‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.’
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (1872)
A big part of removing the mystique of law is understanding its crucial concepts. If you can get hold of these ideas early, you will save yourself much time, trouble and heartache later in the year.
Law often appears in technical language, the meaning of which is not always apparent to the uninitiated. It may be written in Latin (ultra vires,mens rea), French (chose in action,en ventre sa mère) or in obscure English (‘devise’ = give land by will, ‘determine’ = bring to an end). A good legal dictionary is therefore an important reference tool (see Appendix I for some recommended reading).
In this chapter, we focus on some of the crucial concepts that are often presumed in law. We begin with the different meanings of the word ‘law’, and then move on to some of the other concepts that will help you get started.