Post-Class Notes from the ERA/Loquitur Legal English Online Course, 2020

This week’s blog consists of notes on legal and legal language questions which came up during the  ERA / Loquitur Legal English Online Course which ran from 30 November to 2 December 2020.

  1. What do suspect, charge, accused and prosecute mean?

When the police believe that a criminal offence has been committed, and the suspect is present, they are arrested and taken to a police station where they appear before the custody officer, who must be of at least the rank of sergeant. It is this officer’s duty to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the person who has been arrested. If there is a decision to charge the suspect, the charge sheet sets out the nature of the alleged offence.

The police pass their file on a suspect to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the public agency which carries out most prosecutions in the UK. The CPS must then decide whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution and whether it is in the public interest to do so.

If the CPS decides to proceed, the person charged with the crime is then referred to as the accused or, these days, as the defendant, which is more neutral. In the past, he or she may have been referred to as the prisoner! The two sides in the proceedings are known as the prosecution (not the prosecutor) and the defence.

The most famous criminal court in the UK is called the Central Criminal Court, commonly called The Old Bailey after the street in which it is situated. Serious crimes can be transferred there from any part of the country.


A nineteenth century map shows the Old Bailey, marked in red. It still stands on the street named after it.

The Old Bailey has witnessed the trials of:

  • ‘Dr’ Crippen, an American homeopath, who was convicted and hanged (NB not hung!) for the murder of his wife and was the first person to be caught with the aid of wireless telegraphy.
  • William Brooke Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, a New York-born British fascist who broadcast Nazi propaganda during the Second World War. He was convicted of high treason and became the last person to be hanged for this crime in the UK.
  • Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 women in the late 1970s. He died in prison in November 2020.
  • Ruth Ellis, who became the last woman to be hanged in Britain, for the murder of her lover. She was executed in 1955 at the age of 28.

Language note: accused is an adjective which also functions as a noun, so we can refer to a person as the accused. However, the adjective charged cannot function as a noun, so we cannot say the charged. We have to say the charged person or the person charged with murder.

  1. Is there a difference between intent and intention?

I found the following on a BBC website –

“In terms of meaning, there is little difference between these two nouns. They both mean a plan, or purpose, to do something. However, there is a difference in the way we use the words. Intent is used in more formal situations, such as in legal contexts, whereas intention is used in a wide range of situations; it is a more everyday word. Also, in grammatical terms, intent is an uncountable noun and intention is a countable noun.

So, for example, in a newspaper report about a court case you might read: “He was carrying a gun with intent to commit a bank robbery.”

Whereas, in a conversation with a friend, someone might say:“I went to the bank with the intention of opening a bank account, but I forgot to take my passport, so I couldn’t even do that.”

There is one other important difference. Intent is also an adjective, but intention is only a noun. If you are intent on doing something, you are determined to do something.

For example, “She was intent on becoming an actress, so she went to drama school even though it was against her parents’ wishes.”

  1. What is an alibi?

In Latin, alibi means elsewhere. In a criminal trial, an alibi is a defence based on the physical impossibility of a defendant’s guilt by placing the defendant in a location other than the scene of the crime at the relevant time.

And today’s alibi joke…

There was a suspicious ‘accident’ at a construction site.  The police investigated all of the workers at the job site . . .   The mason wasn’t a suspect. He had a concrete alibi.

  1. Do the words omit and commit have the same root?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) states that commit comes from the Latin committere, meaning to join, practise, entrust and consign to custody. From COM + mittere, meaning send, put.

Omit means to leave out, and also comes from the Latin omittere, formed from OB + mittere.

Just en passant, and with reference to the previous note about criminal procedure, I would add the following:

In more serious criminal cases, an impartial inquiry into the prosecution case is conducted in committal proceedings. Written statements must be submitted to the examining magistrates and copies must be made available to the defendant, who is thus made fully aware of the case which will be made against them at trial. The Crown Court location is determined by the place where the alleged criminal act occurred and the defendant receives a written statement of the charge, an indictment. An indictment may be made up of several counts, or charges.

  1. Do occupiers of land owe a duty of care to trespassers?

The following comes from

“Contrary to possible expectation, occupiers do still have a duty of care towards trespassers which is set out in the Occupiers Liability Act 1984.

The duty is at a less onerous level. It only comes into play if the occupier:

  1. is aware of the danger or has reasonable grounds to believe that it exists;
  2. he knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the trespasser is in the vicinity of the danger or may come into the vicinity thereof; and
  3. the risk is one against which, in all circumstances, he may reasonably be expected to offer some protection to the trespasser.

The duty of care itself is to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to see that the trespasser does not suffer injury on the premises by reason of the danger concerned. This may be discharged by taking such steps as are reasonable to give warning of the danger concerned or to discourage persons from incurring the risk.”

  1. Easement v Licence

An easement is an interest in land owned by another party. It is the right to use or control the land, or an area above or below it, for a specific limited purpose (such as to cross it for access to a road). (Black’s Law Dictionary).

An easement is a property right, appurtenant [belonging] to one piece of land and exercisable over another piece of land.

A licence, on the other hand, is a revocable permission to occupy the land belonging to another. It does not confer a property right.

  1. Contempt of court and its punishments

Contempt of court, often referred to simply as contempt, is the offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behaviour that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court. A similar attitude towards a legislative body is termed contempt of Parliament or contempt of Congress.

There are broadly two categories of contempt: being disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom, or wilfully failing to obey a court order. Contempt proceedings are especially used to enforce equitable remedies, such as injunctions. In some jurisdictions, the refusal to respond to subpoena, to testify, to fulfil the obligations of a juror, or to provide certain information can constitute contempt of the court.

When a court decides that an action constitutes contempt of court, it can issue an order that in the context of a court trial or hearing declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court’s authority, called “found” or “held” in contempt. That is the judge’s strongest power to impose sanctions for acts that disrupt the court’s normal process.

A finding of being in contempt of court may result from a failure to obey a lawful order of a court, showing disrespect for the judge, disruption of the proceedings through poor behaviour, or publication of material or non-disclosure of material, which in doing so is deemed likely to jeopardise a fair trial. A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine, sequestration of real and personal property or jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court. Judges in common law systems usually have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems.

  1. Vetting people and documents

The OED tells us that vet means, inter alia,:

‘examine (work, a scheme, person, etc.) carefully and critically for deficiencies or errors; spec. investigate the suitability of a candidate for a post requiring particular loyalty and trustworthiness.’

The ‘etc.’ in this entry suggest that you can vet documents and this is supported by a glance at the iweb corpus[1] where I found:

  1. a) …consulates do not have authority to vet documents for immigration applications…
  2. b) …the team had failed properly to vet documents of dubious authenticity….

        9. Delegated legislation

Delegated legislation derives from primary legislation or statutes passed by Parliament. Delegated legislation saves parliamentary time by considering matters of technical detail. A statutory instrument related to the parent act is required to write delegated legislation.

Through its inherent flexibility, delegated legislation accommodates changing circumstances such as changing fees for public services, developments in science or minor changes in government policy. Delegated legislation, allows the rapid drafting of emergency powers. In comparison to Acts of Parliament, which may take much time to pass, the flexibility of delegated legislation can be used to solve problems of governance in a timely way.

Delegated legislation can take a number of forms:

  • Ministerial orders are made by ministers.
  • Orders exercise executive powers of government ministers. An example is the dissolution of a public body. Commencement Orders set the date on which an Act, or part of an Act, comes into force.
  • Regulations set out how an Act is to be implemented and are usually made by Ministers.
  • Rules set out procedures for operation of a government entity such as the courts or the Patent Office. Rules may be made by ministers or, if specified in the parent Act, a senior judge.



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