Glossary, abbreviations and legal latin

Lawyers love acronyms. Whilst many people think we also love Latin, that’s not quite so true. Although there are a few legal Latin terms that slip in now and then…


ABH – Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm. See here for more.

Abuse of process – Abuse of process has been defined as something so unfair and wrong with the prosecution that the court should not allow a prosecutor to proceed with what is, in all other respects, a perfectly supportable case (Hui Chi-Ming v R [1992] 1 A.C. 34, PC). ‘Unfair and wrong’ is for the court to determine on the individual facts of each case. The concept of a fair trial involves fairness to the prosecution and to the public as well as to the defendant: DPP v Meakin [2006] EWHC 1067. (From CPS guidance)

Actus Reus – The ‘guilty act’. A constituent element of a criminal offence. See here for more.

ASBO – Anti-Social Behaviour Order. See here for more.


Bad character – Evidence of or a disposition towards misconduct” (section 99 Criminal Justice Act 2003. Misconduct means the commission of an offence or other ‘reprehensible conduct’ (s.112 Criminal Justice Act 2003.) This definition applies to both defendants and non-defendants.


Caution – An out of court disposal where an offender accepts liability for an offence. See here for more.

CPS – Crown Prosecution Service, the prosecuting authority for most offences in England and Wales.


De facto – Latin, meaning ‘in fact’.

Diminished responsibility – A special defence, only available for murder (s2 Homicide Act 1957 as amended). Where successfully established, a defence of diminished responsibility reduces a murder conviction to manslaughter. It is necessary to show that the defendant was suffering from an abnormality of mind which substantially impaired his or her mental responsibility for his acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing.

Discharge – A type of sentence. See here for more. 

DPP – Director of Public Prosecutions, the head of the CPS.


Either way – an offence that can be tried in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, depending on the circumstances. see here for more



Hearsay – “Hearsay” in criminal proceedings is “a statement not made in oral evidence in the proceedings that is evidence of any matter stated” (s.114 (1) Criminal Justice Act 2003). (From CPS Guidance)

Indictable only – an offence that can only be tried in the Crown’ Courtsee here for more

Incohate offences – There are instances where a substantive offence may not have been completed but nevertheless an offence of a different kind has been committed because of the actions or agreements in preparation for the substantive offence. These are known as inchoate offences. (From the CPS Guidance)


Joint enterprise – A legal principle whereby two or more people act together to commit a criminal offence, each is responsible and each is guilty. See here for more.


LASPO – The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The latest piece of criminal justice legislation. Covers (amongst other things) sentencing and legal aid.


Mens Rea – ‘Guilty mind’. See here for more.


Newton hearing – R v Newton set out the methods to resolve disputed issues:

  1. In some cases it was possible to obtain the answer from the jury verdict;
  2. The judge himself hears evidence and comes to his own conclusion (acting so to speak as his own jury);
  3. The judge listens to submissions (but hears no evidence). However, if this course is adopted and there is substantial conflict between the two versions then the defence version would be accepted. (From CPS Guidance)


PCMH – Plea and Case Management Hearing – the first (generally) hearing in the Crown Court where the Defendant is asked whether they are guilty or not guilty. If they plead guilty then they are either sentenced then or after an adjournment for a ‘PSR’. If not guilty, then arrangements are made for a trial.

Perverting the course of justice – An offence whereby a person does an act which tends to pervert, which is intended to pervert, the course of justice. (Blog post coming soon on this offence).

Private prosecution – A private prosecution is a prosecution started by a private individual who is not acting on behalf of the police or any other prosecuting authority or body which conducts prosecutions. (From CPS Guidance)

Pro bono – ‘Pro bono publico’, latin, meaning ‘for the good of the public. Typically, this is where lawyers perform work for free.

PSR – ‘Pre Sentence Report’. This is a report by a Probation Officer that is prepared after a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty. It analyses the defendant and his background and personal circumstances, the motivation for the offence, and makes recommendation for sentencing.


R (as in R v Smith) – Short for Regina (Queen). All public prosecutions are brought in the name of the Queen.


s18 – s18 Offences Against the Person Act 1861. See here for more.

s20 – s20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861. See here for more.

Self defence – If a defendant was or may have been acting in lawful self defence of himself or lawful defence of another, he is not guilty. It is for the prosecution to prove he was not so acting. See here for more.

SOPO – Sexual Offences Prevention Order, see here for more.

Strict liability – A description of an offence where it is not necessary to demonstrate a mens rea (i.e. The ‘guilty mind’, or mental element) of the offence. An example would be speeding. See here for more. 

Summary only – an offence that can only be tried in the Magistrates’ Court, see here for more


TICs – Offences taken into consideration. Where an offender pleads to an offence or a number of offences, they may ask for similar offences to be ‘taken into consideration’. The offender will be sentenced for these offences but typically receives a discount to reflect the assistance given to the police etc. The rationale behind TICs is to enable offenders to (typically) come out of prison with a clean slate, without any outstanding offences hanging over them.


Unduly lenient sentence – A sentence which the Attorney General considers to be unduly lenient is one which is referred to the Court of Appeal for a reconsideration. This is essentially a prosecution appeal against a sentence. The Attorney General (either represented or appearing in person) argues that a sentence given at the Crown Court should be increased.

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