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The ABC’s of Law

Megan Branch, Intern

Here on the OUPblog, we’ve been posting a series of Dictionary posts so be sure to check out the ABC’s of math and education. The language of law is confusing at the best of times, so today’s ABC’s come from the Oxford Dictionary of Law, edited by Jonathan Law and Elizabeth A. Martin. The Dictionary contains over 4,200 entries covering all types of law–from historical treaties, like the Treaty of Rome, to property law, and everything in between. Below, I’ve excerpted some terms from the “A,” “B,” “C,” and “Q,” “R,” “S” sections.

Actual total loss (in marine insurance): A loss of a ship or cargo in which the subject matter is destroyed or damaged to such an extent that it can no longer be used for its purpose, or when the insured is irretrievably deprived of it. If the ship or cargo is the subject of a *valued policy, the measure of indemnity is the sum fixed by the policy; if the policy is unvalued, the measure of indemnity is the insurable value of the subject insured.

Bench warrant: A warrant for the arrest of a person who has failed to attend court when summoned or subpoenaed to do so or against whom an order of committal for contempt of court has been made and who cannot be found. The warrant is issued during a sitting of the court.

Contra bonos mores [Latin]: Against good morals. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the criminal law should, or does, prohibit immoral conduct merely on the ground of its immorality. The tendency in recent years has been to limit legal intervention in matters of morals to acts that cause harm to others. However, there are still certain offences regarded as essentially immoral (e.g. *incest). There are also offences of conspiring to corrupt public morals (although *corruption of public morals is not in itself criminal) and of outraging (or conspiring to outrage) public decency, although the scope of these offences is uncertain.

Qualified right: A right set out in the European Convention on Human Rights that will only be violated if the interference with it is not proportionate (see PROPORTIONALITY). An interference with a qualified right that is not proportionate to the *legitimate aim being pursued will not be lawful.

Refreshing memory: A procedure in which a witness may, while testifying, remind himself of matters about which he is testifying by referring to a document made on an earlier occasion. Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 a witness in criminal proceedings may at any stage while testifying refresh his memory from a document or transcript of a sound recording made or verified by the witness on a earlier occasion.

Soft law (in international law): Guidelines of behaviour, such as those provided by treaties not yet in force, resolutions of the United Nations, or international conferences, that are not binding in themselves but are more than mere statements of political aspiration (they fall into a legal/political limbo between these two states). Soft law contrasts with hard law, i.e. those legal obligations, found either in *treaties or customary international law (see CUSTOM), that are binding in and of themselves.

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