BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: In Depth: Lockerbie Trial
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
banner Sunday, 23 April, 2000, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Legal glossary
Scotland has its own legal system, which in turn uses its own language.

Here, John Grant, from the University of Glasgow's Lockerbie trial briefing unit, provides a glossary of the terms which will be heard during the Lockerbie trial.

Accessory: a person who in some way aids in the perpetration of a crime

Actus reus: the physical act involved in the commission of a crime or offence

Admissible evidence: testimony which is allowed to be given in court because it conforms to the rules of evidence

Advocate: a member of the Scottish bar, the Scottish equivalent to barrister. An advocate is a member of the Faculty of Advocates and may be either a junior or a senior (a Queen's Counsel)

Advocate-depute: an advocate appointed to prosecute cases on behalf of the Lord Advocate, one of the Crown counsel

Affirm, affirmation: where a witness objects to taking the oath, he or she may instead affirm to be truthful

Aggravation: some circumstance in a criminal case which renders any conviction more serious

Alibi: in another place, a special defence that the accused was in another specified place at the time of the crime

Art and part: in the capacity of accomplice or accessory

Circumstantial evidence: evidence of some circumstance(s) which provide indirect evidence of some fact where direct evidence is absent

Compellable, compellability: the term used to describe witnesses who can be required to give evidence

Competence: the authority of a court to determine a particular type of case or procedure

Conspiracy: an agreement between two or more people to carry out a criminal purpose, whether that purpose is an end in itself of a means to an end

Corroboration: evidence supplementary to that already given and tending to confirm it. Generally, in criminal cases, essential fact must be proved by the evidence of more than one witness; documentary or physical evidence may be used to provide corroboration

Cross-examination: examination of witnesses by the side (prosecution or defence) which did not call them

De facto: as a matter of fact, actual

De jure: as a matter of law

Desert the diet: abandoning a criminal charge, either simpliciter (which is irrevocable) or pro loco et tempore (allowing a new charge to be brought)

Examination: the questioning in court of a person called as a witness

Fatal accident inquiry: an inquiry conducted by a sheriff under statutory powers into sudden, suspicious or unexplained death. An FAI was held in Dumfries into the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 from October, 1990, to 3 March, 1991.

Hearsay: evidence by a witness based on what the witness has been told by someone else. While generally inadmissible, hearsay evidence may be allowed in limited circumstances

High Court of Justiciary: the supreme criminal court in Scotland, which sits both as a trial court and a court of appeal

Incrimination (impeachment): a special defence accusing another named person of committing the crime charged

In chief: the examination of witnesses by the side (prosecution or defence) which called them

In concert: together, along with

Indictment: the document, running in the name of the Lord Advocate, charging someone with serious crime(s)

Jurisdiction: the power of a court to hear a particular case

Label: a physical production in a criminal trial, such as a weapon; not documentary evidence, which is referred to as a production

Lead, leading: to call or adduce evidence, Thus, the prosecution (and the defence) are said to lead evidence. A leading question is one put to a witness that suggests the answer

Lord Advocate: The senior law officer in Scotland, responsible for the prosecution of all crime

Lord Justice-Clerk: The second most senior judge in Scotland. The present Lord Justice-Clerk is Lord Cullen

Lord Justice-General: The senior judge in Scotland. The title refers to his criminal functions; in civil matters, he is referred to as the Lord President. The present Lord Justice-General is Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Mens rea: The intentional element required for the commission of a crime

Mitigation: Usually, a plea made after conviction for the sentence to be reduced because of certain factors relating either to the crime or the accused

Murder: The crime of homicide committed either intentionally or with wicked disregard for the consequences

Not proven: a criminal verdict, somewhere between guilty and not guilty, the consequences of which mean that the accused is treated as if found not guilty

Oath: The solemn undertaking by a witness to tell the truth

Onus: The burden falling on the prosecution to prove facts in court, as in the onus of proof

Outwith: a peculiarly Scottish term meaning outside or beyond, as in outwith the jurisdiction

Panel: an old term, meaning the accused

Perjury: the common law committed by a witness deliberately failing to tell the truth or lying in court

Procurator-fiscal: a local prosecutor in Scotland, operating under the overall control of the Lord Advocate

Queen's counsel: a senior member of the Faculty of Advocates, a silk, a senior

Ratio decidendi: the underlying principle of law in a particular decision

Real evidence: an object or thing used as evidence, as opposed to written or oral evidence

Relevancy: 1. the pertinence of the charge to the law. Thus, there could be a challenge to the relevancy where the charge, if proved, would not constitute a crime known to the law of Scotland

2. The pertinence of evidence to the facts in issue. Thus, there could be a challenge to the relevancy of testimony which was unrelated to the facts in issue

Repel: the term used for the rejection or overruling of a plea or objection

Scottish court: the term used in the agreement between the Netherlands and the UK to refer to the High Court of Justiciary, including that court sitting in an appellate capacity, and the sheriff court sitting in the Netherlands to try Al Megrahi and Fhima

Sheriff: a local judge with important criminal jurisdiction

Sheriff principal: a judge appointed to organise the business of the sheriffs within his or her sheriffdom. The sheriff principal has other functions, including hearing appeals from sheriffs in civil cases.

Socius criminis: an accomplice or associate in a crime

Special defence: a defence to a criminal charge which must be intimated before the trial, eg. self-defence, alibi or incrimination

Testimony: oral evidence in court

Verdict: the decision of a jury in matters submitted to it in a trial

Wilful: intentional, deliberate.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Links to other Lockerbie Trial stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Lockerbie Trial stories