Glossary

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  • A Fortiori

    This is a Latin term which means “with even stronger reason”. It is applicable in the situation where, if something is true, it is even more so for something else. For example: if a child of thirteen is too young to legally obtain a driver’s license, then it is even more true for a nine year old child.

  • Ab Initio

    A Latin term meaning “from the start”. For example, it was legal ab initio.

  • Abeyance

    This is a term to indicate that an action or step has been temporarily suspended. For example, someone might indicate that “legal proceedings are being kept in abyeance”.

  • Abrogate

    To repeal or abolish a law or to pass legislation that repeals a prior law.

  • Abut

    The term for two parcels of real property that touch each other.

  • Acknowledgement

    Denotes the act of admitting something, often used in connection with letters and documentation received. For example, a legal practitioner may “acknowledge receipt” of a document to the sender thereof, once the document has been delivered to him and he received it.

  • Acquittal

    The judgment delivered in a criminal case when the accused is found not guilty of the chrages brought against him.

  • Action

    Action refers to a civil proceeding brought in a court of law in which one party sues another for a wrong done, or to protect a right or to prevent a wrong. It is sometimes also called a case or lawsuit.

  • Allegation

    An assertion, declaration or statement of a fact without offering proof thereof.

  • Amicus Curiae Brief

    ‘Amicus curiae’ is a Latin term meaning ‘friend of the court.’ An amicus curiae brief is filed by someone who, although not a party to a particular matter, has has an interest in its outcome. A person who wants to file an amicus curiae brief usually has to obtain the court’s permission beforehand.

  • Bail

    Money or property given to the court for the temporary release of a defendant, to ensure that the defendant will return to court.

  • Best Interest of the Child

    The standard a judge uses to decide custody and visitation issues.

  • Case

    A lawsuit or action brought by one party against another before a Court.

  • Certify

    The signature of an attorney (or other designated Commissioner of Oaths) appended to a document confirming that the person signing the document has sworn that the contents thereof are true and correct.

  • Charge

    When, in a criminal matter, a person is formally accused of committing a crime.

  • Clerk of the Court

    The person who maintains the official court record of your case. The office of the Clerk of the Court receives and files all court papers and assigns hearing dates.

  • Common Law

    Laws that develop through case decisions by judges. Not enacted by legislative bodies.

  • Contempt of Court

    A finding that someone disobeyed a court order. Can also mean disrupting court, for example, by being loud or disrespectful in court.

  • Contract

    A legally enforceable agreement between two or more persons or parties.

  • Costs

    Expenses in prosecuting or defending a case in court. Usually does not include attorney’s fees.

  • Damages

    A Court can order a party to pay damages, being a monetary compensation for loss suffered by another party.

  • Default

    A party to a Court action is said to be in ‘default’ when he/she fails to answer to the other party’s claims by filing the required responding court document. The word default is also often used in the context of mortgage bonds. A mortgagor (borrower) is said to be in default when his loan repayment installments are outstanding and despite the mortgagee’s (bank’s) request to make payment, the borrower has not done so.

  • Discovery

    A formal request by one party in a lawsuit to disclose information or facts known by other parties or witnesses.

  • Dismissal

    A judge’s decision to reject a litigant’s case/claim. It is then said that the “case is dismissed”.

  • Emancipation

    The release of a youth from the legal authority and control of the youth’s parents and the corresponding release of the youth’s parents from their obligations to the youth.

  • Eviction

    To order an occupier to vacate a property or premises.

  • Ex Parte

    The Latin term “ex parte” means that a matter is brought before a Court by one party to the action, in the absence of the other. Usually, an ex parte application in which relief is sought against a person who is not before the court would be made in a situation of urgency and any order granted would be subject to confirmation after the person against whom the relief is sought has had an opportunity to present his or her side of the story to the court. For example, one spouse may apply to court urgently for an interdict prohibiting the other from removing their children from South Africa.

  • Foreclosure

    A court order authorising a mortgagee (often a bank) to take possession of someone’s property. Foreclosure usually results from a borrower’s failure to comply with the provisions of the loan agreement with the mortgagee (for example by defaulting on the loan repayments) and entitles the mortgagee to sell the property in order to receive payment of all moneys owing to it.

  • Guardian

    A person who has the power and duty to take care of and/or to manage the property and rights of another person who is considered incapable of taking care of his or her personal affairs.

  • Habeas Corpus

    A court order to the effect that a person must physically be brought before a court. It is usually directed at the official or person detaining another, ordering him to bring the person to court for the judge to determine if that person has been denied liberty without due process of law.

  • Indigent

    Someone who is very poor and without enough money to either support himself or herself or his or her family.

  • Jurisdiction

    Power and authority of a court to hear and make a judgment in a case.

  • Legal Custody

    Relationship with a child established by an order of Court. It places the legal responsibility on the custodian to take care of a minor and to protect, nurture and discipline the child.

  • Lien

    A charge, hold, or claim upon property of another as security for a debt.

  • Lis Pendens

    A pending action/lawsuit.

  • Litigant

    A party to a case.

  • Mediation

    A dispute resolution process in which an impartial third party assists the parties to voluntarily reach a mutually acceptable settlement.

  • Minor

    A person who has not yet reached the age of majority (i.e., who is not yet 18 years old).

  • Motion

    Proceedings before a Court takes the form of either applications (motion proceedings) or actions (trial proceedings). In motion proceedings the applicant is obliged to set out his/her case in its entirety in the notice of motion and accompanying affidavits, as opposed to trial proceedings where oral evidence may be led.

  • Nolle

    Short for “nolle prosequi”, which means “no prosecution”. This term refers to the situation in a criminal case where a prosecutor dismisses a case by deciding not to prosecute it.

  • Plea

    A summons is usually responded to by an intention to defend followed by the defendant’s Plea which is a response to the summons and in which the defendant sets out his/her defence to the action.

  • Pleadings

    The various formal documents filed with the court by the parties in a civil or criminal case in which the claims and defeces are set out.

  • Pro Se

    A Latin phrase meaning “for yourself” and indicates that a party in an action is representing himself/herself.

  • Restitution

    Generally making good, or giving compensation for any loss, damage or injury caused by a person’s actions.

  • Return Date

    The date on which a matter ‘returns’ to Court. For example, a Court may grant a provisional sequestration order on 17 January and provide in the order for a return date on 17 March on which date the party against whom the provisional order is given, must return to Court to give reasons why the order must not be made final.

  • Subpoena

    A command (issued by a Court) to appear in court to testify as a witness.

  • Summons

    A legal document that a litigant presents to a Court and in which his cause of action against the wrongdoer is set out. It is issued by a Court before it can be served on the wrongdoer.

  • Trial de Novo

    A new trial or retrial in which the whole case with evidence and witnesses is presented as if no previous trial has been held.