British Legalese - Fans of such British
TV series as RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY/ITV/1978-92 encounter a number of phrases
sprinkled throughout the scripts that may be common phrases to the Brits but a
bit perplexing to us Yanks in America.
The following is a selective list and description of some of the legal references bandied about in Britcoms and dramas:
Bailiff: In Great Britain, unlike America, a Bailiff seizes the property of
someone whom the court has declared debtor.
The Bar: (The Bar was a barrier or partitions that divided the students in the
Inns of the Court (English Law Schools) from readers and senior professors. When
a student was requested to participate in a special meeting, they were asked to
approach the barrier (or bar) that divided the students from the meeting area.
The barrier coined the terms "Barrister"; "to be admitted to a bar" as a
barrister; and "to be "debarred" or rejected from a body of respected peers).
Barrister: (a lawyer who handles cases involving major crimes, complicated
divorces or major accidents. The position of a barristers had its origins in the
church when the clergy stood as impartial and independent personalities who
interceded for the common man in courts).
The Bill or Old Bill: Slang term for police constable or someone representing
police authority. This term is used extensively on the soap opera EASTENDERS/BBC/1985+.
Carey Street: The former location of the bankruptcy court in London. This
inspired the phrase "You'll find yourself on Carey Street".
Chambers: A private area where barristers share common quarters, rent,
administrative services and a legal library. The area is supervised by the Head
Clerk who runs the business end of the Chambers operations, i.e. billing,
passing along briefs, etc.
Dining at One's Inn: English custom that required an aspiring barrister to
attend a number of dinners where students discussed points of law with their
elders. If one did not make it a point to "dine" he was not called to the
"Bar"); Inns of Court: (The four buildings in London (Gray's Inn, the Inner
Temple, Lincoln's Inn, and the Middle Temple) belonging to the four legal
societies who regulate the practice of law and the examinations leading to a
position as a barrister or lawyer.
The Old Bailey: Street in the western part of the City of London, where
the Central Criminal Court is situated [London's principal criminal court]. Its
Bailey Street location inspired its commonly used nickname. The building bears
the inscription "Defend the Children of the Poor and Punish the Wrongdoer."
Queen's Counsel [QC]: A barrister who has taken silk, i.e. been promoted
from a junior barrister to QC).
QC MP: Queen's Counsel, Member of Parliament.
Solicitor: Handles cases involving minor legal matters like drafting a will or
a contract, divorce, property purchase, or minor shoplifting and traffic
accidents. For more serious offenses a solicitor would direct his client to a
Taking Silk: The promotion of a barrister with 10 or more years of experience
to the level of QC-Queen's Counsel (appointed by the Lord Chancellor) where they
earn higher fees, and specialize in litigations. A QC wears a "silk" gown
whereas an ordinary junior barrister wears a "cotton" gown.
Oyez: Derived from the French verb "ouir," meaning "to listen." as in "to
command silence" or to "listen up and pay attention". "Oyez" is usually said
three times in court as the Usher tries to take control of the court.
Usher: The court employee in Britain who cries "all rise' when the judge enters
the court and swears in the witnesses. In America this is done by a Bailiff.
See also PROPS:" Rumpole's Red Bag"
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