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Courtship made easy

After a month-long vacation, many courts have reopened. This is the right time to acquaint ourselves with some of the legal jargon lawyers love to spout each time they spot a ‘civilian’. SP Vijayaragavan writes.

india Updated: Jun 02, 2011 00:15 IST
SP Vijayaragavan

After a month-long vacation, many courts have reopened. This is the right time to acquaint ourselves with some of the legal jargon lawyers love to spout each time they spot a ‘civilian’. Commonly used words in civil matters include ‘suit’, ‘plaint’, ‘written statement’, ‘summons’ and ‘appeal’.

Well, these words are scary. But they wear false teeth. The word ‘suit’, for instance, once defanged, is quite friendly. It just means the case that comprises of a ‘plaint’ and a ‘written statement’ that set out the material facts relied on by a party for his claim or defence and evidence in terms of documents and witnesses.

Within the pleadings, one may come across awful Latinates like ‘inter alia’ (which just means ‘among others’), ‘ipse dixit’ (no, not any relation to the Delhi chief minister, but which means ‘by itself’), ‘bona fide’ (honesty) and ‘malafide’ (dishonesty), yada yada yada.

‘Summons’ is the notice issued by the court calling the party to whom it is addressed to answer either the plaint or the application made by an aggrieved person or even a ‘suo moto’ notice.

The word ‘suo moto’ has no roots in Japanese sumo wrestling but means ‘on its own’ i.e., every court has inherent powers to take notice without anybody’s written or oral application or complaint, of certain acts, violations or events and call all responsible persons before it to answer on such violations, commissions and omissions and thereafter determine the matter as per law. (I just sounded like a dyed-in-the-wool lawyer suffering from Tourette’s, didn’t I?)

‘Issues’ are neither offspring nor problems raging between parents and teenage kids. They are framed by the court after the completion of pleadings for it to pass necessary judgement. In the process of deciding the suit, the parties will have to let in evidence viz. documentary or materials (‘exhibits’) and through witnesses.

The term ‘viz’, from the Latin term ‘videlicet’ means ‘that is to say’ and is used by lawyers in their writings to show how smart they are.

The words used in a criminal case are much less complicated than in a civil case. ‘Actus non-facit reum nisi mens sit rea.’ I’m sure all of you got that. But for the decidedly stupid among you, there’s no harm providing an explanation. That (Latin again!) line means: The act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty.

Which lies at the heart of the whole concept of the intent and purpose of a crime act rather than the criminal act itself. Meanwhile, a ‘cognisable offence’ is one in which a police officer may arrest you without a warrant and can start investigating without orders or direction from the court.

The ‘non-cognisable offence’ is anything that’s not ‘cognisable offence’. Another way of categorising offences would be ‘bailable’ and ‘non-bailable’ — but I personally prefer rolling the word ‘cognisable’ around my tongue.

Thankfully for the lawyer, there are always ‘loopholes’, not nylon things men may wear in the evenings when they want to be in touch with their other side but gaps in the law that can be used to tweeze a client out of ‘trouble’.

To cut a long story short: Where there is a will, there is a way; where there is a way, there is a rule; where there is a rule, there is a law; where there is a law, there is a loophole; where there is a loophole, there is a lawyer. Yes, now for the same thing in Latin…

(SP Vijayaragavan is a senior associate of a Chennai-based law firm. The views expressed by the author are personal)