South Africa is a constitutional democracy but its law is derived from 3 principal sources: legislation, Roman-Dutch Law and judicial precedent. Roman-Dutch law, is broadly Roman Law (and hence the use of Latin) interpreted and developed by Dutch lawyers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Although less prevalent, Latin legal words and phrases are still being used today, some in everyday contracts.

ANNO DOMINI- A.D – in the year of our Lord.

AD IDEM – ‘to the same’, in complete agreement

AB INITIO – meaning ‘from the beginning’

AD INTERIM- meaning ‘for the meantime’

AD INFINITUM – meaning ‘without limit’ Forever.

AD VALOREM – ‘According to value’, as when import duty is imposed on the value of goods imported

ACTIO DE PAUPERIE – refers to the legal remedy that can be brought against the owner of a domesticated animal that has caused damage when it was acting contrary to the nature of its species- that is, from ‘inward excitement or vice’.

ACTIO QUANTI MINORIS –refers to the legal remedy which the buyer of goods has against the seller for a reduction in the purchase price because the article sold is latently defective, or does not comply with a statement concerning its qualities or capabilities made by the seller.

ACTIO REDHIBITORIA – refers to the legal remedy which the buyer of goods can bring to set aside a contract of sale, and claim the return of the entire purchase price (if already paid) against return of the article because the article sold is latently defective to such an extent that it cannot be used for there purpose for which it was sold, or because the article materially fails to satisfy a claim made by the seller as to its attributes.

ACTUS REUS – refers to an act prohibited by law which will be a crime if committed intentionally, or in some cases negligently. In cases of murder or culpable homicide for example, the ACTUS REUS is the unlawful causing of the death of another human being. Generally, before a person can be convicted of a crime it must be shown that he committed the ACTUS REUS and that he either intended to do so, or behaved carelessly in doing so. See also MENS REA.

AMICA CURIAE – this refers to “friend of the court”

ANIMUS INJURIANDI – this refers to the intention to defame or injure another’s reputation.

ANTE MERIDIEM – A.M – before noon

A PRIORI – ‘From what has gone before’, reasoning deductively, and not on the basis of experience (ie empirically)

AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM – This is the fundamental principle of justice that requires a judicial officer or administrative official who must decide a dispute or make a decision that will affect someone’s rights, to hear ‘the other side’ – in other words , to give each person affected by the decision the opportunity to state his or her case and be heard.

BONA FIDES – refers to ‘good faith’. The expression ‘bona fide’ (in good faith) describes the requirement in many areas of law that persons should act honestly, not make claims that they know to be unjustified ( see MALE FIDES )

CAVEAT EMPTOR – meaning ‘let the buyer beware’ The general rule is the buyers of goods must inspect the goods he/she is buying. If one fails to do so thoroughly and the goods have some patent defect which would have been discovered by careful inspection, one cannot complain to the seller.

CAVEAT SUBSCRIPTOR – meaning ‘let the signer beware’ People who sign contracts or other documents are generally bound by what appears in those documents, whether or not they have read or understood what appears in them.

CETERIS PARIBUS – ‘Other things being equal”

CORPUS JURIS CIVILIS – this refers to the great compilation of Roman law made by Emperor Justinian.

CULPA – refers to negligence – a failure to exercise the standard of care that a ‘reasonable man’ would have exercised under given circumstances.

CUM DIVIDENDO – ‘With the dividend”. Share quoted cum div, are brought and sold with the right that the buyer shall receive the dividend that has been declared but has not yet been distributed.

CURATOR AD LITEM – refers to a person appointed by the court to protect or advance the interests of a person affected by litigation, but who is unable to protect

His/her interests by themselves, for example by virtue of being a minor or mentally defective.

CURATOR BONIS – refers to a person appointed by the court to look after the property of a person unable to do so themselves.

CURRICULUM VITAE – refers to one’s biographical details, usually required when one applies for work.

DAMNUM EMERGENS– refers to the actual monetary loss that can be recovered in an action for damages. – see lucrum cessans.

DE FACTO – (existing) in fact, whether by right or not.

DE JURE – rightfully, by right


DE MINIMIS NON CURAT LEX – meaning ‘the law takes no account of trifling matters’.

DILIGENT PATERFAMILIAS – refers to ‘careful father or ‘careful head of the family’ and is used to describe the way the law expects people to behave towards one another. The DILIGENS PATERFAMILIAS recognizes danger and the risk of damage and takes reasonable steps to guard against that danger or the risk of damage.

DOLUS- refers to the motives of an accused person.

DOLUS DIRECTUS – refers to direct intention.

DOLUS EVENTUALIS- refers to indirect intention.

DOMICILE – refers to your permanent address.

DOMICILIUM CITANDI ET EXECUTANDI – most legal documents, including a deed of sale, require you to state your DOMICILIUM CITANDI ET EXECUTANDI, which simply means the place a summons can be served on you should a dispute arise. Because this is the address you agreed to in writing, you cannot claim later that it was served on you at an incorrect address.

ET AL – et alia – ‘And others’

ETC – et cetera – ‘And the rest’

ET SEQ – et sequens – ‘And the following ‘(pages)

EXEMPLI GRATIA – e.g. – for example

EX GRATIA – (done) as an act of grace, not under legal compulsion.

EX DIVIDENDO – ‘Without the dividend”

EX OFFICIO – refers to ‘by virtue of the office’. A person who has certain powers because of an office they hold is said to enjoy those powers EX OFFICIO. For example, an Attorney is EX OFFICIO a Commissioner of Oaths.

EX PARTE – refers to a unilateral application, where the applicant is the only party before the court. A unilateral application is known as an EX PARTE application.

EX POST FACTO - afterwards/later

FIDEICOMMISSUM – in making a will, a testator may leave property to his son/daughter on condition that after a certain event (usually the child’s death) the property will be handed to his/her grandchild. This successive right to the same property is known as FIDEICOMMISSUM

HABEAS CORPUS – the English law remedy that is equivalent to South African WRIT DE HOMINE LIBERO EXHIHENDO. HAEAS CORPUS or WRIT DE HOMINE, is designed to test whether or not a prisoner is being lawfully imprisoned. HABEAS CORPUS is a Latin phrase meaning ‘you have the body’ and is directed to the jailer, requiring him to come before court with the prisoner, to show that the detention is lawful.

EX HYPOTHESI – according to the hypothesis made.

EX POST FACTO – acting retrospectively (ex post facto law)

IBIDEM – ib, ibid – in the same place

ID EST – ie – that is

IN CAMERA – this refers to a court that conducts a hearing behind closed doors – said to be sitting in camera.

IN EXTENSO – ‘At full length’

IN FLAGRANTE DELICTO – in the very act of committing an offence.

INCOGNITO - unknown

IN LIMINE – at the outset.

IN PROPRIA PERSONA – in his or her own person.

IN LOCO PARENTIS – refers to ‘in place of a parent’. Persons who have been given custody and control of minor children are said to stand IN LOCO PARENTIS.

IN SITU – refers to ‘in place or on the place’. Court proceedings for example sometimes take place at the scene of a crime, in which case they are said to be held IN SITU.

INSPECTION IN LOCO – refers to the term used when a court decides to male an on-the-stop inspection of the place where a crime or some other event connected with the case allegedly took place.

INTER ALIA – among other things

INTER SE – ‘Between themselves”

INTER VIVOS – refers to ‘as between living persons ‘

INTER VIRES – refers to acting ‘within his powers’. Should one act ULTA VIRES then one is said to act ‘beyond his powers’