Law French
Law French is an archaic language originally based on Old Norman
Old Norman
Old Norman, also called Old Northern French or Old Norman French, was one of many langues d'oïl dialects. It was spoken throughout the region of what is now called Normandy and spread into England, Southern Italy, Sicily, and the Levant. It is the ancestor of modern Norman, including the insular...

 and Anglo-Norman
Anglo-Norman language
Anglo-Norman is the name traditionally given to the kind of Old Norman used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles during the Anglo-Norman period....

, but increasingly influenced by Parisian French and, later, English. It was used in the law courts
Courts of England and Wales
Her Majesty's Courts of Justice of England and Wales are the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice in England and Wales; they apply the law of England and Wales and are established under Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.The United Kingdom does not have...

 of England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, beginning with the Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror. Its use continued for several centuries in the courts of England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...


History of the language

The earliest known documents in which French is used specifically as a vehicle for discourse on English law
English law
English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States except Louisiana...

 date from the third quarter of the thirteenth century. They are
  • The Provisions of Oxford
    Provisions of Oxford
    The Provisions of Oxford are often regarded as England's first written constitution ....

     (1258), consisting of the terms of oaths sworn by the 24 magnates appointed to rectify abuses in the administration of King Henry III, together with summaries of their rulings.
  • The Casus Placitorum (c. 1250–70), a collection of legal maxims, rules and brief narratives of cases.

In these works we see an already sophisticated technical language well equipped with its own terminology. This includes many words which are of Latin origin but whose forms have been worn down and distorted in a way which suggests that they already possessed a long history of French usage; examples include avoeson
Advowson is the right in English law of a patron to present or appoint a nominee to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice or church living, a process known as presentation. In effect this means the right to nominate a person to hold a church office in a parish...

 'right of nominating a parish
A parish is a territorial unit historically under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of one parish priest, who might be assisted in his pastoral duties by a curate or curates - also priests but not the parish priest - from a more or less central parish church with its associated organization...

 priest' (Latin advocationem), neife 'female serf
A spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometer is a type of magnetometer developed at Princeton University in the early 2000s. SERF magnetometers measure magnetic fields by using lasers to detect the interaction between alkali metal atoms in a vapor and the magnetic field.The name for the technique...

' (Latin nativa) and essoyne or essone 'circumstance giving exemption from a royal summons' (Latin sunnis, later replaced by essonia which is simply a reintroduction into Latin from the French form).

Until the early fourteenth century, Law French largely coincided with the French used as an everyday language by the upper classes. As such, it reflected some of the changes undergone by the northern dialects of mainland French during the period. Thus, in the documents mentioned above, 'of the king' is rendered as del rey, whereas by about 1330 it had become du roi (as in modern French) or du roy. During that century, however, this vernacular French suffered a rapid decline; the Pleading in English Act 1362
Pleading in English Act 1362
The Pleading in English Act 1362 , often rendered Statute of Pleading, was an Act of the Parliament of England. The Act complained that because the French language was much unknown in England, the people therefore had no knowledge of what is being said for them or against them in the courts, which...

 ("Statute of Pleading") acknowledged this change by ordaining that thenceforward court proceedings be conducted in English, which eventually developed into Legal English
Legal English
Legal English is the style of English used by lawyers and other legal professionals in the course of their work. It has particular relevance when applied to legal writing and the drafting of written material, including:...

. From that time, Law French lost most of its status as a spoken language. It remained in use for the 'readings' (lectures) and 'moots' (academic debates), held in the Inns of Court
Inns of Court
The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. All such barristers must belong to one such association. They have supervisory and disciplinary functions over their members. The Inns also provide libraries, dining facilities and professional...

 as part of the education of young lawyers, but essentially it quickly became a written language alone; it ceased to acquire new words, its grammar degenerated (by about 1500 gender was often neglected, giving rise to such absurdities as une home ('a (feminine) man') or un feme ('a (masculine) woman'), and its vocabulary became increasingly English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, as it was used solely by English lawyers and judges who often spoke no real French.

In the seventeenth century, the moots and readings fell into neglect, and the rule of Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

, with its emphasis on removing the relics of archaic ritual from legal and governmental processes, struck a further blow at the language. Even before then, in 1628, Sir Edward Coke acknowledged in his preface to the First Part of the Institutes of the Law of England that Law French had almost ceased to be a spoken tongue. It was still used for case-reports and legal text-books until almost the end of the century, but only in an extraordinarily debased form. A frequently quoted example of this ultimate degeneracy comes from one of Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
The Court of Common Pleas, also known as the Common Bench or Common Place, was the second highest common law court in the English legal system until 1880, when it was dissolved. As such, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas was one of the highest judicial officials in England, behind only the Lord...

 Sir George Treby
George Treby (judge)
Sir George Treby JP was a British justice and politician.-Early life and education:He was the oldest son of Peter Treby, a barrister at the Court of Common Pleas and his wife Joan. He was educated at Plympton School, and was accepted into Exeter College, Oxford in June 1660...

's marginal notes in an annotated edition of Dyer's
James Dyer
Sir James Dyer was a judge and Speaker of the House of Commons during the reign of Edward VI of England.Dyer was knighted at Whitehall on 9 April 1553, Strand Inn, preparatory 1520s, Middle Temple abt. 1530, called to the bar 1537?, bencher 1540s, serjeant-at-law 17 Oct...

 Reports, published 1688:
Thomas Richardson (judge)
Sir Thomas Richardson was successively Speaker of the House of Commons, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench.-Origins and early career:...

, Ch(ief) Just(ice)
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
The Court of Common Pleas, also known as the Common Bench or Common Place, was the second highest common law court in the English legal system until 1880, when it was dissolved. As such, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas was one of the highest judicial officials in England, behind only the Lord...

 of C(ommon) Bench
Court of Common Pleas (England)
The Court of Common Pleas, or Common Bench, was a common law court in the English legal system that covered "common pleas"; actions between subject and subject, which did not concern the king. Created in the late 12th to early 13th century after splitting from the Exchequer of Pleas, the Common...

 at the Assizes at Salisbury
Salisbury is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, England and the only city in the county. It is the second largest settlement in the county...

 in Summer 1631. There was an assault
In law, assault is a crime causing a victim to fear violence. The term is often confused with battery, which involves physical contact. The specific meaning of assault varies between countries, but can refer to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, or in the more...

 by a prisoner there condemned for felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

; who, following his condemnation, threw a brickbat at the said Justice, which narrowly missed. And for this, an indictment
An indictment , in the common-law legal system, is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that lack the concept of felonies often use that of an indictable offence—an...

 was immediately drawn by Noy
William Noy
William Noy was a noted British jurist.He was born on the family estate of Pendrea in St Buryan, Cornwall. He left Exeter College, Oxford without taking a degree, and entered Lincoln's Inn in 1594. From 1603 until his death he was elected, with one exception, to each parliament, sitting...

 against the prisoner, and his right hand was cut off and fastened to the gibbet
A gibbet is a gallows-type structure from which the dead bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. In earlier times, up to the late 17th century, live gibbeting also took place, in which the criminal was placed alive in a metal cage...

, on which he himself was immediately hanged in the presence of the Court.")

Survivals in modern legal terminology

The post-positive adjective
Post-positive adjective
A postpositive adjective is an adjective that appears after the noun that it modifies. In some languages this is the normal syntax, but in English it is rare, largely confined to archaic or institutional expressions. Aplenty, galore, and the informal extraordinaire are examples of adjectives that...

s in many legal noun phrase
Noun phrase
In grammar, a noun phrase, nominal phrase, or nominal group is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word optionally accompanied by modifiers such as adjectives....

s in English—attorney general
Attorney General
In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.The term is used to refer to any person...

, fee simple
Fee simple
In English law, a fee simple is an estate in land, a form of freehold ownership. It is the most common way that real estate is owned in common law countries, and is ordinarily the most complete ownership interest that can be had in real property short of allodial title, which is often reserved...

—is a heritage from Law French. Native speakers of French may not understand certain Law French terms not used in modern French or replaced by other terms: for example, the current French word for "mortgage" is hypothèque. Many of the terms of Law French were converted into modern English in the 20th century to make the law more understandable in common-law jurisdictions. However, some key Law French terms remain, including the following:
  • attorney, one appointed to act for another — now characterized as either:
    • attorney-at-law — see lawyer
      A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

      , solicitor
      Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally deal with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts. In the United Kingdom, a few Australian states and the Republic of Ireland, the legal profession is split between solicitors and barristers , and a lawyer will usually only hold one title...

      , barrister
      A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings and giving expert legal opinions...

       or civil law notary
      Civil law notary
      Civil-law notaries, or Latin notaries, are lawyers of noncontentious private civil law who draft, take, and record legal instruments for private parties, provide legal advice and give attendance in person, and are vested as public officers with the authentication power of the State...

    • attorney-in-fact — one who has power of attorney
      Power of attorney
      A power of attorney or letter of attorney is a written authorization to represent or act on another's behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter...

  • autrefois acquit, a peremptory plea
    Peremptory plea
    In the common law, the peremptory pleas are pleas that set out special reasons for which a trial cannot go ahead. They are the plea of autrefois convict, the plea of autrefois acquit, and the plea of pardon....

     that one has previously acquitted of the same offense.
  • bailiff
    A bailiff is a governor or custodian ; a legal officer to whom some degree of authority, care or jurisdiction is committed...

    , the marshal of the court, charged now chiefly with keeping order in the courtroom.
  • cestui que trust, sometimes shortened to cestui; the beneficiary of a trust
    Trust law
    In common law legal systems, a trust is a relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another...

  • culprit
    A culprit, under English law properly the prisoner at the bar, is one accused of a crime. The term is used, generally, of one guilty of an offence. In origin the word is a combination of two Anglo-French legal words, culpable: guilty, and prit or prest: Old French: ready...

    , now used to mean 'guilty party'. Originally a blending of Latin culpabilis ('guilty') and Law French prist ('ready'), a shortening of a conventional phrase prist del averer ('[I am] ready to prove [that the accused] is guilty as stated').
  • cy-près doctrine, the power of a court to transfer the property of one charitable trust to another charitable trust when the first trust may no longer exist or be able to operate.
  • defendant
    A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

    , the party against whom a civil proceeding is brought.
  • escheat
    Escheat is a common law doctrine which transfers the property of a person who dies without heirs to the crown or state. It serves to ensure that property is not left in limbo without recognised ownership...

    , reversion of unclaimed property to a feudal lord, or the state where the property is allodial
    Allodial title
    Allodial title constitutes ownership of real property that is independent of any superior landlord, but it should not be confused with anarchy as the owner of allodial land is not independent of his sovereign...

  • estoppel
    Estoppel in its broadest sense is a legal term referring to a series of legal and equitable doctrines that preclude "a person from denying or asserting anything to the contrary of that which has, in contemplation of law, been established as the truth, either by the acts of judicial or legislative...

    , prevention of a party from contradicting a position previously taken.
  • feme covert and feme sole - the legal status of adult married women and unmarried women, respectively, under the coverture
    Coverture was a legal doctrine whereby, upon marriage, a woman's legal rights were subsumed by those of her husband. Coverture was enshrined in the common law of England and the United States throughout most of the 19th century...

     principle of common law.
  • force majeure
    Force majeure
    Force majeure or vis major "superior force", also known as cas fortuit or casus fortuitus "chance occurrence, unavoidable accident", is a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of...

     - French for "superior force"; clause in some contracts that frees parties from liability for acts of God
    Act of God
    Act of God is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible.- Contract law :...

  • laches
    Laches (equity)
    Laches is an "unreasonable delay pursuing a right or a way that prejudices the [opposing] party" When asserted in litigation, it is an equitable defense, or doctrine...

     - loss of rights through failure to act.
  • mortgage - literally a "dead pledge"; a pledge by which the landowner remained in possession of the property he staked as security.
  • Statutes of Mortmain
    Statutes of Mortmain
    The Statutes of Mortmain were two enactments, in 1279 and 1290, by King Edward I of England aimed at preserving the kingdom's revenues by preventing land from passing into the possession of the Church. In Medieval England, feudal estates generated taxes upon the inheritance or granting of the estate...

     - statute
    A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from case law, decided by courts, and regulations...

     restricting the conveyance of land to the "dead hand" of a religious organization
  • oyez
    Oyez is a traditional interjection said three times in succession to introduce the opening of a court of law in the United States.Until the 18th century, speaking English in an English court of law was not required and one could instead use Law French, a form of French that evolved after the...

     - often calque
    In linguistics, a calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.-Calque:...

    d as hear ye!, a traditional cry used to open court proceedings, still used in the Supreme Court of the United States
    Supreme Court of the United States
    The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

  • parol evidence rule
    Parol evidence rule
    The parol evidence rule is a substantive common law rule in contract cases that prevents a party to a written contract from presenting extrinsic evidence that contradicts or adds to the written terms of the contract that appears to be whole...

    , a substantive rule of contract law which precludes extrinsic evidence from altering the terms of an unambiguous fully expressed contract; from the Old French for "voice" or "spoken word," i.e., oral, evidence.
  • parole
    Parole may have different meanings depending on the field and judiciary system. All of the meanings originated from the French parole . Following its use in late-resurrected Anglo-French chivalric practice, the term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their...

     - from the Old French for "voice" or "spoken word"; the release of a prisoner based on giving their word of honor to abide by certain restrictions.
  • plaintiff
    A plaintiff , also known as a claimant or complainant, is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court...

     - the person who begins a lawsuit.
  • pur autre vie
    Pur autre vie
    The French translation of pur autre vie is "for another's life." It is also spelled "pour autre vie" in modern French.- Property Law :Pur autre vie is a phrase used to describe the duration of a property interest in property law in the United States and some Canadian provinces...

     - Pour autre vie in modern French; means during the term of another person's life (used in lease
    A lease is a contractual arrangement calling for the lessee to pay the lessor for use of an asset. A rental agreement is a lease in which the asset is tangible property...

  • prochein ami - Law French for what is now more usually called next friend
    Next friend
    In common law, next friend is a phrase used to refer to a person who represents another person who is under disability or otherwise unable to maintain a suit on their own behalf and who does not have a legal guardian....

    . Refers to one who files a lawsuit on behalf of another not capable of acting on his or her own behalf, such as a minor
    Minor (law)
    In law, a minor is a person under a certain age — the age of majority — which legally demarcates childhood from adulthood; the age depends upon jurisdiction and application, but is typically 18...

  • profit a prendre - also known as the right of common, where one has the right to take the "fruits" of the property of another, such as mining rights, growing rights, etc.
  • recovery
    Common Recovery
    A common recovery was a fictitious legal proceeding in England to enable an entailed estate in land to be converted into absolute ownership, fee simple.As a preliminary, there needed to be a conveyance of the land...

     - originally a procedural device for clarifying the ownership of land, involving a stylised lawsuit between fictional litigants.
  • remainder
    Remainder (law)
    A remainder in property law is a future interest given to a person that is capable of becoming possessory upon the natural end of a prior estate created by the same instrument...

     - originally a substitution-term in a will
    Will (law)
    A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his/her estate and provides for the transfer of his/her property at death...

     or conveyance
    In law, conveyancing is the transfer of legal title of property from one person to another, or the granting of an encumbrance such as a mortgage or a lien....

    , to be brought into play if the primary beneficiary were to die or fail to fulfill certain conditions.
  • replevin
    In creditors' rights law, replevin, sometimes known as "claim and delivery," is a legal remedy for a person to recover goods unlawfully withheld from his or her possession, by means of a special form of legal process in which a court may require a defendant to return specific goods to the...

    , a suit to recover personal property unlawfully taken.
  • tort
    A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

    s, meaning wrongs.
  • trove, as in treasure trove
    Treasure trove
    A treasure trove may broadly be defined as an amount of money or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion found hidden underground or in places such as cellars or attics, where the treasure seems old enough for it to be presumed that the true owner is dead and the heirs undiscoverable...

    , is a noun, and means found. Thus treasure trove means not a treasure chest
    Treasure Chest
    Treasure Chest was a Catholic-oriented comic book series created by Dayton, Ohio publisher George A...

     or hoard
    In archaeology, a hoard is a collection of valuable objects or artifacts, sometimes purposely buried in the ground. This would usually be with the intention of later recovery by the hoarder; hoarders sometimes died before retrieving the hoard, and these surviving hoards may be uncovered by...

    , but a treasure found by chance, as opposed to one stolen, inherited, bought, etc. Trove should properly be a word of two syllables (Old French trové, modern French trouvé), but this is never observed today.
  • voir dire
    Voir dire
    Voir dire is a phrase in law which comes from the Anglo-Norman language. In origin it refers to an oath to tell the truth , i.e., to say what is true, what is objectively accurate or subjectively honest, or both....

     - literally "to say the truth"; the word voir (or voire) in this combination comes from Old French and derives from Latin verum, "that which is true" and is not related to the modern French word voir, which derives from Latin vidēre ("to see"). Voir dire refers to the questions a prospective juror or witness must answer to determine his qualification to serve, in the law of England
    England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

     a mini-trial held after a plea of guilty has been entered to determine the facts of the offence where they are in dispute. In a modern context thought of often as a mini-trial within a full trial to determine the admissibility of contested evidence. In a jury trial a voir dire is held before the judge but without a jury present. Voir dires may also be held in a trial by judge alone, but done, of course, in the presence of the judge.

See also

  • French language
    French language
    French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

  • Norman language
    Norman language
    Norman is a Romance language and one of the Oïl languages. Norman can be classified as one of the northern Oïl languages along with Picard and Walloon...

  • French phrases used by English speakers
  • Jersey Legal French
    Jersey Legal French
    Jersey Legal French, also known as Jersey French, is the official dialect of French used administratively in Jersey. Since the anglicisation of the island, it survives as a written language for some laws, contracts, and other documents. Jersey's parliament, the States of Jersey, is part of the...

  • Franglais
    Franglais , a portmanteau combining the French words "français" and "anglais" , is a slang term for an interlanguage, although the word has different overtones in French and English....

External links

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