This page explains a number of the terms found throughout this site. 


If you are coming from a non-law background, you may not be very familiar with a number of the terms found on this website. The following list explains what these terms mean:

COMMON LAW: A system of law that is common to many nations and is based upon the decisions of judges in past legal cases. The Common Law system is synonymous with the former British Empire and many former colonies still use this system today.

STATUTE & LEGISLATION: These are laws which have been prescribed by Parliament. In Ireland the Óireachtas is charged with making laws for the country. It is given this power by virtue of Article 15.2.1 of the Constitution of Ireland. These written laws are superior in authority to Common Law. 

CONSTITUTION OF IRELAND 1937: The Constitution of Ireland, 1937 is superior to all statute laws in the Republic of Ireland. The Constitution simply sets out your rights and responsibilities as a citizen as well as setting out the State, the Government and it's departments, the judicial system, etc. It is essentially the skeleton upon which everything else clings on to. The only way the Constitution can be altered is by a Referendum of the people of Ireland.

INDICTMENT / INDICTABLE: An indictment is a criminal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that use the concept of felonies, such as the USA, the most serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that do not use the felonies concept often use that of an indictable offence, an offence that requires an indictment.

SUMMARY CHARGE: A summary offence is a crime in some common law jurisdictions that can be proceeded against summarily, without the right to a jury trial and/or indictment. Essentially this means that a case can be heard in the District Court and dealt with by the judge alone. 

ON THE BALANCE OF PROBABILITIES: Saying something is proven on a balance of probabilities means that it is more likely than not to have occurred. It means that it is probable, i.e., the probability that some event happens is more than 50%. So mathematically proof on a balance of probabilities is 50.1% likelihood of something having occurred. This legal standard is used in the Civil courts.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT: This is the legal standard of proof required to achieve a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems. It is a higher standard of proof than the balance of probabilities and is usually, therefore, reserved for criminal matters where what is at stake (e.g. someone's liberty) is considered more serious and therefore deserving of a higher threshold. If a juror has any doubt as to the guilt of an accused, they must acquit. As Johnnie Cochran famously opined: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit!" 

MENS REA: Mens Rea is the Latin term for "guilty mind". It is the mental element of a person's intention to commit a crime; or knowledge that one's action or lack of action would cause a crime to be committed. It is a necessary element of many crimes. As a general rule, someone who acts without mental fault is not liable in criminal law. Exceptions are known as strict liability crimes, such as dangerous driving. In such cases the prosecution does not need to prove intent in order to achieve a conviction. Moreover, when a person intends a harm, but because of bad aim or other cause, the intent is transferred from an intended victim to an unintended victim, the case is considered to be a matter of transferred intent. In criminal law, there must be a guilty mind along with a guilty act. This is summed up in the phrase: 'actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea', meaning the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.

ACTUS REUS: Actus reus, sometimes called the external element or the objective element of a crime, is the Latin term for the "guilty act" which, when proved beyond a reasonable doubt in combination with the mens rea, produces criminal liability in common law−based criminal law jurisdictions. Essentially, the actus reus is the act and the mens mens is the intention. In most criminal cases both are required to convict.

OBJECTIVE vs SUBJECTIVE: Objective refers to the view taken by society as a whole or by an unbiased party. For example, an objective legal test asks whether a particular action is acceptable by society or whether the majority of people would have acted the same way. A subjective test looks specifically at the accused's intention or mental state at the time of the act. A classic example is found in Rape offences; did the accused subjectively know that the victim was not consenting. Under our current legislation it is irrelevant what other people would have thought in the same situation, what matters is what the accused genuinely thought.

Put a pin in that for now though, as I suspect reform is coming down the tracks to bring us in line with the current English test which is an objective one.

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