Skip to main content


Jump to definitions:

Law Society of England and Wales
Legal Aid 
Legal argument
Legal Executive
Life Sentence 

Law Society of England and Wales

Established in 1825, the Law Society is the representative body for solicitors in England and Wales. Its head office is in Chancery Lane.


The term "lawyer" is ambiguous as it is generic and could refer to either a solicitor or barrister.

Sometimes Legal Executives are also referred to as lawyers or "Legal Executive Lawyers".
It is wrong to use the term "lawyer" to describe anybody working in the law (including paralegals, caseworkers and clerks) as it tends to suggest that the lawyer is qualified and holds a practicing certificate. It is a criminal offence for an individual to hold themselves out as a solicitor or a barrister.

Legal Aid

"Legal Aid" is a term used to describe publicly fund legal services.

The government claims to provide funding for legal aid to help people:-

  • Protect their basic rights and get a fair hearing
  • Access the court process to sort out disputes-Solve problems that contribute to social exclusion.

If a litigant is able to obtain legal aid, his/her solicitor will be paid by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) (the government body responsible for administering legal aid) direct. In some circumstances, the litigant might be expected to make a contribution.

Despite apparent safeguards to the right to legal representation in the European Convention on Human Rights, the availability of legal aid remains in decline and is the source of much friction between lawyers and the government.

Legal aid is available for some civil matters, subject to the merits of the case and the means of the litigant. In other cases, litigants may have to find a solicitor willing to act under a "conditional fee agreement" or fund the case privately.

Legal aid for criminal matters is in a state of flux. Legal aid was previously available for individuals arrested or charged with most moderate to serious offences regardless of their income. However, recently means testing has been introduced in the Magistrates' Court for all matters and is due to be introduced into the Crown Court (in addition to a merits test to determine whether the case is serious enough to justify legal aid).

Whether a firm of solicitors will act for a litigant on a legal aid basis will depend on whether it holds a contract with the LSC allowing it to undertake that type of work.

Legal argument

Legal argument is the term used to describe submissions made to a court on a point of law arising in proceedings.

In a Crown Court criminal trial legal argument should normally take place in the absence of the jury. For example, it may be that the legal argument concerns the admissibility of a particular piece of evidence. The jury will therefore often be asked to leave the court room whilst the argument takes place, returning once the judge has made a ruling on the matter.

Legal Executive

Legal Executives are fee-earners who work under the supervision of solicitors.

The range of activities undertaken by Legal Executives is wide-ranging, and the role performed by different Legal Executives may vary from that of a paralegal to one almost identical to that of solicitor. It is not unusual for competent Legal Executives to run cases.

Legal Executives are regulated by the Institute of Legal Executives and will have obtained qualifications from this body.


Libel is a cause of action against an individual or organisation which has published a defamatory statement about the Claimant. A defamatory statement is one that is likely to harm the reputation of the Claimant. It will tend to make the average person think less of the Claimant.

The term "published" refers to the communication of the defamatory statement in a permanent form (as opposed to slander which is spoken). This will typically be in writing (e.g. in a newspaper, book or on a website). However, a libel could also be published in some other form of permanent media (e.g. film). A libel will often be committed by more than one party involved in the publication (e.g. a journalist and a newspaper's owner) and a fresh cause of action will arise every time the defamation is republished.

There are a number of defences to libels claims:-


Justification - proving that the statement is true - is the most comment defence in libel claims. Once a statement has been shown to be defamatory, the burden of proof will be on the Defendant to prove statement is true (it is not for the Claimant to prove it is false).

Innocent dissemination

The defence of innocent dissemination may be available to publishers who were not aware that they had published defamatory material, but took all reasonable steps when they became aware of the material's existence. This defence is particularly relevant to websites that allow users to post material on their site directly (i.e. without any editorial process). In this example, the owner/editor of the website would be expected to remove the offending material within a reasonable time in order to avail himself of the defence.


Statements made in parliament or court is protected by "Absolute Privilege". Thus, anything can be said in parliament or a court without the fear of a defamation claim being brought. "Qualified Privilege" allows the accurate reporting of parliamentary or court proceedings. Qualified Privilege also allows the transmission of information from one party to another where there is a genuine legitimate interest in the recipient receiving the information. Recently the defence of Qualified Privilege has been expanded and raised in the context of responsible journalism.

Fair comment

A statement that would otherwise be defamatory may be subject to the defence of "fair comment" if it was clear that it was a matter of opinion and made in the public interest. The defence might be relevant to theatre reviews etc., where there is no malice just honest opinion. In 2010 the Supreme Court stated that this defence might be better termed "honest comment".

Libel trials are one of the few types of civil trials that are heard by a jury (although they are not always, particularly if there is a substantial amount of documentation involved). A judge will determine whether the statement is capable of being defamatory and then a jury will determine whether the words were actually defamatory and, if so, the amount of damages that should be awarded. Unlike slander, where in most cases it is necessary to prove special damages (i.e. actual loss), the court can award general damages for the harm done to the Claimant's reputation.

There are strict time limits relating to defamation claims. They should normally be brought within one year.

Life Sentence

A "life sentence" can be imposed for a number of offences and is mandatory for a defendant convicted of murder.

A defendant may be subject to an automatic life sentence when convicted of a second serious sexual or violent offence, unless exceptional circumstances apply.

A life sentence does not mean that an individual will literally spend the rest of his/her life in prison. In fact the average amount of time served by an individual sentenced to life imprisonment is about 15 years.

At the time of sentencing the judge will set a "tariff", which is the minimum length of imprisonment an individual must served before being considered for release on parole. Release upon the expiry of the tariff period is not automatic. Release will only take place once the Parole Board is satisfied that the risk of harm the individual poses to the public is acceptable. The individual could therefore remain in prison for many more years on preventative grounds after he/she has served the punitive period of imprisonment set by the sentencing judge (the tariff).

An individual who is subject to a life sentence will remain "on licence" after release for the rest of his/her life and will be subject to the supervision of the Probation Service. He/she may be recalled if they are determined to be a risk to the public.


Litigation is the process of contesting proceedings in court, whether criminal or civil.
A party involved in litigation is known as a "litigant".

An unrepresented party is known as a "litigant in person".