Starting with law: An overview of the law
Starting with law: An overview of the law

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Starting with law: An overview of the law

Y166 Glossary

Glossary for Y166 Starting with law

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Actus Reus

Actus Reus  A gulty act, strictly means that a person is not liable for his acts alone, but only if he acts with a guilty mind


This means speaking on behalf of another. It is used to refer to a person who acts as a legal representative of one of the parties in a case, speaking for the party in court.



This is the release of a person (generally accused of a crime) on a promise to return (either to a police station or to a court). It means that the person is at liberty rather than in custody while awaiting the outcome of an investigation or court case. There is a presumption that bail will be granted unless there are good reasons for refusing it.


A bill is a proposal for a new law. It must then go through all the necessary stages in the UK Parliament, and only if it is passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords and receives royal assent will it become an Act of Parliament. A bill becomes law on its commencement date.


Civil justice system

This term is used to refer to the system that has been created to hear civil law matters.


Constitutions set out the rights and duties of the state and its citizens. The UK’s constitution is unwritten and is therefore to be found in a variety of sources, including Acts of Parliament and case law. A constitution outlines the basic law of a state, regulating how it is governed.

Criminal justice system

The criminal justice system deals with criminal cases. The term is used to refer to both the courts that hear initial cases and the appeals structure. Criminal cases usually start in a magistrates’ court but the more serious cases will be heard in a crown court.


Employment law

This is the law that governs employees’ and employers’ rights and responsibilities. Employers’ responsibilities include ensuring the health and safety of employees. In return, employees’ responsibilities include the exercise of reasonable skill and care at work, and they have the right to be paid for their labour.

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

The ECHR is an international treaty drawn up after the Second World War and designed to prevent the abuse of citizens’ rights by their government. It sets out the individual rights and freedoms that must be protected by the countries that have ratified the Convention.

Since the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in the UK, public authorities are required to ensure that their actions are consistent with the provisions of the ECHR. Law-making bodies must ensure that all new laws comply with the provisions of the Convention.

European Union (EU)

The European Union has been in existence since 1993, when the European Economic Community (EEC) had its name changed to reflect its developing aims of European unity. European law affects all member states.





This is the governing body of a state. It is normally formed by the political party with a majority in Parliament.



This is a term for judges.


Law of succession

This is the branch of law that outlines rules on inheritance.

Law of tort

This term is used to refer to a civil wrong. There are many types of tort, including negligence, nuisance, trespass and defamation. If the wrong is proved then the injured party may be able to claim compensation from the person committing the wrong.

Legal aid

This is a government-funded scheme that provides legal advice, representation and help for people who would otherwise be unable to obtain it (for example due to financial hardship). Civil legal aid is available to those who wish to make or defend a case, provided that they have a reasonable chance of winning the case and that they meet certain means-test requirements. Criminal legal aid is available for any defendant in a criminal case, provided that it is in the interests of justice. Again, a means test exists to decide who qualifies for legal aid.


Mens Rea

Mens Rea  in uk legal context " Guilty state of mind" The thoughts and intentions behind a wrongful act( including knowledge that the act is illegal, often at issue in murder trials


Open court

This is a term used to refer to cases that are held in a courtroom that is open to the public.



In the UK, Parliament consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.


(Judicial precedent) This term is used to describe the following of legal principles set out in previously decided cases that had similar facts to the current case.

Private law

This is concerned with regulating relationships and solving disputes between private individuals and businesses. There are many branches of private law, including contract law, law of tort and family law.


Ratio decidendi

This is a Latin phrase meaning ‘the reason for the decision’. It is used to refer to the legal grounds upon which a court’s decision was based.


The definition of this term depends on the context in which it is used. In this course book the term is used in the context of the European Union (EU).

Regulations are a form of law created by the EU. They have direct effect in all member states of the EU. This means that in England, for example, if the EU passes a regulation, there is no need for the UK Parliament to pass a new law to implement the regulation. The regulation has direct effect (i.e. it immediately comes into force).


This describes an outcome sought by means of court proceedings. The term is usually used in civil cases; for example, in contract law the remedy sought for breach of contract may be damages. In tort this may take the form of an injunction, which is an order stopping the defendant from doing something, e.g. from contacting someone.


In a legal context, this is when a jury leaves the courtroom to consider its verdict.


Subordinate legislation

This is legislation made by a person or body to whom Parliament, using an Act of Parliament, has given the power to make laws. There are three main forms of subordinate legislation: statutory instruments, by-laws and orders in council.



This is a body that hears and rules on disputes in relation to specific legal issues, such as employment, asylum, immigration and education. Tribunals operate parallel to but outside the court system.

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