UK Driving Law Legal Terms

An alphabetical list of some of the legal terms you might encounter during driving-related legal proceedings.

For driving offences please see our more detailed pages here.

Where a court case has been put ‘on hold’. The courts will adjourn for a number of reasons and at different times during the trial process.

A lawyer who appears in a court of law and presents a case on someone’s behalf.

A formal request for the decision of a court to be changed. Defendants in the UK have the right to appeal a sentence or a conviction but must do so following strict timelines and legal protocols.

The attendance of a defendant or their instructed legal representative at court. These range from initial administrative hearings, through arraignment, to the trial itself.

The court appearance where the accused is formally indicted or charged with a criminal offence and enters a ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ plea. This is usually the final court appearance before commencement of a criminal trial.

Where a defendant can be released from custody. Sometimes conditions will be imposed in an effort to ensure their future attendance at court or at a police station.

A judge presiding in a court case or the collective noun for a group of judges. Often used to describe the constitution of the magistrates court.

Case law
Past rulings of the higher courts which might be cited as precedent. The decisions of Higher courts must be followed in lower courts if they are based on similar facts.

Circumstantial evidence
Evidence which allows judge or jury to logically deduce facts which cannot be directly proven but can be ascertained from other, undisputed facts.

Committal Proceedings
Where magistrates decide if there is sufficient evidence for a serious case to be sent to the Crown Court.

Conditional Discharge
If convicted and given a conditional discharge by a court, the defendant is not punished unless they later commit a further offence whilst the conditional charge is still in force. Conditional discharges usually last for a year.

Constructive Manslaughter
Is where there is no intention commit murder or GBH but the defendant commits an illegal act, which is dangerous and causes death.

Where the defendant is found guilty by a criminal court. Once convicted the defendant will be sentenced.

Where defence or prosecution questions the witness after he has been initially questioned by the prosecution or defence.

Crown Court
The UK courts where trials for serious criminal offences take place, before a judge, and usually a jury. Less serious matters will generally be heard in a magistrates court.

A witness statement made under oath.

The process by which prosecution and defence each make known all the documentation to be used in a court case, according to strict timings, rules and protocols. The rise of digital communications, for example texting and social media, has made the process increasingly complex and failure by the prosecution to follow correct procedure has resulted in many UK cases being dropped amidst a great deal of controversy.

Duty Solicitor
A rota system allows for a criminal defence solicitor to be available 24 hours a day to assist anyone suspected of or charged with a criminal offence. Duty solicitors are usually from a local firm and while qualified, and independent of the courts or the police, they may or may not have specialist knowledge of motoring law.

Either Way Offence
An offence which can be tried in either a magistrates or a Crown Court.

Examination In Chief
Where defence or prosecution question their own witnesses in court.

Expert Witness
A witness with specialist knowledge who testifies in court.The expert is allowed to give opinion evidence as opposed to evidence of his own perception. This might include, for example, someone with medical or forensic expertise. NGP have a comprehensive register of expert witnesses we call on where beneficial to our clients.

Fitness To Plead
The defendant has mental capacity to enter a plea and understand the nature of the offence.

Forensic Evidence
Scientific evidence, for example DNA, used in a court case. Usually such evidence would be provided by and expert witness.

Someone legally appointed to look after the interests of a minor or an individual incapable of dealing with his own affairs.

Admissible evidence based on the reported words of another person who is not present in court to take an oath.

Hostile Witness
A witness who either refuses to testify in favour of the party (defence or prosecution) who called them to give evidence, or whose testimony varies from their original witness statement.

Indictable Offence
An offence deemed sufficiently serious to be sent to crown court for trial i.e. too serious to be handled in a magistrates court. Examples would include rape, murder and robbery.

A formal document stating the offence(s) a defendant is charged with.

Involuntary Manslaughter
Where death is caused without intention but through an illegal act (constructive manslaughter), or by an act of gross negligence.

Judge in Chambers
A hearing in front of a judge which does not take place in a court room.

Judgement in Default
A judgement usually entered when a defendant fails to file a defence but can be where he fails to observe a court order.

Justifying Bail
Proving the conditions of bail can be met, in particular that the sureties (for example financial or property) are available.

Leading Question
A question that either suggests the answer expected or that assumes the existence of disputed facts to which the witness is to testify.

Legal Aid
A scheme where public funds pay for legal representation for those who cannot afford it privately.

Magistrates Court
The lowest level court in the UK, where minor criminal cases will be heard. More serious crimes go to trial at Crown Court.

Doing something, essentially legal, wrongly as opposed to not doing something at all that should have been done

Can be voluntary or involuntary. You can be charged with involuntary manslaughter but not voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is where the defence of murder is reduced to manslaughter due to a defence being successful. Involuntary manslaughter essentially takes two forms, either that of constructive manslaughter or gross negligent manslaughter.

Material Facts
All facts that must be proved in order to establish the ground of claim or defence are material

Miscarriage Of Justice
Where the legal system fails to give justice, for example by convicting someone who is innocent.

When a Crown Court judge gives incorrect or misleading direction(s) to a jury.

A trial adjudged to be invalid.

An attempt to keep the sentence to a minimum.

Where you owe a duty to someone and breach that duty, resulting in damages. Many road accidents involve an element of negligence. When using the highway a duty is owed to other users.

Penalty Points
Points given to motorists as punishment for various driving offences. An accumulation of 12 points can lead to a driving ban.

Perverting the Course Of Justice
Interfering with the justice system, for example by coercing or intimidating a witness, or by giving false or misleading evidence to a court.

Pretending to be someone else in order to mislead.

Plea Bargaining
A plea bargain is where the accused agrees to plead guilty to a lesser crime than originally charged with, or to some, but not all, of a number of crimes, in return for a more lenient sentence.

See case law.

Probation means you’re serving your sentence but you’re not in prison. You could be put on probation because, you’re serving a community sentence or you have been released from prison on licence or on parole.

Queens Evidence
Testimony by a person involved in a crime who implicates another party in exchange for a lighter sentence or immunityfrom prosecution.

The period before a trial starts where the accused is either held in custody or allowed out on bail.

​Senior Courts
The senior courts consist of the Court of Appeal, high Court and Crown Court. Above all of these is the Supreme Court formerly known as the House of Lords.

Spent Conviction
A conviction which, after a set period of time, no longer has to be revealed to a court in any subsequent cases.

Statute Law
A law created by Parliament. Known as an act or a statute.

Sub Judice
A matter that cannot be reported on whilst under judicial consideration.

A court writ requiring a witness to attend the court at a particular time on a given date.

Summary Offence
A case which can only be heard in a magistrates court, that is, not a serious enough offence to go to trial at crown court.

An order for the defendant to attend a court at a particular time on a given date in relation to a particular issue.

Suspended Sentence
A sentence of imprisonment that is not put into effect but held over the convicted person on condition they behave. If they do not the sentence takes effect.

Take the Stand/Taking the Stand
To give evidence under oath in a court case.

Testifying at trial.

The formal proceedings where a judge and/or jury (or magistrate) assess the evidence in a case .and decide whether the accused is innocent or guilty and if guilty sentence them.

The finding of a judge and/or jury (or magistrate) as to the guilt or innocence of an accused person. In the UK verdicts are either ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. In Scotland there is a third verdict, ‘not proven’.

Vicarious Liability
Where one person, himself is blameless but is held liable for another person’s conduct. The most widely used example is the employer’s liability for his employee.

Voluntary Manslaughter
Where a person is charged with murder and has a defence to murder which reduces the charge to voluntary manslaughter.

A person who gives evidence; in court such evidence must be given on oath or by affirmation.

Witness Statement
The signed and dated, written testimony of a witness in a court case. Providing a false witness statement can result in conviction for the offence of perjury.

Young Offender
In UK law, someone between the ages of 14 and 17 years old who has committed an offence.