A Compilation of the Most Important Legal Maxims


A legal maxim is an established principle or proposition. It is a law universally admitted as being just and in consonant with reason. Here is a list of the important legal maxims:

Ab Initio – From the beginning.

Actio personalis moritur cum persona – A personal right of action dies with the person.

Actiones  legis – Law suits

Actionable per se – The very act is punishable and no proof of damage is required.

Actori incumbit onus probandi – The burden of proof lies on the plaintiff.

Actus Reus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea – Conviction of a crime requires proof of a criminal act and intent. or an act does not make a defendant guilty without a guilty mind. or an act does not constitute guilt unless done with a guilty intention.

Actus Reus – A guilty deed or act.

Ad hoc – For the particular end or case at hand.

Alibi – At another place, elsewhere.

Amicus Curiae – A friend of court or member of the Bar who is appointed to assist the Court.

Animus possidendi – Intention to possess.

Ante – Before

Annul – To cancel

Ante Litem Motam – Before suit brought; before controversy instituted OR spoken before a lawsuit is brought.

Assentio mentium – The meeting of minds, i.e mutual assents.

Audi alteram partem – No man shall be condemned unheard.

Bona fide – In good faith.

Bona vacantia – Goods without an owner.

Boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem – It is the part of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction, i.e. remedial authority.

Caveat – A caution registered with the public court to indicate to the officials that they are not to act in the matter mentioned in the caveat without first giving notice to the caveator.

Caveat actor – Let the doer beware.

Caveat emptor – Let the buyer beware.

Caveat venditor -Let the seller beware.

Certiorari – A writ by which orders passed by an inferior court is quashed.

Consensus ad idem – Agreement of the same thing in the same sense.

Corpus – Body.

Corpus deliciti – Where is the body.

Damnum sine injuria – Damage without injury.

De facto – In fact.

De integro – As regards the whole.

De jure – By law.

De novo – To make something new; starting afresh.

De minimis lex non curat – The law does not notice trifling matters.

Dictum – Statement of law made by judge in the course of the decision but not necessary to the decision itself.

Doli incapax – Incapable of crime.

Detinue – Tort of wrongfully holding goods which belong to someone else.

Donatio mortis causa – Gift because of death. (or a future gift given in expectation of the donor’s imminent death and only delivered upon the donor’s death.)

Estoppel – Prevented from denying.

Ejusdem generis – Of the same kind.

Ex parte – Proceedings in the absence of the other party.

Ex gratia – As a favour.

Ex officio – Because of an office held.

Ex post facto – With retrospective action or force. 

Fatum – Beyond human foresight.

Factum probans – Relevant fact.

Fraus est celare fraudem – It is a fraud to conceal a fraud.

Functus officio – No longer having power or jurisdiction.

Furiosi nulla voluntas est – Mentally impaired or mentally incapable persons cannot validly sign a will, contract or form the frame of mind necessary to commit a crime. or a person with mental illness has no free will.

Habeas corpus – A writ to have the body of a person to be brought in before the judge.

Ignoratnia juris non excusat – Ignorance of law excuses no one.

Injuria sine damnum – Injury without damage.

Ipso facto – By the mere fact/By the very fact itself.

In promptu – In readiness.

In lamine – On the threshold.

In lieu of – Instead of.

In personam – A proceeding in which relief I sought against a specific person.

Innuendo – Spoken words which are defamatory because they have a double meaning.

In status quo – In the present state.

Inter alia – Among other things.

Inter vivos – (especially of a gift as opposed to a legacy) between living people.

Interest Reipublicae Ut Sit Finis Litium – It means it is in the interest of the state that there should be an end to litigation.

Jus congens – The peremptory norm of general international law

Jus in personam – Right against a specific person.

Jus in rem – Right against the world at large.

Jus non scriptum – Customary law.

Jus scriptum – Written law.

Jus – Law or right.

Jus naturale – Natural law.

Justitia nemini neganda est – Justice is to be denied to nobody.

Lex loci – Law of the place.

Lex non a rege est violanda – The law must not be violated even by the king.

Lis pendens – Suit pending.

Locus standi – Right of a party to an action to appear and be heard by the court and be heard by the court.

Mala fide – In bad faith.

Mala in se – Wrong or evil in itself.

Mandamus – ‘We command’. A writ of command issued by a Higher Court to Government/Public Authority, to compel the performance of a public duty.

Mens rea – Guilty mind.

Melior testatoris in testamentis spectanda est – In wills the intention of the testator is to be regarded.

Misnomer – A wrong or inaccurate name or term.

Modus operandi – Way of working.

Modus Vivendi – Way of living.

Mutatis Mutandis – with the necessary changes having been made OR with the respective differences having been considered.

Nemo bis punitur pro eodem delicto – Nobody can be twice punished for the same offence.

Nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa – It means no man shall be punished twice for the same offence.

Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa or Nemo judex in causa sua or Nemo judex in sua causa – Nobody can be judge in his own case.

Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire – A man will not meet his maker (God) with a lie in his mouth or in other words ‘No man at the point of death is presumed to lie.’ (This maxim is related to DYING DECLARATION)

Nemo Potest esse tenens et dominus – No body can be both a landlord and a tenant of the same property.

Nisi – Unless

Nolle prosequi – a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit.

Non–sequitur – An inconsistent statement.

Novation – Transaction in which a new contact is agreed by all parties to replace an existing contract.

Nunc pro tunc – now for then. A ruling nunc pro tunc applies retroactively to correct an earlier ruling.

Obiter dicta – by the way; a judge’s expression of opinion uttered in court or in a written judgement.

Onus probandi – Burden of proof.

Pacta sund servanada – Treaties are legally binding.

Parri passu – On an equal footing.

Per se – By itself.

Per curium – In the opinion of the court.

Prima facie – At first sight.

Alimony – a husband’s (or wife’s) provision for a spouse after separation or divorce; maintenance. 

Palimony – Money which a man pays to a woman with whom he has been living and from whom he is separated. Palimony has slightly different meanings in different jurisdictions.
Read more about it here on this wikipedia page.

Per curiam – By a court.

Per incuriam – Because of lack of care.

Persona non-grata – Person not wanted.

Prima facie – On the face of it.

Pro rata – In proportion.

Pro tanto – So far, to that extent.

Quantum merit – As much is deserved.

Qui facit per alium, facit per se – He who acts through another acts himself.

Quid pro quo – Something for something.

Qui sentit commodum, sentire debet et onus – It means he who receives advantage must also bear the burden.

Quo warranto – By what authority. A writ calling upon one to show under what authority he holds or claims a public office.

Ratio decidendi – Principle or reason underlying a court judgement.

Re – In the matter of.

Res – Matter, affair, thing, circumstance.

Res gestae – Things done.

Res ipsa loquitor – The thing speaks for itself.

Res judicata – A case which has already been decided.

Res Judicata Pro Veritate Accipitur – It means that a judicial decision must be accepted as correct.

Respodent superior – Let the master answer.

Rex non protest peccare – The king can do no wrong.

Salus populi est suprema lex – The welfare of the is the supreme law.

Status quo – State of things as they are now.

Sine die – “with no day”(indefinitely).

Sine qua non – “without which nothing”. An essential condition; a thing that is absolutely necessary. Basically a component of an argument that, if debunked, causes the entire argument to crumble.

Suo Motu – On its own motion.

Sub judice – Under judicial consideration.

Uberrima fides (sometimes uberrimae fidei) – Utmost good faith.

Ubi jus ibi remedium – Where there is a right, there is a remedy.

Vis major – Act of God.

Volenti non fit injuria – Damage suffered by consent gives no cause of action.

Vox populi – Voice of the people.

Veto – Ban or order not to allow something to become law, even if it has been passed by a parliament.

Vice versa – Reverse position; the other way around.

Waiver – Voluntarily giving up or removing the conditions.


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