Varieties of Legal English in the UK

My students of Legal English often ask me why I label certain British legal terms as “UK” and others as “E&W” (England and Wales). It is important to note that the legal terminology of England and Wales often differs from the terminology of the rest of the UK, especially Scotland, but also sometimes Northern Ireland. England and Wales share the same law, modern Scots law is often described as “hybrid” (having its roots in civil law), and Northern Ireland likewise has its own legal system. Moreover, the laws enacted by the UK Parliament in London are not necessarily applicable throughout the whole United Kingdom. When accessing UK legislation (www.legislation.gov.uk), one of the “Advanced Features” available under the “Content” tab  says “show geographical extent.” If we check “show geographical extent” for the Companies Act 2006, a small purple banner appears with the message “E+W+S+N.I.,” indicating that this piece of legislation is applicable  throughout the UK. If we do the same for the Civil Procedure Act 1997, the little purple banner says “E+W,” since that law is only applicable in England and Wales.

As examples of just how different English and Scottish legal terms can be, in civil procedure the English “claimant” (demandante—“plaintiff” in the US) is the “pursuer” in Scotland, while the defendant (demandado) is the “defender.” Criminal cases that are prosecuted in England and Wales by a “Crown Prosecutor” (fiscal) are prosecuted in Scotland by a “Procurator Fiscal.” And the English crimes of “manslaughter” (homicidio involuntario), “burglary” (robo con fuerza en las cosas) and “arson” (incendio provocado) are known as “culpable homicide,” “house-breaking” and “fire-raising” north of the Anglo-Scottish border.

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