Legal maxims may be defined as established principles or idea of law or legal policy. These principles guide Courts all over the world in applying the existing laws in a fair and just manner to enable the Courts in deciding issues before it. Such principles don’t have the power of law but when Courts apply the maxims in deciding issues of law or the legislature incorporates such maxims while framing laws, they take the form of law and form the basis of sound judgements.
Here are some of the legal maxims and their short explanations which every budding lawyer must know.
1. Ab Initio From the beginning.
2. Actionable per se The very act is punishable and no proof of damage is required.
3. Actio personalis moritur cum persona A personal right of action dies with the person. In other sense, if he dies the right to sue is gone.
4. Actori incumbit onus probandi The burden of proof is on the plaintiff.
5. Actus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea An act does not make anyone guilty unless there is criminal intent or a guilty mind.
6. Ad hoc For this purpose only.
7. Alibi At another place, elsewhere.
8. Amicus Curiae A friend of court or member of the Bar who is appointed to assist the Court.
9. Ante Litem Motam Before suit brought; before controversy instituted OR spoken before a lawsuit is brought.
10. Assentio mentium The meeting of minds, i.e mutual assents.
11. Audi alteram partem Hear the other side or no man shall be condemned unheard.
12. Bona fide In good faith.
13. Bona vacantia Goods without an owner.
14. Boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem It is the part of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction, i.e. remedial authority or broad justice is good justice.
15. Caveat A caution registered with the public court to indicate to the officials that they are not to act in the matter mentioned in the caveat without first giving notice to the caveator.
16. Caveat actor Let the doer beware.
17. Caveat emptor Let the buyer beware.
18. Caveat venditor Let the seller beware.
19. Certiorari A writ by which orders passed by an inferior court is quashed.
20. Corpus Body.
21. Corpus delicti The facts and circumstances constituting a crime and Concrete evidence of a crime, such as a corpse (dead body). Also, It refers to the principle that ‘a crime must be proved to have occurred before a person can be convicted of committing that crime.’ (This definition is mostly used in Western Law.)
22. Damnum sine injuria Damage without injury.
23. De facto In fact.
24. De jure By law.
25. De minimi About minimal things.
26. De Minimis Non Curat Lex The law does not govern trifles (unimportant things) or law ignores insignificant details. or A common law principle whereby judges will not sit in judgment of extremely minor transgressions (offence, wrongdoings) of the law.
27. De novo To make something anew.
28. Dictum Statement of law made by judge in the course of the decision but not necessary to the decision itself.
29. Doli incapax Incapable of crime.
30. Detinue Tort of wrongfully holding goods which belong to someone else.
31. Donatio mortis causa Gift because of death. (or a future gift given in expectation of the donor’s imminent death and only delivered upon the donor’s death.)
32. Estoppel Prevented from denying.
33. Ex gratia As favour.
34. Ex officio Because of an office held.
35. Ex parte Proceedings in the absence of the other party.
36. Ex post facto Out of the aftermath. or After the fact.
37. Fatum Beyond human foresight.
38. Factum probans Relevant fact.
39. Fraus est celare fraudem It is a fraud to conceal a fraud.
40. Functus officio No longer having power or jurisdiction.
41. Furiosi nulla voluntas est Mentally impaired or mentally incapable persons cannot validly sign a will, contract or form the frame of mind necessary to commit a crime. or a person with mental illness has no free will.
42. Habeas corpus A writ to have the body of a person to be brought in before the judge.
43. Ignorantia juris non excusat Ignorance of the law excuses not or Ignorance of the law excuses no one. In other words, A person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content.
44. Injuria sine damno Injury without damage.
45. Ipso facto By the mere fact.
46. In promptu In readiness.
47. In lieu of Instead of.
48. In personam A proceeding in which relief I sought against a specific person.
49. Innuendo Spoken words which are defamatory because they have a double meaning.
50. In status quo In the present state.
51. Inter alia Among other things.
52. Inter vivos (especially of a gift as opposed to a legacy) between living people.
53. Interest Reipublicae Ut Sit Finis Litium It means it is in the interest of the state that there should be an end to litigation.
54. Jus cogens (or ius cogens) Compelling law.
55. Jus in personam Right against a specific person.
56. Jus in rem Right against the world at large.
57. Jus naturale Natural law. Or in other words, A system of law based on fundamental ideas of right and wrong that is Natural Law.
58. Jus non scriptum Customary law.
59. Jus scriptum Written law.
60. Jus Law or right.
61. Justitia nemini neganda est Justice is to be denied to nobody.
62. Lex non a rege est violanda The law must not be violated even by the king.
63. Locus standi Right of a party to an action to appear and be heard by the court and be heard by the court.
64. Mala fide In bad faith.
65. Malum in se or Mala in se (plural) Wrong or evil in itself.
66. Malum prohibitum Crimes are criminal not because they are inherently bad, but because the act is prohibited by the law of the state.
67. Mandamus ‘We command’. A writ of command issued by a Higher Court to Government/Public Authority, to compel the performance of a public duty.
68. Mens rea Guilty mind.
69. Misnomer A wrong or inaccurate name or term.
70. Modus operandi Way of working.
71. Modus Vivendi Way of living.
72. Mutatis Mutandis With the necessary changes having been made OR with the respective differences having been considered.
73. Nemo bis punitur pro eodem delicto Nobody can be twice punished for the same offence.
74. Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa It means no man shall be punished twice for the same offence.
75. Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa or Nemo judex in causa sua or Nemo judex in sua causa Nobody can be judge in his own case.
76. Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire A man will not meet his maker (God) with a lie in his mouth or in other words ‘No man at the point of death is presumed to lie.’
77. Nemo Potest esse tenens et dominus Nobody can be both a landlord and a tenant of the same property.
78. Nolle prosequi A formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit.
79. Novation Transaction in which a new contact is agreed by all parties to replace an existing contract.
80. Nunc pro tunc Now for then. A ruling nunc pro tunc applies retroactively to correct an earlier ruling.
81. Non Sequitur A statement (such as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said.
82. Obiter dictum Things said by the way. It is generally used in law to refer to an opinion or non-necessary remark made by a judge. It does not act as a precedent. In other words, Obiter dictum means “that which is said in passing,” an incidental statement.
83. Onus probandi Burden of proof.
84. Pacta Sunt Servanda Agreements must be kept. or Agreements are legally binding.
85. Pari passu With an equal step. Read more about it on Wikipedia.
86. Particeps criminis A participator in the actual crime/partner in crime.
87. Per curiam (decision or opinion) By the court. In other words, The decision is made by the court (or at least, a majority of the court) acting collectively.
88. Per se By itself.
89. Persona non grata A person who is unacceptable or unwelcome. Opposite of persona non grata is persona grata.
90. Prima facie At first sight.
91. Alimony A husband’s (or wife’s) provision for a spouse after separation or divorce; maintenance. Palimony Money which a man pays to a woman with whom he has been living and from whom he is separated. Palimony has slightly different meanings in different jurisdictions.
92. Per curiam By a court.
93. Per incuriam Because of lack of care.
94. Prima facie On the face of it.
95. Quantum meruit What one has earned. or the amount he deserves.
96. Qui facit per alium, facit per se He who acts through another acts himself.
97. Quid pro quo Something for something.
98.Qui sentit commodum, sentire debet et onus It means he who receives advantage must also bear the burden.
99. Quo warranto By what authority. A writ calling upon one to show under what authority he holds or claims a public office.
100. Ratio decidendi Principle or reason underlying a court judgement. or The rule of law on which a judicial decision is based.
101. Respondeat superior Let the master answer.
102. Res ipsa loquitor The thing speaks for itself.
103. Res Judicata A matter already judged.
104. Res Judicata Pro Veritate Accipitur It means that a judicial decision must be accepted as correct.
105. Rex non protest peccare The king can do no wrong.
106. Salus populi est suprema lex The welfare of the is the supreme law.
107. Status quo State of things as they are now.
108. Sine die With no day (indefinitely).
109. Sine qua non “without which nothing”. An essential condition; a thing that is absolutely necessary. Basically a component of an argument that, if debunked, causes the entire argument to crumble.
110. Suo Motu On its own motion.
111. Uberrima fides (sometimes uberrimae fidei) Utmost good faith.
112. Ubi jus ibi remedium Where there is a right, there is a remedy.
113. Veto Ban or order not to allow something to become law, even if it has been passed by a parliament.
114. Vice versa Reverse position.
115. Vis major Act of God.
116. Volenti non fit injuria Damage suffered by consent gives no cause of action. or in other words, If someone willingly places himself in a position where he knows that harm might result, then he is not able (allowed) to bring a claim against the other party in tort or delict (a violation of the law).
117. Vox populi Voice of the people or The opinion of the majority of the people.
118. Waiver Voluntarily giving up or removing the conditions.