Glossary of terms
Acquittal: When a person is found not guilty of a crime with which they have been charged. They are said to be ‘acquitted’.
Act of the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament): Legislation which has passed, or deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and has been signed by the President of Ireland. Before this stage it is referred to as a ‘Bill’.
Advocacy: Pleading a case on behalf of a person or ideal.
Adversarial: When each side presents its case and seeks to challenge that of its opponents through evidence, cross-examination and legal argument.
Bankruptcy: The process that leads to a court declaring that someone can no longer meet their debts as they fall due. An officer of the court, the official assignee, then compiles a list of the bankrupt person’s assets which will be used to meet all or part of their debts. A bankrupt is barred from doing certain things or from holding certain offices.
Benchers: Benchers include all the judges of the Supreme and High courts and some elected barristers.
Cases in equity: Circuit court cases when someone wants a remedy other than damages.
Case-law: Legal decisions based on previous cases that have come before the courts.
Case stated: An appeal to a higher court (High or Supreme Court) on a point of law only. Either party in a case may ask the judge to ‘state a case’. The point of law must then be referred unless the judge regards it as frivolous or an abuse of the procedure. A ‘case stated’ is a question of law that can be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If during the hearing, a point of law arises which requires adjudication, the parties may agree to refer the issue of law to the higher court for an answer. This procedure is known as the ‘consultative case stated’.
Civil courts: They hear cases involving disputes between individuals, organisations or the state. They may concern anything from car accidents to corporate takeovers.
Civil law: The part of the law that deals with resolving disputes between individuals; it provides a remedy, usually a financial one, to the aggrieved party against the wrongdoer by way of compensation rather than as punishment.
Criminal law: The part of the law which defines a variety of actions (or omissions) which are forbidden by the State and which provides punishment as a sanction.
Common law: Originally ‘common law’ was the ancient unwritten law of England, so called because it became common to the whole of England and Wales after the Norman Conquest in 1066. In time it came to mean judge-made law as opposed to statute law. Common law rules are judge-made rules and may be modified as changes are made to the case law of the court.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD): The system the Bar Council uses to maintain and improve barristers’ skills.
Contract law: The law governing agreements.
Counsel, Counsel’s opinion: A barrister, the opinion of a barrister.
Court of first instance: Court in which a case is first heard.
Criminal Courts: They deal with prosecutions brought by the State against people accused of antisocial behaviour – from petty theft to murder.
Decree: An order or judgment of a court.
Defendant: A person against whom an action or claim is brought in a court of law.
Devil, devilling: The first year that a barrister practises must be spent as a pupil with an approved Dublin-based barrister. This is also known as a one-year ‘pupillage’ or ‘devilling’ and is unpaid. The pupil or devil must carry out their ‘master’s’ instructions and learn about the nature of professional practice.
Direct Professional Access (DPA): Some groups can request barristers’ services directly without going through a solicitor first.
European Court of First Instance: A European institution set up in accordance with the Single European Act. Appeals are made to the European Court of Justice. It sits in Luxembourg.
Equity: A legal system based on the principles of justice and fair conduct.
Examinership: A way to rescue or reconstruct ailing but potentially viable companies. When a company is in ‘examinership’ an ‘examiner’ is appointed and the company is put under the protection of the court.
European Court of Justice: Institution set up under the Treaty of Rome to ensure that the Treaty is interpreted and applied correctly. It consists of judges appointed from each member state. On all matters of Community law, Irish courts defer to relevant decisions of the Court of Justice. It sits in Luxembourg.
Family Law: Concerns matters such as matrimonial cases, divorce and adoption.
First instance: When a case is heard for the first time.
Indictable offence: This is an offence that can lead someone to be charged with a serious crime and be tried with a jury present in court.
Indictment: A formal written charge of crime.
Injunction: When a judge makes an order restraining someone from doing something; or forcing them to do something.
Judicial review: A way for the High Court to supervise the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) to make sure that legislation does not conflict with the Constitution (or 'Basic Law' of Ireland). It is also a way for the High Court to supervise the lower courts, tribunals and other bodies to ensure that they make their decisions properly.
Jurisdiction: Refers to the power of a court to determine a particular issue. If a court has no jurisdiction, then it cannot hear the case.
Jurisprudence: Legal system (or the theory or philosophy of the law).
Mesne rates: Damages for occupation after the lawful termination of a tenancy.
Petition: A formal application in writing made to a court asking for some specific judicial action, for example, a petition for divorce.
Plaintiff: A person who brings a civil action in a court of law.
Practise at the Bar: Be a member of the Law Library and the Bar Council of Ireland and work as a barrister.
Pro bono: Free of charge.
Prosecutor: The person who institutes legal proceedings against another, usually the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Pupillage: The first year that a barrister practises must be spent as a pupil with an approved Dublin-based barrister. This is also known as a one-year ‘pupillage’ or ‘devilling’ and is unpaid. The pupil or devil must carry out their ‘master’s’ instructions and learn about the nature of professional practice.
Rateable valuation: The value given to a property by the Commissioner of Valuation.
Stare decisis: When legal decisions are based on previous cases that have come before the courts. This is court policy but it is not a binding unalterable rule. The Supreme Court has occasionally refused to follow its own previous decisions, but will only do so for the most compelling reasons.
Summary offence: An offence to do with traffic, drugs or criminal damage, heard by a court with a judge and no jury.
Summons: A document which sets out the main points of a case. They are used in civil and minor criminal trials.
Supreme Court: This is the court of final appeal for both civil and criminal cases.
Tort: A civil wrong. The branch of law that deals with civil offences is called tort law. Tort law is concerned mainly with injuries to the person, reputation, property or business. For example, if someone harms your reputation by making false statements about you, you may have a right to be paid for the damage they caused. A tort may occur even though the tortfeasor (the person who commits the tort), does not intend to harm another person. Most tort cases today result from motor accidents.
Tortfeasor: A person who commits a tort (civil wrong).
Trial on indictment: A trial held when someone has been charged with an indictable offence.
Voluntary Assistance scheme: Bar Council scheme that provides services directly to non-government organisations working with members of the community who cannot afford legal services.
Ward of Court: A person, especially a child or someone legally incapable of managing their own affairs, placed under the control or protection of a guardian or of a Court.
Wardship: When an application is made to make a child or a person of unsound mind a ward of court. The court will then look after their affairs.
Winding-up: The process by which a company's life is ended by the Court.
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