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One of the idiosyncrasies of the Bar is the very particular language used. This can get a bit confusing, so we've compiled a little glossary to make sure you're all clued up on the key terms!​​

Actus reus: Conduct of the accused: see R v Miller (1983)


Advocacy: Professional pleading in court


Advocate: Any person who represents another in legal proceedings


Attorney General: The principal law officer of the government, and head of the Bar


Bands: The development of a neckband into two hanging strips


Bear Garden: Rooms in the Law Courts where Masters hear short applications (see Chapter 6 for full description)


Bench wig: The wig worn by judges when they are sitting in court


Bencher: A senior member of an Inn of Court


Bibliography: A systematic list of books and articles used as source material


Black bag: The bag at the back of the barrister’s gown is often called a fee bag. The origin of this is said to be that the barrister’s fee was placed in the bag so that the barrister did not have to demean himself by handling money


Blue bag: The traditional bag used by junior barristers for carrying fancy dress


Bona fide: Genuine


Breach of statutory duty: Breaking a duty imposed by statute


Breeks: A Scottish term for trousers


Bundle: A collection of documents


Cab rank principle: A barrister has a public obligation, based on the paramount need for access to justice, to act for any client in cases within their field of practice. A barrister cannot refuse a case because of disapproval of what the client has done or is alleged to have done


Call: A formal ceremony, conducted at the Inns of Court, when a student barrister has completed vocational training and is qualified to act as an advocate under the supervision of another barrister 


Case law: Law created by decisions of courts


Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware: a disclaimer of responsibility


Chambers: A judge sitting in chambers does not mean that he is sitting in any particular room, but that he is not sitting in open court: also, the traditional name for a group of barristers sharing office space

Chambers tea: A traditional gathering of barristers for light refreshments at a particular time


Champerty: The  offence of assisting in a case with a view to receiving a share of the disputed property.


Civil action/proceedings: Legal proceedings based on a civil right as opposed to a criminal prosecution


Civil Procedure Rules (CPR): Procedural rules prescribed for civil courts


Class justice: Justice which operates in favour of one class and against another


Clerk: An administrative assistant to judges, magistrates or barristers


Client: Customer


Collar stud: A device for attaching a collar to a tunic shirt. There are two types of collar stud. One is short and used at the back of the shirt. The other is long, hinged  and is used at the front


Collarette: A female barrister’s collar. It consists of a high, round, soft collar. The extra fabric forming the front sits over the shoulders and chest and hides clothing


Common law: Law which has been developed by the judiciary through the setting of precedents, as opposed to being created by the legislature through statutes and regulations 


Conditional fee agreement: An agreement for the supply of legal services where a fee is payable only in certain circumstances, normally if the client wins


Conduct of litigation: Steps taken by a restricted group of lawyers to progress a case


Conspiracy: An agreement to carry out an unlawful act


Contingency fee: An agreement for the supply of legal services where a fee is payable only if the client wins


Conveyancing: The transfer of an interest in land.


Corporate manslaughter: Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, a company is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised amounts to a gross breach of the duty of care which it owes to employees or the public and those failings have caused a death 


Counsel: Barrister


Crown immunity: The ancient principle that the sovereign and many government departments are exempt from legal sanctions


Damages: Financial compensation


Devil: A barrister paid by another barrister to do the latter’s work


Directives: European legislation which imposes a duty on member states to enact legislation


Director of Public Prosecutions: The head of the Crown Prosecution Service who has power to decide whether prosecutions should proceed


Disability: Under the Naturalisation Act 1870, “disability” meant “the status of being an infant lunatic, idiot or married woman”. The most recent definition is now set out in the Equality Act 2010 as “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to perform normal day-to-day activities”


Discovery: A civil procedure which enables a party to a case to obtain evidence before a trial by asking the other party questions or requiring the production of documents


Employment Appeal Tribunal: The appellate tribunal for decisions made by employment tribunals


Employment Tribunal: The tribunal with jurisdiction to hear employment disputes


Entail: A settlement of succession in land so that it cannot be bequeathed at pleasure 


Eructation: Belching


Ex parte: In summary, legal proceedings brought by one party in the absence of other parties


Fee bag: See Black bag


First instance: The first decision made by a court or tribunal in a case which has subsequently been appealed


Folio: (Obsolete)The number of words (72 or 90) taken as a unit in reckoning the length of a document


Full bottomed wig: The wig worn by judges on ceremonial occasions


Green bag: A bag for exclusive use by judges. 


Grievance procedure: Employers’ procedure for complaints by employees


Guinea: 21 shillings. Replaced in 1816 as currency in Britain but retained in legal circles until decimalisation in 1971


Habeas corpus (Have your carcase): An ancient remedy requiring the production of a detained person to a court

Hearing: A formal session in a court or tribunal


Human rights: Fundamental rights and freedoms


In camera: Private hearing


Incorrigible rogue: A criminal offence of vagrancy under the Vagrancy Act 1824. Last known to be invoked in 2000 against a 19 year old 


Inns of Court: Four legal societies having the exclusive right of admitting persons to practise at the Bar (Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn)


Intellectual property: Exclusive rights to a range of intangible assets, for example copyright, trademarks and patents


Judiciary: Professional judges in a legal system


Justice: Fairness


Ladies’ collar: Similar to a collarette but without the extra fabric front


Law Centre: In summary, an organisation providing free legal assistance


Legal aid: Financial assistance given by the state to those who cannot afford legal advice or representation. Now largely of historical interest


Legal expenses insurance: Insurance, often contained in a wider policy, which provides cover for the cost of legal assistance


Letters Patent (Literae patentes): Writings of the sovereign, sealed with the Great Seal, whereby a person or company is enabled to do acts or enjoy privileges which he or it could not do or enjoy without such authority


Libel: A statement in writing which attacks a person’s reputation


Lightweight pincetta gown: A gown which is “ideally suited to warmer climates”


Litigant in person: A party to legal proceedings who is not represented by a lawyer


Litigation: The conduct and progression of a case


Lord: A member of the House of Lords


Manslaughter: In summary, killing without the intention required for murder 


Master: A member of the judiciary who deals, generally, with procedural matters


Mediation: A type of alternative dispute resolution involving negotiation with an independent third party


Mens rea: Guilty mind


Miscarriage of justice: The conviction and punishment of an innocent person


Murder: In summary, killing with intent. May not be criminal if committed by the state


Natural justice: Based on innate moral sense: minimum standards of fairness in judging a dispute


Natural law: Belief in a system of justice common to all men, with vaguely mystical origins


Neckband shirt:  see Tunic shirt


Negligence: A civil wrong developed by the courts, involving a duty of care, breach of that duty and resulting loss


Novus actus interveniens: A new intervening act which breaks the chain of causation and avoids liability


Ogden Tables: Actuarial tables for use in personal injury and fatal accident cases, based on various factors


Parliamentary draftsman: Professional drafters of legislation


Party: A person involved in litigation


Pecunia non olet: Money does not smell. Reputedly originating from the Roman Emperor Vespasian’s urine tax


Perpetuities: This property law concept is impossible to define concisely. 


Practice: Work as a lawyer


Pro bono: Pro bono publico, for the public good. Professional work done without charge 


Pro hac vice: An appointment for a particular occasion only


Public access: Direct access for the public to a barrister without having to employ a solicitor as a go-between


Punter: see Client


Pupil: A trainee barrister working under the supervision of another barrister


Pupilmaster: The barrister who supervises a pupil


QC tail: A coat worn by Queen’s Counsel


Quantum: The amount of compensation


Quantum meruit: As much as has been earned: reasonable value


Queen’s Counsel: An honour conferred on barristers of standing and experience


Red bag: A bag bestowed as a gift from a QC to a junior barrister for outstanding work. The bag carries the initials of the junior barrister and there is parchment in the bag for the QC to write a message


Refreshers: A barrister’s additional fee when a case overruns its estimated length: effervescent confectionery


Res ipsa loquitur:  A circumstantial rule of evidence based on the concept that, where an accident happens under circumstances where it is so improbable that it could have happened without negligence, the mere happening of the accident gives rise to an inference of negligence


Risk assessment: The assessment of potential hazards


Rogue and vagabond: “Every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects; every person wandering abroad and lodging in nay barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon… and not giving a good account of himself or herself… every person, wilfully, openly, lewdly, and obscenely exposing his person … with intent to insult any female; every person wandering abroad, and endeavouring by the exposure of wounds or deformities to obtain or gather alms; every person going about as a gatherer or collector of alms, or endeavouring to procure charitable contributions of any nature or kind, under any false or fraudulent pretence … every person being found in or upon any dwelling house, warehouse, coach-house, stable or outhouse, or in any inclosed yard, garden or area, for any unlawful purpose … and every person apprehended as an idle and disorderly person, and violently resisting any constable, or other peace officer so apprehending him or her, and being subsequently convicted … shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond. (Vagrancy Act 1824, section 4, as amended). 


Royal Bencher: A member of the Royal family who holds the office of Bencher in an Inn of Court without having to obtain legal qualifications


Rule of law: The subordination of all authorities to certain legal principles


Senior barrister: A proposal that a barrister with a number of years’ experience should be described as a senior barrister was rejected by the Bar Council because it would confuse the public 


Serious Fraud Office: An organisation responsible for the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal offences


Silk: King’s Counsel or Queen’s Counsel, so-called because they wear silk gowns


Supreme Court: The new name for the House of Lords, the highest appeal court


Table/Tabling: Lists of statutes and cases which appear in legal textbooks


Taxonomy: Principles of classification


Temple: Two Inns of Court – Inner and Middle – originally occupied by the Knights Templars. Part of London between the Strand and the Thames.


Tippet: For those, like me, who have no idea what a tippet is, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives the following guidance:

  • A long narrow strip of cloth or hanging part of dress, either attached to and forming part of the hood, head-dress or sleeve, or loose, as a scarf or the like.

  • A garment, usually of fur or wool, covering the shoulders, or the neck and shoulders; a cape or short cloak. 

  • A band of silk or other material worn round the neck, with the two ends pendent from the shoulders in front. 

  • A hangman’s rope.  


Touting: Soliciting custom


Trousering: Obsolete slang for stealing


Tunic shirt: A collarless shirt worn by lawyers.


Vesting: Conferring an immediate right


Volenti non fit injuria: No injury is done to a person who consents to it. A largely obsolete defence of consent to a claim for compensation for a civil wrong


War crime: A violation of the laws of war


Welfare law: Generally, the law of social security


Wig: A horsehair wig is worn in most courts by barristers. Reputedly imported from France in the seventeenth century to indicate social standing and wealth  


Work-related stress: Mental disorder caused by workplace conditions

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