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Law French

Law French is an archaic language based on Norman French. It was used in the law courts of Great Britain, beginning with the Norman Conquest by William the Conquerer. Its use continued for several centuries in English courts. The inverted syntax of many legal noun phrases --- attorney general, fee simple --- is a heritage from Law French. Many of the terms of Law French have been converted into modern English in the 20th century to make the law more understandable in common law jurisdictions. However, some key terms remain from Law French, most notably:

  • attorney, one appointed to act for another, see also power of attorney.
  • autrefois acquit, previously acquitted of a crime.
  • bailiff, the marshal of the court, charged now chiefly with keeping order in the courtroom.
  • cestui qui trust[?], the creator of a trust.
  • cy-pres doctrine[?], the power of a court to transfer the property of one charitable trust to another charitable trust when the first trust may no longer exist or be able to operate.
  • defendant, the party against whom a civil proceeding is brought.
  • mortgage, originally a "dead pledge" in which the landowner remained in possession of the property he staked as security.
  • oyez[?], often calqued as "hear ye!", a traditional cry used to open court proceedings, still used in the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • plaintiff, the person who begins a lawsuit.
  • profit a prendre[?], also known as the right of common where one has the right to take the fruits of the property of another, such as mining rights, growing rights, etc.
  • torts, meaning wrongs.

[This is a partial list, please add any other English legal terms you are aware of that have a Law French origin.]



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