Property law is littered with Latin words and phrases and, given the chance, property lawyers will slip a Latin expression into a legal document as quickly as Hermione Granger can say “Wingardium Leviosa” (That’s LeviOsa, not LeviosA).
But what do these Latin words mean and are they really as magical as lawyers would like to make you believe? Or, are they just a Confundus Charm to bamboozle muggles?
Here is a very short list of some of the expressions commonly used by property lawyers:
- Mutatis Mutandis – this is a phrase that is often found in property documents.
It’s Latin, it’s from “The Lion King” and it means “No worries for the rest of your life”.
Okay, the first bit is true – it is Latin.
But, it actually means “after making the necessary changes” and is a caution to the reader when using one example to illustrate a related but slightly different situation. It is used to avoid repeating basically the same wording and is often similar in effect as saying “vice versa”.
- Caveat Emptor – this is the name I gave to a cocktail I created for an office party and it means “Let the buyer beware”. The basic premise is that a purchaser buys at its own risk and should examine and test a product for any obvious defects and imperfections before doing so i.e. when buying a property a purchaser should rely on its own inspection and survey.
- Bona Vacantia – no, this is not Latin for “Happy Holidays”. It refers to ownerless property e.g. a property owned by a person who dies without heirs or property owned by a dissolved company which, by law, automatically passes to the Crown.
- Uberrima Fides – when I was at Law College my lecturer told the class that this meant “You’ve buried my dog”.
Rather, it is a concept in contract law specifying that all parties must act with the “utmost good faith” declaring all relevant facts to the other side even if these are not requested. It is a legal doctrine that usually governs insurance contracts.
- Nec vi nec clam nec precario – which sounds like a curse uttered by “He Who Must Not Be Named” (that’s Voldemort, the Dark Lord himself).
But, sadly it isn’t.
It is the principle by which rights may be built up over period of time and principally relates to rights of way e.g. if a path is used openly “without force, without secrecy, and without permission” of the landowner for 20 years then a permanent legal right of way is usually established.
Lawyers use Latin terms because they are a convenient shorthand and arguably more precise than English.
However, if you use them appropriately, you too could feel as magical as the greatest wizard of them all, Albus Dumbledore.
That is before he died in the penultimate Harry Potter book because, to be honest, he wasn’t quite so magical afterwards.
This blog post was written by legal director Chris Cheatle.