A legal device where assets are held by a trustee on behalf of other persons (beneficiaries).


Ultra vires

A Latin term meaning “beyond the power”. Where a person or entity goes beyond their actual powers.


Vicarious liability

Where one person is legally responsible for the acts of another person. For example, an employer is normally vicariously liable for the acts of its employee.


Ward of court

A ward of court is a person under the care and protection of the court because they are unable to look after themselves.

Without prejudice

Discussions and correspondence between the parties which a court cannot be informed of. For example, settlement discussions are normally “without prejudice” discussions.

Page edited: 14 April 2022