In this series, we will look at some basic aspects of the English legal system. The aim of the series is to build important vocabulary and also for you to develop a general understanding of the English legal system, which is probably very different to your own, and how it works.

We suggest that you work through each part of the series in order. The series is designed to build vocabulary which is needed for future posts in the series.

We also suggest that you try to develop the habit of writing down short meanings for new words and phrases that you learn. This will not only help you understand the word or phrase better but will also help you develop and practice your written skills. As we have said many times, it is almost always more important for international lawyers and law students to have excellent written skills.

If you do not already do so, try to use an English dictionary when you meet new words, rather than a bilingual one. There are many reasons for this. If you have an English legal dictionary, it is a good habit to try to use it. Some words have a special ‘legal’ meaning which may not be obvious from an ordinary English dictionary.

Try to work through the series purposefully. By that, we mean to actively look for and take note of different words and phrases you meet. As we progress, many of the words and phrases will become very familiar, so if it seems difficult at first, don’t worry.

Look carefully for chunks [1] of language, as well as individual words. An example of a chunk of language might be:

to create a precedent

In this chunk of language, we can see a verb, ‘to create’ and a noun, ‘a precedent’. These two parts of speech go together to form a larger chunk of language which sounds natural to the English ear. This is called 'collocation'.

At the end of this post, you will find ten important words that we will be meeting a lot in this series. See if you can match each of the words, 1-10, with its meaning (a)-(j). Then there are two language exercises to try, if you wish.

In the next part in this series, we will start to look at some of the sources of English law. We will begin by looking at case law.

Text Notes:

[1] a ‘chunk’ is a large piece of something.

Exercise 1

Match the following words with their meanings. The first one is done for you:

1. body (c)

2. judiciary

3. judicial

4. legislation

5. hierarchy

6. precedent

7. codify

8. statute

9. criminal law

10. civil law

(a) to arrange a range of laws or rules into a single, systematic collection

(b) a law or a set or laws passed or made official by a parliament

(c) a group of people who have joined together to form a group or organisation for a particular reason

(d) the system of law which deals with punishing people who break the law

(e) an individual Act of Parliament

(f) the official body of judges who have authority, for example, to resolve disputes in a court of law

(g) the system of law which deals with private rights and remedies and resolving disputes between private members of a community

(h) a system in which things are arranged in order of importance, from top (most important) to bottom (least important)

(i) an adjective meaning relating to the legal system

(j) a decision made by a court which is used as an example to follow when dealing with similar circumstances in the future

Exercise 2

Put each of the words 1-10 from Exercise 1 into their appropriate part of speech:




Exercise 3

Do you know…..

1. the adjective form of ‘legislation’?

2. the adjective form of ‘hierarchy’?

3. the noun form of ‘to codify’ (ending in ‘-ion’)?

4. the adjective form of ‘statute’?

5. The name for a body which passes laws, derived from the noun ‘legislation’?


Exercise 1











Exercise 2

Noun: body, judiciary, legislation, hierarchy, precedent, statute, criminal law, civil law

Verb: to codify

Adjective: judicial

Exercise 3

1. legislative

2. hierarchical

3. codification

4. statutory

5. legislature

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021

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