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Common law litigation terms(Part 1): Names of parties and some common Latin terms

Updated: 5 days ago

In this article, I am going to go over and define some of the terms for the parties in litigation, and some common Latin terms in the common law legal system.

Plaintiff: The Plaintiff is the party pursuing a civil action, such as a lawsuit, against another party. Generally, the Plaintiff has the duty of proving their claim on a balance of probabilities.

Regina/Rex: Latin for "Queen/King", often referred to as "the Crown", is the prosecution and party pursuing a charge, or multiple charges, against an accused ("Defendant"). The Crown works on behalf of the government and public pursuing criminal or administrative offences. Generally, the prosecutor must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt..

Applicant: An applicant is the pursuing party to a petition or application at a court or tribunal. The applicant is similar to a Plaintiff but the proceedings will be different. Often, the person appealing a decision will be referred to as the Applicant. Generally, the burden of proving the case is on the Applicant.

Defendant: The Defendant is the party responding to allegations about themselves in either a criminal, administrative, or civil court. Generally, the burden of proving the claim is on the party in opposition to the Defendant. In a criminal case a Defendant is considered innocent unless proven guilty.

Respondent: The Respondent is the party in opposition to an Applicant.

Ratio decidendi: Latin for "the reason for the decision", is the analysis, principles, law, and facts, outlined by a judge or quasi-juridical decision maker that explains the result, order, or judgment. The reasons for the decision are important for appeals and reviews, but they can also hold influence over how future cases are decided under stare decisis (outlined below).

Stare decisis: Latin for "stand by previous decisions" is a principle that binds courts by previous precedents made by relevant courts on the same, or similar, issues. This is supposed to result in similar fact patterns resulting in the law being interpreted consistently. Although precedents are generally binding, the facts of a specific case are unique and can be distinguished from previous precedents. Laws which were used in the original precedent may have since changed, as well as the precedents relied on in the original reasoning.

Obiter dicta: Latin for "passing comments", are comments made by a judge in their decision or judgment that may analyze or comment on a legal issue or findings of fact that are not relevant to the issue being decided. This results in the comments or analysis not being binding on precedent. Often the comments speculate on how a law or fact pattern may be interpreted if it were to come before a decision maker. These comments can be influential on future decisions and may be used as a framework for future decisions but are not biding in and of themselves.

Res judicata: Latin for "a matter decided" is the principle that a case featuring the same parties and the same allegations of fact should not be heard or tried again after a final decision has been made. It is important to note that the court or tribunal making the decision is not a party to the legal proceedings and that, generally, filing a new claim, applications, etc. in a different court or tribunal featuring the same parties and facts will, alone, generally not be enough to prevent the claim, application, etc. from being precluded. Exceptions do apply to this principle. It is worth noting than an appeal or review of a decision is not a rehearing of the same case and they serve different functions.

Pro se: Latin for "on one's own behalf" and means that a party to a proceeding is self-represented.


Now you know some English and Latin legal terms used in common law legal systems. Joseph S. Phillip Gelinas of Gelinas Limited Scope Legal Services provides limited scope legal services in Saskatchewan and is offering a free no-obligation to retain 30-minutes phone consultation. To schedule a consultation, contact Joseph Gelinas at 705 737 6451 or For some information on how I have authority to provide these services and what my permissible scope of practice is, click here.

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