Simple Meaning of Big Latin Words Lawyers Use in Court

Siaya senator and lawyer James Orengo during an interview at his office in Nairobi on May 19, 2016..jpg
  • The Court of Appeal is hearing appeals against a High Court ruling that declared the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) unconstitutional, null, and void.

    Appeals filed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, and the BBI Secretariat will be heard by a seven-judge bench of the appellant court. Each party making an appeal came up with a team of top-ranking and highly experienced lawyers to argue out their cases in court.

    Just like in any profession, the law has its jargon which,’ learned friends’ as they refer themselves, are more than willing to use. Some use these terms, mostly Latin, to demonstrate that they are a cut above the rest while others use them to flex their legal muscle.

    Siaya senator and lawyer James Orengo during an interview at his office in Nairobi on May 19, 2016..jpg

    Siaya Senator James Orengo is among the lawyers who have been caught flawlessly using these terms while in court. His demonstration of mastery of the law has earned him the nickname ‘walking constitution’.

    Some of these terms include:

    Amicus Curiae -friend of the court. This refers to a party who volunteers information on some aspect of a case or law to assist the court in its deliberation. 

    Prima facie -at first look or on its face. Refers to a case in which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial.

    Res judicata – a matter that has been judged. When used, it means that the issue before the court has already been decided by another court, between the two parties.

    Habeas corpus – may you have the body. it is a court order which directs the law enforcement officials who have custody of a prisoner to appear in court with the prisoner.

    Per curiam -by the court. Used when stating that a decision made by an apparent court is done as a court and not as an individual.

    Corpus juris – body of the law. This includes a collection of all laws, cases, and interpretations of them.

    Ad valorem – based on value. This applies to property taxes based on a percentage of the countries assessment of the property’s value.

    Ejusdem generis – of the same kind. Used in cases where a law lists specific classes of persons or things and then refers to them in general. The statements only apply to the same kind of persons or things specifically listed.

    In pari delicto – in equal fault. This means that two or more parties are all at fault or are all guilty of a crime.

    In toto – completely or in total. Refers to the entire thing. For example, the case was dismissed in toto.

    Ipse dixit – he himself said it. The only proof available is that a person said it.

    Quid pro-quo – something for something. Identifies what each party to an agreement expects from the other: mutual consideration.

    Res ipsa loquitor – the thing speaks for itself. Is a law doctrine where one is presumed to be negligent if he/she had exclusive control of whatever caused injury or harm even though there is no evidence of the act of negligence.

    Certiorari – the act of ordering a lower court to deliver the record of a case to an appellant court

    Others include pro bono– without charge, cuo bono– as to benefit whom, ab initio-from the start, sui generis– of its own kind.

    Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia during a past court session
    Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia during a past court session