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  • Importance of Legal Maxims 
  • Use of Latin Phrases in the Indian Legal System
  • A List of 100 Legal Maxims (A - Z) with meaning and references to relevant legal provisions 


A Legal Maxim is a well-established legal idea, proposal, principle, or doctrine, that is generally expressed in Latin. These terms are used on a regular basis in the legal system due to their precise meaning.

These principles guide the courts across the world in executing current laws wisely and equitably, allowing them to resolve issues before them. These principles do not have the authority of law, but when courts use them in legal matters or the legislature adopts them in enacting legislation, they take on the form of law and serve as the basis for sound judgments.

The origin of most of the maxims can be traced back to some of the European states of the mediaeval era. During the 16th and 17th centuries with the expansion of commerce and industry, the judges felt the need for wide authoritative principles to support their judgements as the common law of the mediaeval era proved of little or no significance while deciding in those cases.


1.    Legal maxims are used in order to avoid the usage of long definitions. For example., ‘ab initio’ which means ‘from the beginning’

2.    The usage of legal maxims in the right context makes the language even more transparent. Philosopher Francis Bacon mentioned in the preface of his book ‘Maxims of the Law that maxims would be used in “deciding doubts and helping soundness of judgement, but further in gracing argument, in correcting unprofitable subtly, and reducing the same to a more sound and substantial sense of law, in reclaiming vulgar errors, and generally in the amendment in some measure of the very nature and complexion of the whole law”

3.    The recurring nature of some of the legal maxims has also become a regular usage of the common people. For example., ‘bona fide’ which means ‘in good faith’.

4.    The legal maxims are, in general, incorporated in the form of environmental principles and human rights.


The use of Latin legal terminology has developed into a custom that has persisted throughout history, making its elimination challenging. Certain Latin words that date back to ancient times are still in use in the legal profession. It facilitates consistency in a legal language, which facilitates the interpretation of statutes and legal systems. Latin is essential for minimising ambiguity and allowing complicated ideas to be expressed succinctly.

At one time, the majority of modern-day Europe was under the rule of the Romans. Our legal system has adopted many of the Latin phrases from the Common Law of Rome since it was founded by the European colonists.



1.    A fortiori: With even stronger reason 

A fortiori argument is an ‘argument from a stronger reason’, which indicates that if one fact is true, then another related, connected, and included fact must also be true.

2.    A Priori: From what was before

It enables legal professionals to draw logical deductions and render legal conclusions grounded on established legal principles without exclusively relying on factual evidence.

3.    Ab extra: From outside

This maxim deals with a situation in which, apart from the real source, there is the presence of an external source. Any documentation or information supplied by a third party shall be considered ab extra.

4.    Ab Initio: From the beginning

In the case of Delhi Development Authority vs. Kochar Construction Work & Ors, the Supreme Court determined that the proceedings were ab initio flawed as they could not have been instituted since the relevant firm was not registered at the date of the proceedings.

5.    Absolute sententia expositore non indiget: An absolute judgement needs no expositor

According to this maxim, a clear and unambiguous text should be read according to its plain text (meaning) rather than consulting secondary sources of interpretation.

6.    Actio personalis moritur cum persona: A personal action dies with the person

According to the maxim, actions of tort or contract are destroyed by the demise of either the injured party or the party causing injury. Some legal causes can no longer be brought after a person’s death.

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

In the case of Sh. Kedar Nath Kohli vs. Sh. Shardul Singh, it was cited that 'actori incumbit onus probandi’ that the plaintiff or the prosecution has to bear the burden of proof. Due to the weakness in the defendant’s argument, the plaintiff can not assert that his claim is proven.

8.    Actus Dei Nemini Injuriam: No man is responsible for an act of god.

In the case of Mali Ram Mahabir Prasad vs. Shanti Debi & Ors, the court determined that a strike qualified as an act of God and held that the said maxim is applicable to such cases. The court additionally held that in abnormal situations like a strike in question, which can barely be opposed by any litigant by applying any amount of skill and competence, the courts should not insist on strike adherence to procedural law so as to prejudice such interests of litigants. From a legal perspective such situations are adequately covered by the expression ‘Act of God.’

9.    Actus Rea: Guilty Act

As required by the statute, it refers to the act or omission that makes up the physical elements of a crime.

10.    Ad hoc: For this purpose

In common usage, ad havoc is described as something that has been produced or carried out for a specific purpose usually for a temporary period of time.

11.    Ad hominem:  At the person

It serves to counter another argument. Rather than being grounded in facts, reasons, and logic, it is based on prejudiced feelings. It is often a personal attack on a person’s character or motive rather than an attempt to solve the actual problem at hand.

12.    Ad quaestionem facti non respondent judices: The judges do not answer a question of fact

It implies that the question of law will be resolved by the judge, while the question of fact will be resolved by the jury.

13.    Ad valorem: By the value

It implies that it is adaptable and based on the assessed value of an asset, product, or service. It is a tax that is charged by state and municipal governments and is determined by the assessed value of an item or property.

14.    Aequitas nunquam contravenit legem: Equity never contradicts the law

It is a concept that equity or law will not assist a person or party who is at fault. The law will not assist a person whose own fault is what caused the necessitated legal action.

15.    Affidavit: A sworn written statement usable as evidence in court

Section 3(3) of the General Clauses Act- It consists of affirmations and declarations directed at the individual’s case that the law allowed to affirm or show rather than swearing.

16.    Alibi: At another place, elsewhere 

When a person is accused of murder, he must demonstrate that he was elsewhere. The plea of alibi has to be entered as soon as possible, and it has to be sufficiently supported with evidence to the satisfaction of the court. The burden of proof lies on the accused, as he submitted the plea of alibi on the S. 103 of IEA.

17.    Amicus curiae: A friend of the court

An individual or organization that is not a party to a legal dispute, but is allowed to assist a court by offering information, expertise, or insight that is relevant to the issues raised by the case.

18.    Assentio mentium: The meeting of minds, i.e., mutual assent

It serves as the foundation of any agreement or contract. It is necessary to understand the terms and conditions of an agreement for two or more parties to enter into a legally binding agreement.

19.    Audi alteram partem: Hearing the other side

No one should be judged without a fair hearing in which all parties have an opportunity to respond to the evidence against them.


20.    Bona fide: Sincere, in good faith

It denotes honesty, and in the event of a party asserting title as a bona fide purchaser, it indicates innocence or a lack of information about any fact that would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the claim.

21.    Bona vacantia: Goods without an owner

It is possible that a bona vacantia property has been abandoned, mislaid, or forgotten by the owner. It can also refer to property left by a deceased person without heirs or legal will.

22.    Bonus judex secundum aequum et bonum judicat et aequitatem stricto juri praefert: A good judge decides according to justice and right and prefers equity to strict law

A good judge who upholds the principles of equity does not affect the concept of equity or the existing laws. The primary concern of a good judge is the welfare of the parties to the concerned case.


23.    Caditstio: The matter admits of no further argument

It is utilised to signify that an issue is no longer in question because the subject of a dispute between two parties has been either resolved or dropped.

24.    Causa proxima, non remota spectatur: The immediate and not the remote cause is to be considered

 When determining the reason behind any act or circumstances it is necessary to focus on the immediate cause rather than the remote cause. It is applicable for both marine and general insurance.

25.    Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware

It is the idea that places the responsibility on the consumer to be cautious when making a purchase, as they are responsible for assessing the quality and suitability of the products or services.

26.    Caveat Venditor: Let the seller beware

In the case of The Corporation Bank & Ors. vs.  Jayesh Kumar Jha, the Supreme Court and High Court’s judgements have replaced the rule of caveat emptor with caveat venditor, and as a result, when the property is put to sale, the bank is required by law to sell the secured asset with a clear title free from any encumbrance.

27.    Compos mentis: Stable, lucid, sane

The term is used to describe people with sound minds. People who possess mental faculties and are capable of using them to manage their affairs are considered to be mentally competent.

28.    Consensus ad idem: Meeting of minds

Consensus ad idem in contract law means that all the parties have reached a consensus and acknowledged the contractual obligations of each party.

29.    Contra: To the contrary

It serves as a signal that the cited source directly expresses a contradiction to the author’s assertion.

30.    Contra bonos mores: Against good morals

It refers to actions are contracts that violate our conscience and sense of Justice. Contracts that violate moral principles are not valid.

31.    Corrigenda: A list of things to be rectified 

 It is a document issued to make corrections to a document or publication that has been previously issued.

32.    Corpus delicti: The body, i.e., the gist of crime

It is the essential details that prove the existence of a crime. According to the Corpus delicti theory, the state must establish the existence of a crime before allowing a confession to be evidence.

33.    Crimen omnia ex se nata vitiat: it means crime vitiates everything, that springs from it

It is a part of both civil and criminal law. It states that a crime vitiates everything that results from the crime.


34.    Damnum sine injuria: Damage without injury

Damage without infringement of legal rights like money, loss of comfort, service, health etc. It speaks of the harm which the plaintiff is experiencing, but there is no violation of any legal right of the person. Gloucester Grammer School Case is the landmark case.

35.    De facto: In fact

The maxim is utilised to qualify a lot of legal concepts even when the formal legal conditions have not been satisfied. It refers to a legal practice or formality that is not specifically listed in the legislation. For eg. De facto guardians.

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

Dictum is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “obiter dictum.” It is any assertion or opinion expressed by a judge that is not necessary to support legal reasoning to make a judgement in a case.

37.    Doli incapax: Incapable of crime

According to this maxim, it is assumed that a child is incapable of developing the essential criminal intent to commit an offence. u/s 82 IPC (General Exception) it is believed that a child below the age of 7 years cannot commit an offence and it is an absolute immunity.

38.    Dominus Litis: master of the suit

According to the maxim, a party who initiates a legal action has the authority to direct the proceedings and determine how the matter is conducted.

39.    Detinue: Wrongful detention of goods after a person with a right to immediate possession has lawfully requested their return

 Detinue action aims to recover the goods that have been illegally detained by the defendant. The plaintiff has the right to file a lawsuit against the defendant for illegally holding the goods and does not surrender the same on proper lawful demand.

40.    Donatio mortis causa: Gift in anticipation of death

A gift given by someone who is in contemplation of impending death is also known as a ‘death bed.’  The subject matter of the gift passes to the person the deceased intended to benefit rather than to the personal representative.


41.    Ei incumbit probation, qui dicit, non qui negat: Proof lies with the accuser rather than the accused party

In the case of Workmen of Nilgiri Co-op Mkt Society Ltd vs. State of T.N, the Supreme Court applied the principle of the maxim, holding that it is a well-established legal principle that the burden of proof lies on the party establishing the existence of the employer-employee relation.

42.    Ejusdem Generis: Of the same class or kind

 In the case of Kavalappara Kottarathil Kochuni & Ors vs. The State of Madras & Ors, a five-judge constitutional bench held that the rule under the maximum is that when general words follow particular and specific words of the same nature the general words must be confined to things of the same kind as those specified, and certain terms need to belong to a distinct genus or category.

43.    Estoppel: Prevented from denying

 S-115 of IEA provides that Estoppel prohibits a person from contradicting, denying, or declaring to be false the prior statement made by the person in court.

44.    Ex parte: Proceedings in the absence of the other party

The term ex parte in civil procedure refers to motions for orders that can be granted without waiting for the opposing party to respond.

45.    Ex post facto: Out of the aftermath, or after the fact

Ex post facto determines the cause-and-effect relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable.


46.    Fraus est celare fraudem: It is a fraud to conceal a fraud

According to the maxim, a person, by hiding a fraud, thereby participates in the fraud or commits another fraud.

47.    Furiosi nulla voluntas est: A madman has no free will.

Mentally incapable persons can not validly sign a contract, will, or form the frame of mind necessary to commit a crime.


48.    Habeus Corpus: A writ to have a body of a person to be brought in before the judge

In the case of Bhim Singh Vs Union of India & Ors the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Pfiled the Habeas Corpus petition in the Supreme Court requesting the production of Anna Hazare, who was allegedly arrested just hours before he was to launch his fast against corruption, on grounds that it was an outraged act by the Delhi police commissioner and the Home Minister.


49.    Ignorantia juris non excusat: Ignorance of the law excuses not or ignorance of the law excuses no one

It explains how the law governs our every action. We have all sorts of laws, family law, criminal law, constitutional law etc. Ignorance of any of these laws can never be a valid justification.

50.    In absentia: In absence

In Re: Athipalayan & Ors the court held that in our criminal judicial system, firstly an accused is never tried or sentenced in absentia (s. 273 Evidence to be taken in the presence of the accused). Secondly, verdicts must be delivered in open court (u/s 327 CrPC & u/s 153 CPC) signed and dated. if these formalities are not strictly followed the conviction and sentence become vitiated and cannot be upheld as they become illegal.

51.    Injuria sine damno: Injury without damage

It refers to the infringement of a lawful right without resulting in any harm, loss or injury to the aggrieved party. The owner of the legal right has the right to file a lawsuit if the right is violated. Ashby v. White is a landmark case of Damnum Sine Injuria.

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

In defamation law, the concept of Innuendo refers to the concealment of a statement that is not immediately apparent. In some situations, the statement might seem innocent at first glance and may be found defamatory due to its hidden meaning. If Innuendo amounts to defamation, then a suit for compensation can be filed under civil law (tortious liability) and criminal action can be taken under s. 499 IPC.

53.    Inter vivos: Between living people

This phrase is primarily used in property law and discusses several legal actions taken by a living person during his lifetime such as providing gifts, creating trust or transferring property.

54.    Interest Reipublicae Ut Sit Finis Litium: There might be an end of litigation 

In the case of M. Nagabhushana Vs State of Karnataka & Ors, the maxim describes that disputes should be resolved in the best interest of the State, and no party ought to be vexed twice over the same issue.


55.    Jus in personam: Right against a specific person

This right is enforceable only against a specific individual or entity who is the subject of the claim. It is a personal right that imposes an obligation on a specific individual or entity.

56.    Jus in rem: Right against a thing

It is granted through the freedoms recorded in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, with its restrictions. Everyone is entitled to this privilege.

57.    Jus Necessitatis: A person’s right to do what is required for which no threat of legal punishment is a dissuasion.

 It expresses the principle that when an accused chooses a lesser evil to prevent, then he is a greater one; he is immune. An act by the accused to avert greater harm without any criminal intention falls under the guise of necessity.

58.    Jus non scriptum: Customary law

It implies customary laws that are not codified in written statutes but were orally passed down through generations.

59.    Jus scriptum: Written law

It implies the laws that are written down, documented, and recorded, unlike the laws that are passed down by tradition or customs.

60.    Justitia nemini negada est: Justice is to be denied to nobody

The phrase implies that justice ought to be accessible and available to everyone, irrespective of their social status, wealth, or authority.


61.    Lex Posterior Derogate Priori: A later law repeals an earlier law.

In the case of Life Insurance Corporation of India & Ors vs D.J. Bahadur & Ors, it was said that this maxim embodies a statutory interpretation principle that needs to be followed when there is a conflict between two statutes.

62.    Locus Standi: Right of a party to an action to appear and be heard by the court

In the case of Janata Dal vs. H.S. Chowdhury & Ors, the requirement of locus standi for a party in a litigation, is compulsory because the legal capacity of the party to any litigation whether in private or public action, with respect to any specific remedy sought must be primarily determined at the threshold.


63.    Mala fide: In bad faith

It is an act committed in poor faith or without honest intentions. Mala fide actions are often malicious and committed to harm others.

64.    Mandamus: We command

The Supreme Court, Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, has issued writs of mandamus to enforce fundamental rights and under Article 226, the High Court has issued writs of mandamus to enforce both fundamental and statutory rights.

65.    Mens rea: Guilty mind

It addresses not whether the person is guilty of the conduct but whether they are culpable in their minds.

66.    Modus operandi: Way of working

It is mainly used to address criminal behaviour and is often utilised by professionals to prevent future crimes.

67.    Mutatis Mutandis: With necessary changes having been made or with respective differences having been considered 

In Ashok Service Centre & Ors vs. State of Orissa, the meaning of the expression mutatis mutandis was considered and concluded that applying an earlier act provision to a later act brings in the idea of adaptation, but only to the extent that doing so is necessary to make changes without altering the essential nature of the thing changed the subject of course to express provisions made in the later act.


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

Article 20(2) of the Indian Constitution implements the Nemo bis punitur pro eodem delicto principle and ensures that a person shall not be prosecuted and punished twice for the same offence.

68.    Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire: No man at the point of death is presumed to lie

The dying declaration as per S- 32(1) of IEA  is the sole declaration that is made right before the demise. This concept rests on nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire, which means that a man will not meet his maker with a lie in his mouth.

69.    Nemo Potest esse tenens et dominus: Nobody can be both a landlord and a tenant of the same property 

A person can't be both a tenant and landlord at the same time. The one who pays rent and stays until the due date is known as the tenant, and the landlord is the one who owns the premises.

70.    Novation: A transaction in which a new contract is agreed upon by all parties to replace an existing contract

S- 62 of the Indian Contract Act 1872 recognises novation, stating that if parties agree to substitute, cancel, or amend a contract the original contract need not be performed.

71.    Nunc pro tunc: Now for then

The purpose of nunc pro tunc actions is to make corrections to the judicial system to address clerical issues, clear errors, or prevent injustice, and in doing so, more accurately reflect the original intention of the court. 


72.    Obiter dictum: That which is said in passing 

Obiter dictum is a judge’s opinion that is not required to be necessary in the court’s decision. It could be an opinion, fleeting comments, or examples, cited by a judge. Therefore, obiter dictum statements are not considered binding. State of Meghalaya vs. Sujata Gupta & Ors.

73.    Onus Probandi: Burden of Proof 

Sections 101 to 103 of the Indian Evidence Act address the burden of proof. It includes the principles of Onus Probandi and Factum Probans. Onus probandi dictates that a party asserting an affirmative claim must prove it.


74.    Pacta Sunt Servanda: Agreements must be kept, or agreements are legally binding

The maxim suggests that the involved parties to the agreement must do their best to carry out their responsibilities under it.

75.    Particeps criminis: One who takes part in the crime

It describes a person who is involved either as an accomplice or as a co-conspirator in a crime. This indicates that they are aware of the illegal action and may have contributed to its planning or execution.

76.    Pendente lite: During the suit

A pendente lite order is used in divorce proceedings to provide support to the lower-income spouse while the case is pending.

77.    Per curiam (decision or opinion): By the court

Rather than coming from a specific judge, this is a court opinion issued in the name of the court.

78.    Per se: By itself

In the legal context, it refers to the idea that, without referring to any other proof, something must be accepted as inherent or self-evident.

79.    Prima facie: At first sight

A matter that seems to be sufficiently based on the evidence to be accepted as true.

80.    Palimony: Payment from one party to another after separation from a relationship.

It is a form of financial support that can be awarded to the partner of an unmarried couple at the end of the relationship.


81.    Quantum meruit: What one has earned

A claim based on quantum meruit is allowed by S. 70 of the Indian Contract Act, which says that when someone legally helps a person and does so ‘non gratuitously’ and the latter enjoys the benefit of it, he is bound to compensate the provider

82.    Quid pro quo: Something for something

In the case of the Municipal Corporation of the city of Baroda vs. Babubhai Himatlal, the principle of quid pro quo was applied to come to the conclusion that the Standing Order does not impose a compulsory levy but only gives an option. Consideration under s. 2 (d) of the Indian Contract Act applied this principle.

83.    Qui sentit commodum, sentire debet et onus: Privilege is subject to its conditions

The maxim means that whoever enjoys the benefit must also incur the burden; therefore, the person who values the advantage of rights must also be willing to accept the drawbacks.

84.    Quo warranto: By what authority. 

A quo warranto is issued by the court to investigate the validity of an individual’s claim to a public office.


85.    Ratio dendi: The reason for the decision 

It refers to the legal, moral, political, and social concepts used by the court to form a rationale for a specific judgement.

86.    Respondeat superior: Let the master answer

It is commonly practised in the law of torts that an employer or principal is legally accountable for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent if such acts take place within the course of their employment.

87.    Res ipsa loquitur: The thing speaks for itself

In the case of Syad Akbar vs. State of Karnataka, it was expressed that Res ipsa loquitur is a principle that belongs to the law of tort, and the exclusion of the said principle in criminal trials clarified two facets of the said maxim's applicability. This maxim finds its place under section 304A IPC.

88.    Res Judicata: A matter already judged

Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908: An issue that has already been judged on its merits and cannot be litigated again between the same parties.

89.    Res Judicata Pro Veritate Accipitur: A judicial decision must be accepted as correct

A decision of a judicial authority must be acknowledged as correct. If the judicial decision is not respected as decisive, then there will be indefinite litigation, resulting in confusion and disorder.

90.    Rex non protest peccare: The king can do no wrong

The doctrine of sovereign immunity, developed from the concept of Rex non protest peccare, shields the sovereign including the government or its branches, departments, and agencies, from lawsuits without their consent.


91.    Status quo: State of things as they are now

Status quo is an interim order that instructs the concerned parties involved to maintain their current position until the court makes further determinations.

92.    Sine die: With no day

When an advocate refers to a case being adjourned sine die it means that the matter was concluded without a new date for another hearing or meeting being scheduled.

93.    Sine qua non: Without which nothing 

It is a situation in which a certain act is a contributing factor to a certain harm or wrongdoing, without which the injury would not have occurred.

94.    Sub Silentio: Under Silence

In the case of Arnit Das vs. State of Bihar, it was expressed that a decision not stated, not supported by reason, and not proceeding on a conscious consideration of a matter can not be a law that is declared to have a binding effect as is intended by Article 141.

95.    Suo Motu: On its own motion

It is a crucial component of the Indian Judiciary’s authority, allowing the courts to address urgent matters and defend the rights and interests of the people.


96.    Uberrima fides: Utmost good faith

It requires contracting parties to provide the most complete disclosure of any relevant conditions, circumstances, or hazards to their counterparts.

97.    Ubis ibi remedium: Where there is a right, there is a remedy

Under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it is mentioned that there is always a remedy in life in case of any violation of our rights.


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

The president’s choice over the bill is called the veto power. The veto power of the President of India is guided by Article 111 of the Indian Constitution. It is of three kinds: absolute, suspensive, and pocket. The Indian President is said to have the power of Pocket Veto.

99.    Vis major: Act of God

In the case of Ramalinga Nadar Vs. Narayan Reddiar, the plaintiff made a transportation reservation with the defendant for goods. The goods were looted by a mob, which the defendant could not prevent. It was decided that an event beyond the defendant’s control could not be considered an act of God. It was held that the violent actions of the mob could not be considered an act of God.

     100. Volentit injuria: Damage suffered by consent gives no cause of action

Section 87 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is based on the principle of volenti non fit injuria. It implies that if a person gives his permission to a specific event and gets hurt, he will not be able to hold that person accountable for his hurt.


These Latin phrases support a good understanding of legal concepts, aiding in the interpretation of legal principles. One essential competency of legal professionals is the comprehension and application of legal maxims.

Numerous legal maxims have been adopted with respect to the circumstances in which they are to be used. Many unique legal maxims are applied on a regular basis in various court procedures as well as  other sectors.

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