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Sanction
This is a very unusual word with two contradictory meanings. To "sanction" can mean to ratify or to approve but it can also mean to punish. The "sanction" of a crime refers to the actual punishment, usually expressed as a fine or jail term.
Sanctuary
A special criminal law option available in Medieval times to persons who had just committed a crime, allowing them to seek refuge in a church or monastery. There, they could be exempted from the normal prosecution which, in those days, was quite severe (see, for example, The Law's Hall of Horrors). But the ordeal, even within sanctuary, was no piece of cake. The fugitive had to remain within the walls of the sanctuary, abandon his or her oath to the king, followed which they had a short period of time to leave the country. They were considered to be "dead", so much so that their land was forfeited to the King and their wife considered to be a widow. If they refused to renounce their oath, they could be starved out of the sanctuary. Henry VIII of England even took to branding them with a hot iron before they left the country just in case they tried to return; they could then be quickly spotted and arrested. Abolished from the common law in 1624 and, in France, at the time of the Revolution, the principle of sanctuary continues today, in somewhat altered form, as diplomatic asylum under international law.
Scienter
Latin for knowledge. In legal situations, the word is usually used to refer to "guilty knowledge". For example, owners of vicious dogs may be liable for injuries caused by these dogs if they can prove the owner's "scienter" (i.e. that the owner was aware, before the attack, of the dog's vicious character).
Search warrant
A court order (i.e. signed by a judge) that gives a police the permission to enter private property and to search for evidence of the commission of a crime, for the proceeds of crime or property that the police suspect may be used to commit a crime. These court orders are obtained on the basis of a sworn statement by the requesting law enforcement officer and will precisely describe the place to be searched and, in some cases, the exact property being sought.
Seisin
The legal possession of property. In law, the term refers more specifically to the possession of land by a freeholder. For example, a owner of a building has seisin, but a tenant does not, because the tenant, although enjoying possession, does not have the legal title in the building.
Sentence
The punishment given to a person who has been convicted (i.e. found to be guilty) of a crime. It may be time in jail, community service or a period of probation.
Sequestration
The taking of someone's property, voluntarily (by deposit) or involuntarily (by seizure), by court officers or into the possession of a third party, awaiting the outcome of a trial in which ownership of that property is at issue.
Servient tenement
The land which suffers or has the burden of an easement. The beneficiary of the easement is called a dominant tenement.
Servitude
From Roman law, referring to rights of use over the property of another; a burden on a piece of land causing the owner to suffer access by another. An easement is type of servitude as is a profit a prendre.
Settlor
The person who actually creates a trust by donating property to be managed and administered by a trustee but from which all profits would go to a beneficiary. The law books of some countries refer to this person as a "donor."
Sexual harassment
A term used in human rights legislation and referring primarily to harassment in employment situations, related to sex or gender, which detrimentally affects the working environment. The most overt variation of sexual harassment is the quid pro quo offer of work-favor in exchange for sexual favor.
Sexual intercourse
Penetration of a man's penis into a woman's vagina.
Share
A portion of a company bought by a transfer of cash in exchange for a certificate, the certificate constituting proof of share ownership. Persons owning shares in a company are called "shareholders". There are two basic kinds of shares: common and preferred. A shareholder is not liable for the debts or other obligations of the company except to the extent of any commitment made to buy shares. The two other benefits of shares include a right to participate in profits (through dividends) and the right to share the residue of assets of the company, once liabilities have been paid off, if it is ever dissolved.
Shareholder agreement
A contract between the shareholders of the company and the company itself, in which certain things, usually the purview of the board of directors, are detailed. For example, a shareholder might be allowed to manage the company, instead of a board of directors. The shareholder agreement will also, typically, control inflows to the company (purchase of shares), how profits are to be distributed, dispute resolution and what to do if a shareholder dies.
Silent partner
A person who invests in a company or partnership but does not take part in administering or directing the organization; he or she just shares in the profits or losses.
Sine die
Adjourned without giving any future date of meeting or hearing. A court that adjourns sine die essentially dismisses the case by saying that it never wants to hear the case again! A meeting which adjourns sine die has simply not set a date for it's next meeting.
Slander
Verbal or spoken defamation.
Slander of title
Intentionally casting aspersion on someone's property including real property, a business or goods (the latter might also be called "slander of goods"). A form of jactitation. For example, stating that a house is haunted or alleging that a certain product infringes a patent or copyright.
Slavery
When a person (called "master") has absolute power over another (called "slave") including life and liberty. The slave has no freedom of action except within limits set by the master. The slave is considered to be the property of the master and can be sold, given away or killed. All the fruits of the slave's labor belongs to the master (see, for example, the extract from The 1740 South Carolina Slave Code in the History of the Law). Slavery was once very prevalent in the world but is now illegal in most countries.
Small claims
A regular court but which has simplified rules of procedure and process to deal with claims of a lesser value. Many jurisdictions have established small claims courts which, because of their structures and reliance on deformalized proceedings, allow for expedited hearings and where representation by lawyer is not required or encouraged. Some typical distinctive characteristics of small claims courts include the ability to serve by regular mail and to seize both a court and an adversary at far less cost than in ordinary courts.
Socage
A term of the feudal system which referred to the tenure which was exchanged for certain goods or services which were not military in nature. Socage is often described as "free and common socage" although the "free and common" qualification is now of a purely historical significance.
Sodomy
Synonymous with buggery and referring to "unnatural" sex acts, including copulation, either between two persons of the same sex or between a person and an animal (the latter act is known as "bestiality"). Most countries outlaw bestiality but homosexual activity is gradually being decriminalized.
Solicitor
A lawyer that restricts his or her practice to the giving of legal advice and does not normally litigate. that court room. In England and some other Commonwealth jurisdictions, a legal distinction is made between solicitors and barristers, the former with exclusive privileges of giving oral or written legal advice, and the latter with exclusive privileges of preparing and conducting litigation in the courts. In other words, solicitors don't appear in court on a client's behalf and barristers don't give legal advice to clients. In England, barristers and solicitors work as a team: the solicitor would typically make the first contact with a client and if the issue cannot be resolved and proceeds to trial, the solicitor would transfer the case to a barrister for the duration of the litigation. Lawyers in some states, such as Canada, sometimes use the title "barrister and solicitor" even though, contrary to England, there is no legal distinction between the advising and litigating roles. Canadian lawyers can litigate or give legal advice (as is the case in the USA, where lawyers are referred to as "attorneys").
Sovereign
Has two meanings. The first one is a technical word for the monarch (king or queen) of a particular country as in "the Sovereign of England is Queen Elizabeth." The other meaning of the word is to describe the supreme legislative powers of a state: that they are totally independent and free from any outside political control or authority over their decisions. The people of Quebec, for example, has, at times, supported governments which have proposed that Quebec become a "sovereign" state; that all legislative authority of the government of Canada over their territory cease and that the government of Quebec be enabled to regulate in any matter at all; and that the government of Quebec represent itself internationally.
Split custody
A child custody decision which means that legal custody goes back and forth between parents like a ping-pong ball, as they, in turn, take care of the child. They are very rare (for example, only 5% of all custody orders in the USA) because they works against consistent upbringing decisions for the child. Also known as "divided custody" although the latter concept is mostly used to describe split custody over greater periods of time such as alternate years with each parent.
Standing committee
A term of parliamentary law which refers to those committees which have a continued existence; that are not related to the accomplishment of a specific, once-only task as are ad hoc or special committees. Standing committees generally exist as long as the organization to which it reports. Budget and finance or nomination committees are typical standing committees of a larger organization.
Stare decisis
A basic principle of the law whereby once a decision (a precedent) on a certain set of facts has been made, the courts will apply that decision in cases which subsequently come before it embodying the same set of facts. A precedent which is binding; must be followed.
State
A term of international law: those groups of people which have acquired international recognition as an independent country and which have four characteristics; permanent and large population with, generally, a common language; a defined and distinct territory; a sovereign government with effective control; and a capacity to enter into relations with other states (i.e. recognized by other states). The USA, Canada and China are examples of states. States are the primary subjects of international law. The United Nations is comprised of all the states of the world. Some large states have subdivided into smaller units each having limited legislative powers normally restricted to subjects which are more properly regulated at a local, rather than a national level. Thus, the states of the USA are not really "states" under international law. It is common for the general public and English dictionaries to use the word "nations" to refer to what international law calls "states."
Statutes
The written laws approved by legislatures, parliaments or houses of assembly (i.e., politicians). Also known as "legislation". The written laws of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland, for example, are in a multi-volume set of books called the Statutes of Newfoundland.
Statutory rape
The common law definition of rape has not proven adequate to reflect modern values. It is limited to sex without consent and with a woman, and only where the victim is not the wife of the rapist. Many states have enacted laws which include under the charge of rape, sex with a minor even if done with the minor's consent, sex without consent regardless of whether the victim is male or female, and sex without consent regardless of the matrimonial bond between victim and rapist.
Statutory trust
A trust created by the effect of a statute. They are usually temporary in nature and serve the purpose of bridging ownership of property to benefit a certain class of individuals which the statute is designed to protect. Some examples are the temporary trusts that the law of some states impose on the executor of an estate, the holding and administration of tax or other pay deductions (including vacation pay) by employers, the trust accounts of lawyers and the statutory trust on money paid for a construction project on behalf of any person who might have a construction lien on the property.
Stirpes
Latin: the offspring of a person; his or her descendants. For example, inheriting per stirpes means having a right to a deceased's estate because you happen to be a descendant of the deceased.
Strict liability
Tort liability which is set upon the defendant without need to prove intent, negligence or fault; as long as you can prove that it was the defendant's object that caused the damage.
Subinfeudation
The process whereby, under the feudal system of tenure, a person receiving a grant of land from a lord, could himself become a lord by subdividing and subletting that land to others.
Sub judice
A matter that is still under consideration by a court. You will hear of politicians declining to speak on a certain subject because the subject matter is "sub judice".
Subordination
To be subject to the orders or direction of another; of lower rank.
Subpoena
Latin: an order of a court which requires a person to be present at a certain time and place or suffer a penalty (subpoena means, literally, "under penalty"). This is the traditional tool used by lawyers to ensure that witnesses present themselves at a given place, date and time to make themselves available to testify (see also duces tecum).
Subrogation
When you pay off someone's debt and then try to get the money from the debtor yourself. (Compare with "Novation".)
Subservient tenement
The real property that supports or endures an easement. The real property benefiting from an easement is called the dominant tenement.
Substituted service
If a party appears to be avoiding service of court documents, a request may be made with the court to, instead of personal service (i.e. giving the document directly to the person), that the document be published in a local newspaper, served on a person believed to frequent the person or mailed to his (or her) last known address.
Successor
A person who takes over the rights of another.
Sui juris
A person who possesses full civil rights and is not under any legal incapacity such as being bankrupt, of minor age or mental incapacity. Most adults are sui juris.
Summary conviction offence
In Canada, a less serious offence than indictable offences for which both the procedure and punishment tends to be less onerous.
Summons
In the USA, this is one of the initial documents issued in a civil suit; giving the defendant notice of the claim and an opportunity to defend it. The summons also gives the court which issues it the authority to dispose of the matter. In Canadian criminal law, this is the document used by the police to compel an accused to attend court to answer the charges. It does not involve the arrest of the accused and is used where the police, either by the relatively less serious nature of the crime or because of the standing of the accused in the community, do not believe that arrest is necessary to ensure the attendance of the accused at court.
Surety
The person who has pledged him or herself to pay back money or perform a certain action if the principal to a contract fails, as collateral, and as part of the original contract. Technically, where a person provides collateral after or before the original contract is signed, and as a separate contract, the person is called a "guarantor" and not a "surety."
Synallagmatic contract
A civil law term for a reciprocal or bilateral contract: one in which both parties provide consideration. A contract of sale is a classic example, where one party provides money and the other, goods or services. A gift is not a synallagmatic contract.

 

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Last modified: 01/31/03