Understanding the Law
January 4, 2013

A look at some words used in and outside the Court room

What you see or hear in court goes towards creating an atmosphere for the delivery of justice. The judge or magistrate is in charge of his or her courtroom, the bailiffs help to provide order and the police orderlies provide security. There are always two opposing parties in litigation who are represented by lawyers, whether it is the prosecutor for the Queen and the defence lawyer for the accused.{{more}} There may be instances where a third person, usually a lawyer, intervenes and volunteers information to the court on a point of law or fact to aid the judge or magistrate. This is most likely to occur in open court where the lawyer is allowed to appear amicus curiae. Amicus curiae are the Latin words for “a friend of the Court.” The law affords this, so that the court could be properly informed and justice could be done.

You may hear the word “brief” used very often. A legal brief is the statement of the client’s case in a civil or criminal proceeding. It contains the legal argument prepared by the solicitor and the summary of the facts as given by the client.

The fee that one pays to one’s lawyer to obtain legal representation is called a retainer. A lawyer is authorized to start his client’s case after the client has made some sort of monetary contribution. A lawyer may require payment in full or part payment. Very often the lawyer requires the fees to be paid before the end of the case. There are two types of retainers, the general retainer, which is given for a specific length of time and the special retainer, which is given for a specific case. The more popular form is the special retainer.

In a civil court you may hear the term “running down action”. This is the action that is initiated when there is a vehicular accident and one driver of the vehicle brings action against the other for damages in Civil Court. There is first an action for liability to determine the driver who is answerable for the damages. Then, there is the action to decide on the quantum, that is, the amount of compensation to be paid to the injured party. The issue of liability is dealt with in open court, while the issue of quantum is usually done in chambers, most often by the Master.

The words “in camera” mean “in chamber”. There are certain cases that are done in chambers or at a sitting in camera. This is where the evidence might be sensitive, so as to cause such damage to persons that it is not advisable for the case to be done in open court. If a sitting in camera is done in the court room, then all spectators must be excluded. Matters involving children and members of the family are done in camera. Only the parties, their lawyers and any witness that may be called are allowed in the Family Court. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, divorce cases in the High Court are done in the judge’s private chamber and not in open court.

The term “pro bono” meaning ‘for the public good’ is of Latin origin. When a lawyer does pro bono work he or she provides free legal services for members of the public. It is often provided to those who are indigent. It is the same as legal aid.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com