THE IDIOM CONNECTION
Legal and Law Idioms
after the fact
- after something (a crime etc.) has occurredWe were told, after the fact, that the company would not give any money to the fire victims.
an act of God
- an event or accident due to natural causes for which no human is responsible and which could not have been avoided by planning ahead (a storm, an earthquake, a volcano etc.)The insurance company refused to pay the money because they said that the forest fire was an act of God.
assemble a case (against someone)
- to gather the evidence needed to make a legal case against someoneThe lawyers were unable to assemble a case against the man.
- to accept the responsibility for paying the cost of somethingThe business refused to assume liability for the dangerous products.
at arms length
- at a distance, avoiding intimacy or familiarityWe purchased the property at arm's length and we are not involved in any management decisions.
bail (someone) out or bail out (someone)
- to pay a sum of money that allows someone to get out of jail or stay out of jail while waiting for a trialThe family of the accused criminal paid much money to bail him out.
beyond a reasonable doubt
- a legal phrase meaning that something is almost certain and that the proposition being presented in court must be proven enough that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person that the defendant is guilty of a crimeThe judge sent the man to jail because he believed, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the man had committed the crime.
- in good faith, without any element of dishonesty or fraud (bona fide is from Latin)The mediator asked the two sides in the dispute to make a bona fide effort to solve the dispute.
a breach of promise
- the breaking of a promise which may also be a breach of contractThe couple was accused of a breach of promise when they broke the contract to buy the condominium.
a breach of the peace
- causing a disturbance, violent or disorderly behaviorThe man was charged with a breach of the peace when he began fighting with the store clerk.
break the law
- to fail to obey the lawThe woman was forced to quit her job after it was discovered that she had broken the law.
build a case (against someone)
- to gather the evidence needed to make a legal case against someoneThe legal team was working hard to build a case against the suspected car thief.
burden of proof
- the necessity to prove a disputed fact as required by the laws of evidenceThe burden of proof during the trial fell on the man who had accused his employee of theft.
by the book
- following all the rules when you do somethingOur lawyer is very good and he does everything by the book.
case of mistaken identity
- a case where you incorrectly identify someoneThe young man was arrested in a case of mistaken identity.
causing a disturbance
- an offence committed by fighting/screaming/shouting/swearing or being drunk in publicSeveral fans were arrested for causing a disturbance after the football game.
- "let the buyer beware" (from Latin), a buyer of something is responsible to examine the goods that he or she has purchasedCaveat emptor is a good concept to remember when you are buying a used car.
cease and desist
- a legal phrase which means to stop doing something and not start again - often used in the form of a cease and desist orderThe woman's husband was given a cease and desist order to stop bothering her.
- indirect evidenceThe court case was difficult to win because most of the evidence was circumstantial evidence.
- an arrest which may be made by an ordinary citizen without a warrant when somebody commits a crimeThe man tried to make a citizen's arrest of the violent homeless man.
- legal action that deals with private or civil mattersThe couple decided to take civil action regarding their neighbor's noisy dog.
- the area of the law which deals with civil or private matters such as violations of contracts (different from criminal law)The lawyer had much experience in civil law but almost no experience in criminal law.
class action lawsuit
- a lawsuit that is made on behalf of a group of persons in a similar situation or who have suffered a similar wrongThe workers filed a class action lawsuit against the company for damage to their health.
come by (something) honestly
- to get something honestlyThe man had much money and he came by this money honestly.
come clean (with someone about something)
- to be completely honest with someone about something, to confess something to someoneThe man decided to come clean with the police when he confessed everything about the crime.
- the area of law that governs business and commercial transactionsThe lawyer has specialized in commercial law since he first became a lawyer.
- the law that is not written in statutes but is based on custom and court decisions of the past (most often with its origin in the old unwritten laws of England)We were able to make a decision about our case by researching previous cases of common law.
- real property owned by a group of tenants in a condominium or subdivision which everyone has the right to use, land that is owned by the government which everyone can useThe exercise machine is common property and anyone in the apartment complex can use it.
- property belonging jointly to a married couple or acquired during their marriageThe couple decided to divide some of their community property and give it to their children.
- in a civil lawsuit where the fault (negligence) of the two parties is taken into account in assessing damagesThe judge determined that it was a case of comparative negligence and the landlord and the tenant both had to pay damages.
- evidence that is so strong that it proves the point in question beyond a reasonable doubtThe witness offered conclusive evidence that led to the conviction of the criminal.
- a contract where the title to the goods being sold will not go to the purchaser until a certain condition is fulfilledThe sale of the house was a conditional sale and I had to talk to my bank manager before the deal was complete.
- sentences that are given to someone with one sentence following immediately after the other sentenceThe criminal was given three consecutive sentences for the murder of the young girls.
contempt of court
- disobedience of the orders and authority of the court, disrespect for the court processThe man was in contempt of court when he was several hours late for the trial.
crack down on (someone or something)
- to enforce a rule or law more strictlyThe police have decided to crack down on speeding cars.
- the law that is concerned with crimes by people against the state or society with the purpose to punish the offenderThe university law department has the best criminal law library in the country.
- a person who has been convicted of a violent crime and is a continuimg threat to othersSeveral dangerous offenders escaped from the prison last week.
- violent conduct that disturbs the peace of society or the communitySome football fans were charged with disorderly conduct after the fight during the game.
disturbing the peace
- disorderly or violent or threatening conduct that disturbs the peace and tranquillity of the communityTwo men were arrested for disturbing the peace when they got into a fight in front of the shopping mall.
draw up an agreement/contract
- to put something into writing, to prepare a written statementMy lawyer is helping me to draw up an agreement to buy the small business.
due process (of law)
- the rights that each person has to be protected by the lawThe man was accused of theft by his employer but he knew that he was entitled to due process of law and would be found to be innocent.
examination for discovery
- an oral examination that is taken under oath in which each side to a lawsuit has the right to examine the other side's witnesses before a trial or hearingThe man spent several hours in an examination for discovery in connection with his case.
- an expert or specialist whose opinions are used as evidence in a trial or hearingThe lawyer called in an expert witness to look at the handwriting of the accused criminal.
- special circumstances that explain an irregular or improper way of doing somethingThe man was able to avoid going to jail for stealing the money because of extenuating circumstances.
- unlawful physical detentionIt was a case of false arrest when the man was arrested as a suspect in the robbery.
- intentionally misrepresenting the facts in order to cheat or defraud someoneThe woman was acting under false pretenses when she went to the bank and asked for a loan.
- a person who deliberately offers false or inaccurate evidenceThe man was accused of being a false witness after he testified at the trial.
- absolute title or ownership of real estateThe property was sold fee simple by the woman.
- the part of a document or contract that may contain important information but is not easily noticed because the print is smallIt is a good idea to read the fine print before you buy something.
- reasons which the law accepts as justifiedThe man was fired from his job for cause after several violations of his contract.
free and clear
- owning something fully with no money owed or other restrictions on the item or propertyMy parents own their home free and clear.
- to inform an employer or employee or landlord or tenant that a contractual agreement will endThe woman gave notice that she will leave her job next month.
go into effect
- to becomes effective or in use (used for a law or rule)The new parking law will go into effect at midnight.
- to begin operating as a legitimate or honest business after operating as an illegal businessThe man decided to go legit and get the proper license for his small business.
go on record
- to make an official statement rather than an informal oneThe mayor of the city will go on record to oppose the new convention center.
goods and chattels
- personal property (as opposed to land and buildings)The goods and chattels of the man were seized by the bank to pay for his bad loan.
- a period of time (often about 30 days) after a bill or something is dueThere was a 30-day grace period in which to pay the speeding ticket.
- an area of a subject that is not clearly definedSmoking near public buildings is a gray area that the smoking law does not deal with.
grounded in fact
- based on factsThe decisions that were made during the legal discussions were grounded in fact.
grounds for (something)
- a cause or reason for legal action such as a lawsuitThe fact that the woman lied to her employer was grounds for firing her from her company.
have a brush with the law
- to have a brief experience or encounter with the lawThe man had a brush with the law when he was a teenager.
have a case (against someone)
- to have strong evidence that can be used against someoneThe police do not have a case against the young woman.
(not) have a leg to stand on
- to not have the facts to support or win an argument or a legal charge that is made against you (usually used in the negative)The apartment manager tried to evict the young family but he did not have a leg to stand on and he lost the case in court.
have a run-in with (the law or someone)
- to have a bad or unpleasant encounter with the law or someoneThe man had a run-in with the law when he was on his holiday.
have custody of (someone or something)
- to have the right to guard or protect or care for someone or somethingThe woman has custody of her two children.
have (someone) dead to rights
- to prove someone absolutely guiltyThe police had the man dead to rights when they saw him stealing the car.
have (someone) in one's pocket
- to have control over someoneThe businessman has the mayor of the city in his pocket.
have the right to (do something)
- to have the freedom or legal right to do somethingThe lawyer did not have the right to ask personal questions during the trial.
a hung jury
- a jury that is divided and unable to agree on a verdictThere was a hung jury after the trial of the famous singer.
implicate (someone) in (something)
- to suggest that someone is involved in something or connected to somethingThe president of the company was implicated in the expense account scandal.
- the temporary suspension of an activity or a rulingMy grandfather's estate settlement was in abeyance while the lawyers looked at his will in more detail.
in accordance with (something)
- conforming to somethingThe new contract was written in accordance with the new employment law.
- late or overdue (usually for bills and money)My account at the department store is in arrears.
in bad faith
- insincerely, with bad or dishonest intentions, with the intention to deceive someoneThe manager was acting in bad faith when she refused to give the documents to the lawyer.
in consideration of (something)
- after thinking about somethingIn consideration of the amount of time that was spent on my case they charged me a lot of money.
in custody of (someone or something)
- being guarded or protected or cared for by someone or some groupThe police put the man in custody for the night.
- owing moneyThe woman is in debt to the furniture store.
- something that is in disagreementMost parts of the contract are not in dispute.
- a law that is necessary to obey, something that is exerting force or influenceThe new law has been in effect for three months now.
in favor of (something)
- in agreement with somethingThe members of the panel voted in favor of postponing the meeting.
in good faith
- with good and honest intentionsI went to the mediation session in good faith in order to try and resolve the dispute.
- in goods rather than in moneyWe were paid in kind for our work on the project.
in lieu of (something)
- instead of somethingIn lieu of being paid for our extra work we were given extra time off.
- forever, eternallyThe man was promised by the city that he would receive free parking in perpetuity.
- personally, yourselfThe man was asked to appear in the courtroom in person.
in plain English/language
- in simple and easy to understand languageThe legal contract was written in plain English so that we could easily understand it.
- secretly, not openly or in public, confidentiallyThe discussion between the two judges took place in private.
- openly so others can see what you are doing, not secretlyThe new smoking law does not permit smoking in public.
in receipt of (something)
- having received somethingMy lawyer is in receipt of the documents that I sent him.
in reference to (something)
- concerning/regarding/about somethingThe letter was in reference to my earlier request for legal advice.
in (someone's) name
- in someone's ownership, as someone's propertyWe put the property in my name so that it would be easier to get a loan with it.
in the act of (doing something)
- while doing somethingThe man was arrested in the act of stealing money from the cash register in the store.
in the right
- on the legal or moral side of an issue, not guilty of something, not responsible for somethingI believed that I was in the right so I decided to take the case to court.
in the wrong
- on the illegal or wrong side of an issue, guilty of something, responsible for somethingThe man was in the wrong and was found guilty by the court.
in trouble with the law
- having legal problems, due to be punished by the lawThe teenager is often in trouble with the law.
in trust of (someone)
- under the responsibility or care of someoneThe money was given to the child in trust of his grandparents.
invasion of privacy
- the act of doing something so that someone loses his or her privacySome people think that it is an invasion of privacy when there are video cameras in public places.
invest (someone) with the power or legal right to (do something)
- to give someone the power or right to do somethingThe judge invested the police with the power to enforce the decision of the court.
- to fail to appear in court and therefore give up the money that you paid for bailThe criminal jumped bail and went to another city to live.
last will and testament
- one's will (especially its latest edition) - a will is the legal term to describe the document that says what a person wants to do with his or her property after they dieI went to a lawyer in order to write my last will and testament.
- obeying the lawThe couple were law-abiding citizens who never had any problems with the law.
a law unto oneself
- someone who makes his or her own laws or rulesThe manager was a law unto herself and she thought that she could do whatever she wanted.
lay down the law
- to state firmly what the rules or laws are for somethingWe decided to lay down the law regarding the vacation schedule for our employees.
a leading question
- a question to a witness designed to suggest or produce the reply desired by the questionerThe lawyer asked the witness a leading question but was told to stop by the judge.
- the age when a person can do things such as buy alcohol or cigarettes or when they are responsible for their actions and can borrow money etc.The young men were not of legal age and could not buy cigarettes.
let (someone) go
- to free someone from prison or from an arrestThe court decided to let the man go because there was no evidence to keep him in prison.
letter of the law
- the literal interpretation or the words of a law but not necessarily the intent of those who wrote the lawThe lawyer always likes to follow the letter of the law.
lodge a complaint (against someone)
- to make a complaint against someoneThe man decided to lodge a complaint against the company that had built the apartment building.
a matter of record
- a fact or something that is officially kept as a legal record and therefore can be provedIt is a matter of record about how much money the mayor spent on the foreign trip.
- the right to take minerals or money from the minerals on one's propertyThe farmer owned all of the mineral rights on his property.
- behavior that is contrary to accepted rules of behaviorThe judge accused the lawyer of moral turpitude because of the tactics that he used to defend his client.
next of kin
- someone's closest relatives or family membersThe police notified the next of kin of the woman who was killed in the car accident.
null and void
- worthless, canceledThe check which was written by the company was null and void.
of one's own free will/accord
- by one's own choiceThe woman signed the contract to buy the car of her own free will.
off the record
- unofficial, informalThe judge told the lawyers off the record what they could expect the lawsuit to settle for.
- any weapon capable of being used to cause physical injury or harmThe young man with the knife was charged with carrying an offensive weapon.
on condition that
- providing thatThe man was not sent to prison on condition that he volunteer and do work in the community.
- serving a period of probation - probation is when a person who is guilty of a crime is allowed to be free but is supervised by the government and its probation officersThe man was on probation for robbing a small store last year.
- an official recorded statement or fact that everyone may knowThe businessman was on record as having refused to accept any illegal money.
out on bail
- released from jail after you pay the bail bond money - the bail bond is the money that you must pay to guarantee that you will appear in courtThe man was out on bail while he was waiting for his trial.
out on parole
- out of jail but being supervised by the policeWhile the criminal was out on parole he was forced to meet with a social worker every week.
pay one's debt to society
- to serve a sentence for a crime (usually in prison)The man was forced to pay his debt to society by going to prison for three years.
a peeping Tom
- someone who looks into someone's window (usually a woman's window) and watches him or herThere was a report of a peeping Tom near our apartment building.
- a section in a contract specifing an amount of money to be paid if the contract is not fulfilledThere is a penality clause in our apartment rental agreement if we decide to move early.
- a medical examination of a body made after death to determine the cause of deathThe authorities performed a post mortem on the dead man to try and determine the cause of his death.
power of attorney
- a legal document granting authority for one person to act as another's representativeThe woman was given power of attorney over her mother's daily affairs.
a preliminary hearing
- a hearing before a judge to determine if there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crimeThe man appeared at a preliminary hearing to determine the nature of the crime.
- at first view (prima facie is from Latin), something is assumed to be true in the absence of evidence to the contraryPrima facie, it seems that the man has enough evidence to take legal action against his employer.
privy to (something)
- to have unique or special knowledge about somethingI was not privy to the conversation regarding the new business plan so I cannot comment on it.
- extra damages awarded to someone in order to punish them and in order to deter othersThe patient was awarded much money as punitive damages in his lawsuit against the hospital.
put (something) down in black and white
- to write something down, to make or draw up a contractI put my plans for the meeting down in black and white.
quid pro quo
- something for something (quid pro quo is from Latin), mutual concessions made by the parties in a transactionThe government and the teachers changed their contract demands in a quid pro quo effort to solve their dispute.
the responsible party
- the person or party that is legally or morally obliged to do something or accept the blame for somethingThe responsible party was forced to compensate the victim of the crime.
run afoul of the law
- to get into trouble with the lawThe young man ran afoul of the law and was taken into police custody.
serve notice on (someone)
- to deliver a legal announcement or document to someoneThe company served notice on the workers that they would close the factory next year.
set (someone) free
- to release someone from prison or captivityThe police set the man free when they decided that there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime.
- to give a reason or explanation for somethingThe lawyer was asked to show cause about why the man was guilty of the crime.
show good faith
- to demonstrate good intentions or good willWe try to show good faith when we meet the opposing side in our contract negotiations.
sign on the dotted line
- to put your signature on a contract or other important documentWe signed on the dotted line of the contract to start the new business.
signed, sealed and delivered
- having formally and officially signed somethingThe contract was signed, sealed and delivered before we went home for the evening.
- to fail to appear in court and therefore give up the money that you paid for bailThe amount of bail was very high so that the accused criminal would not skip bail.
- the part of a document or contract that may contain important information but is not easily noticed because the print is smallI read the small print before I bought the television.
spirit of the law
- something as it is meant to be and not as it is stated exactly, what the people who made the law wanted to achieveThe judge tried to follow the spirit of the law and not only as it was written.
stand one's ground
- to stand up for one's rightsI stood my ground and refused to do anything that was not totally honest.
stay of execution
- a court order to temporarily stop another court order or judgement - this can be used for any kind of court orderThere was a stay of execution on the order to demolish the old house.
the straight and narrow
- a straight and law-abiding route through lifeThe young man was back on the straight and narrow after talking with the police officer and the social worker.
stretch the truth
- to misrepresent the truth (usually in a small way)The witness was stretching the truth when she told the judge her excuse for the crime.
subject to (something)
- depending on somethingThe sale of the house is subject to our getting a report from the housing inspector.
- to become effective or in use (used for a law or rule)There is a new law related to Internet advertising that will soon take effect.
take the law into one's own hands
- to try to administer the law on your ownThe transit supervisor was taking the law into his own hands when he tried to arrest the man.
take precedence over (someone or something)
- to be more important than someone or something, to have the right to come before someone or something elseThe laws about the safety of children take precedence over many other laws.
to the letter
- precisely, exactlyThe lawyer always suggests that his clients follow the judge's decisions to the letter.
- false and exaggerated, invented by fraud or criminal deceptionThe business owner was arrested on trumped-up charges.
turn a blind eye to (someone or something)
- to pretend not to see someone who is doing something wrong, to pretend not to see something that may be troublesomeThe police often turn a blind eye to people who cross the street on a red light.
under a cloud (of suspicion)
- to be suspected of doing something wrong or illegalThe manager of the coffee shop was fired from her job under a cloud of suspicion.
- below the legal age to do somethingThe boy was under age and was not able to buy cigarettes.
- arrested by the policeThe man was placed under arrest for stealing a car.
- the liability of one person through the act of anotherIt was a case of vicarious liability when the man was charged because of his friend's behavior.
- without risk of punishmentThe man continued to abuse his position and clients with impunity.
with no strings attached
- with no obligations attachedThe man was forced to agree to the terms of the agreement with no strings attached.