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L E G A L L AT I N

Latin judgments
A writ by any other name...
AB INITIO it should be said that there is a good prima facie case for the decision of Lord Irvine, the Lord High Chancellor, to simplify the language used in court as part of the civil law reforms which bear the imprimatur of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf. From April 26[1999] Lord Irvine wants lawyers, pro bono publico, to be much more straightforward in the way they speak pendente lite. Out will go, inter alia, hearings in camera or ex parte. In will come hearings in private or without notice. Plaintiffs will be replaced by claimants. Newspaper editors will no longer live in terror of writs. Instead they will tremble at claim forms. Mr Anton Piller will soon be forgotten except in cobwebbed old tomes. The eponymous legal term will be succeeded, ad infinitum and sine die, by a plain old search order. News of the proposed changes was announced by electronic fiat on Lord Irvine's website and it is as yet unclear whether more traditional lawyers will view them as a casus belli or as an act of force majeure which defy restitutio in integrum. The lingua franca of the law may be baffling to the lay person but that, surely, was part of its charm and all of' its function. Lord Hoffmann's judicial colleagues recently found that he was "a judge in his own cause," a phrase which lacks any undertones of majesty or even mystery. How much more satisfying if they had pronounced that he had offended the basic principle of nemo debet esse judex in propria? Would his noble lordship then have shrugged the

matter aside so lightly? Per contra, we think. Matters that are sub judice or lis pendens have a forbidding ring to them which is sadly lacking in "pending litigation". Ultra vires is not without authority as a piece of legalistic verbiage: habeas corpus, translated into English, lacks a certain body. All this could, in time, have a serious impact on another old legal concept, derived either from the Latin feudum, the Old English feoh, or some say, the Frankish fehu-od. Nowadays most lawyers tend to refer to them simply as "fees". They customarily arrive in the form of a "bill" (from med. Lat, bulla) and elaborately set out the price of, exempli gratia, interlocutory this, mandamus that, half a dozen subpoenas, two dozen affidavits and a fair old quantum of res ipsa loquiturs. The distilled wisdom of centuries goes into the construction of these magnificent documents. Is Lord Irvine really saying that under New Labour lawyers will be required to abandon this age old modus operandi and tell their clients what they've been up to in plain English? It is difficult to imagine a, greater scandalum magnum for rotund felines fom Gray's Inn to the Middle Temple As the traditional Latin saying goes: Caveat feles obesus!

ab initio

from the beginning at first appearance

prima facie

imprimatur imprint; lit "let it be printed"

pro bono publico case in progress inter alia in camera ex parte sine die fiat ad infinitum

for the public good

pendente lite; lis pendens while judgment is pending; a among other things in private; lit."in a room" prejudiced; lit: from a part/party for ever for ever; lit "without day/date" a ground for war complete restoration, putting back

command; lit "let it be done"

casus belli as new

restitutio in integrum lingua franca

international language (lit "Frank tongue" -

the Arabs in the middle ages called all Europeans "Franks" though strictly applying only to the Teutonic tribes who conquered Gaul in 6th century AD. It was a mediterranean mixture of Italian, French, Greek, Arabic mutually understood) nemo debet esse iudex in propria in his own [case] per contra the judge" ultra vires strength" habeas corpus exempli gratia mandamus subpoena command..."] a writ commanding a person to appear in court to give evidence; lit. "under penalty" because the person was bound to appear sub poena centum librorum [100] affidavit quantum a sworn deposition amount; lit "how much" open and shut case; lit "the thing itself "you are to produce the body" for sake of example [e.g.] in excess of the power possessed; lit "beyond the opposite sub judice pending; lit "under nobody must be a judge

a writ [so called from the first "We

res ipsa loquitur

speaks" modus operandi method of working a great stumbling-block (original let the fat cat watch out! scandalum magnum meaning of "scandal") caveat feles obesus

From the Guardian February 1999 (with corrections!)