5 Latin Expressions Nigerian Lawyers love to use

If there’s one thing a Nigerian lawyer loves to do, it’s to show off! They show off in many ways, but by far the favourite way they do this is by interspersing their conversations with latin terms (and also using big grammar like ‘interspersing’). Latin terms are a fixture of the practice of law, and they are there because the modern practice of law originated from Ancient Rome (a famous Roman lawyer is the philosopher Cicero).

We at LawPàdí will give you a bit of an insight into what some of the more popular terms mean, and hopefully when next a  friend of yours who is a Nigerian lawyer, walks up and starts dropping Latin expressions, you can drop a couple yourself.

  1. Res ipsa loquitur

This means ‘the fact speaks for itself’. It is an expression used primarily in tort law, when dealing with the issue of negligence. The principle is that the mere occurrence of some types of accident is sufficient to imply negligence. An illustration of this is where you are using your mobile phone and it suddenly catches fire, the principle of res ipsa will be applicable against the phone manufacturer. (You would think that a mobile phone catching fire is unlikely, so did we, until we saw this story about a mobile phone catching fire!)

  1. Non est Factum

This means ‘it is not my deed’. It is a principle applied in contract law where the defendant tries to argue that he/she was mistaken about the nature of a document when he/she signed it, and because of this misunderstanding the contract is not enforceable against him/her as it is ‘not my deed’. An example of this would be if someone was tricked into ‘witnessing’ a document by signing it, when in actual fact the person was tricked into executing it. This principle cannot be applied when there is negligence on the part of the signer, for instance if you did not read the contract.

  1. Caveat emptor

This is probably one of the most common latin terms used by Nigerian lawyers, and that’s because at one point in time, loads of houses and buildings in Nigeria had this scrawled on it. The term means ‘let the buyer beware’. It’s used to explain the fact that a buyer when making a purchase does assumes the risk that the product might be either defective or unsuitable to his or her needs.

In Nigeria, it was used on buildings and landed property as a way to warn prospective buyers that the ownership of the property was in a dispute, or to deter fraudsters who were ‘selling’ people’s property to members of the public without the authority of the true owners.

  1. Volenti non fit injuria

This principle literally translates into ‘to the consenting, no injury is done’. The idea behind this Latin principle is that when you assume the risks of an action, you cannot then turn around in future and claim an injury emanating from such an action. It is when there is voluntary assumption of risk.

For instance, if you are a spectator at a football match sitting behind the goal posts, there is a reasonable assumption that during the course of the game a player might hit the ball into the stands. By sitting behind the goal you have voluntarily assumed the risk, and then you cannot attempt to sue if the ball hits you unintentionally during the course of the football game.

  1. Nemo dat quod no habet

This means ‘no one gives what he doesn’t have’, and it is used specifically as it concerns transfer of ownership or title. An illustration of this would be if you go into your dad’s house, gets his car keys and then you sell the car to a 3rd party. The fact that you are not the owner of the car means that you have no title to or right to it, and because you have no title or right to it, you are legally incapable of giving title or ownership to a 3rd party, i.e you cannot give what you do not have.

There are a number of other popular Latin expressions which Nigerian lawyers use in conversations with each other (and/or their clients), and we will follow up this blog with a few more. We hope you enjoyed reading this, and now go out and show off your newly learned Latin!

Some examples of everyday instances you can use some of the above expressions include:

  • When someone asks you for money and you are broke – Nemo dat quod no habet
  • When a friend of yours comes to you saying she’s about to start dating a guy who has a history of being a heartbreaker – Volenti non fit injuria
  • When your favourite football team has just lost a game with a massive scoreline, and a friend is asking who played better – Res ipsa loquitur


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We hope you have found this information helpfulPlease note that this information is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. No lawyer-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. This answer is not intended to substitute for the advice of a qualified lawyer. If you require legal advice, please consult with a qualified lawyer.

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