Legal Terms Made Simple For Everybody

Legal Terms Made Simple For Everybody

AB INITIO – It simply means “from the beginning”. It may be used to describe something that is faulty from its foundation. Usage – “This case is bound to fail because it is defective ab initio.”

ABUSE OF COURT PROCESS – This encompasses a court action initiated against another person out of malice or for no just cause. Abuse of court process is also said to occur where a party duplicates court actions in order to harass an opponent. Such actions will be struck out as they amount to forum shopping.

ACCELERATED HEARING- This is an order given by a court in respect of a case which is meant to speed up the process of determining it. The order is usually made when a case has been in court for a long time or it is considered to deserve urgent determination and a case affected by this kind of order may be coming up in court on a daily basis or very frequently until it is finally decided. Courts usually give criminal cases accelerated hearing so as to decongest prisons, among others.

ACCEPTANCE – It means an unconditional agreement to the terms of a proposal (i.e. an offer made by one person to another). Once an offer is accepted, a contract comes into existence. The person accepting an offer is known as “offeree” while the person making it is called the “offeror”. Acceptance is an important element in a contract.

ACCESSORY – This is a person who, though not present where a crime is committed, assists the offender in committing an offence. The assistance may come either before e.g. by giving an offender a piece of information which helps him to commit the offence or after the commission of the offence which may come by helping the offender to escape from being caught. So a person may be an accessory before the fact or accessory after the fact (“fact” is used here to mean an offence). An accessory is not a conspirator because he does not take part in the planning of the crime.

ACCOMPLICE - This simply refers to a partner in crime. An accomplice is however not usually charged with the other suspect and is often used as a prosecution witness. (Compare: ACCESSORY)

ACCORD AND SATISFACTION – It is a kind of agreement which usually arises in relation to a contractual transaction where a party accepts what is less than what is due to him. For example, a creditor may decide to collect a lesser amount from a debtor who is unable to pay the full amount owed and therefore, release him from further obligation, having taken the lesser amount as the full and final settlement of his debt.

ACCUSATORIAL SYSTEM – It is a system of criminal trial where a judge is an umpire who must not take sides with either the prosecution or the defence. The judge allows the two sides to present their case as they want. This system does not allow a single person or body to be the judge and the prosecutor at the same time. This is the system in Nigeria.

ACCUSED PERSON – This is a person who has been charged to court to face trial for the offence he allegedly commits. He can only be called a criminal or convict after he has been tried and found guilty. He may also be referred to as a principal offender where there are other offenders.

ACQUITTAL – This means a verdict of vindication entered in favour of a person who has been tried for a criminal act and found not guilty. (Compare: DISCHARGED & ACQUITTED).

ACT – This is a law made by the National Assembly as opposed to the one made by a State House of Assembly. An example is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, 2004. In fact, any law that ends with “Act” is deemed to have been made by the National Assembly.

ACTIO PERSONALIS MORITUR CUM PERSONA- This is a personal action which cannot survive a party to a law suit. In a law suit, an action is said to die and terminate with a party who dies while his case is yet to be finally decided. Instances are actions that border on defamation or negligence which are committed against a particular person. This principle does not, however, apply to a court action which borders on a party’s property because such an action survives the party. If the party dies while the action is still on-going, his heirs may step into his shoes and continue with the case.

ACT OF GOD – It is an event which occurs exclusively due to natural causes without any form of human influence e.g. earthquake, tornado and so on. Act of God is capable of rendering a contract impossible to perform and therefore, no party will be held liable.

ACTUS REUS – This refers to a guilty act which one has performed. It is simply a criminal act i.e. the physical act of crime itself which may be stealing, rape, murder and so on. Where there is no actus reus, there is no crime committed.

ADEMPTION – This refers to a situation where a gift in a will is no longer in existence at the time of death of a testator and a beneficiary of such gift will not be able to take the benefit of it because it has adeemed (i.e. failed).

AD HOMINEM- It is a Latin word which has its origin in philosophy but that has found its way into legal dictionary. It means an argument which tends to attack the personality of an opponent instead of addressing the merits of the opponent’s views.

AD INFINITUM – It means something going on without end. Usage – “The community’s suit against the company has been adjourned ad infinitum.”

ADJOURNMENT - It is a temporary postponement of a case to another date.

ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE – This refers to a piece of evidence which the law allows a court to receive or take into consideration in its decision. Courts do not just admit evidence given before them but only pieces of evidence which comply with the laid-down rules. Evidence of a person who himself witnessed a case before a court is deemed an admissible evidence but hearsay evidence is inadmissible. (See, HEARSAY EVIDENCE below).

ADR – This simply stands for “alternative dispute resolution.” It encompasses other means of settling disputes, other than litigation, such as negotiation, mediation, conciliation and arbitration. ADR is considered to be faster, less confrontational and cheaper, at least in the long run. This method of settling disputes only applies to civil conflicts or cases and not criminal matters.

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