Legal English “Peter’s Pills”: Doctrine

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Please pay special attention when you come across the word “doctrine” in English because it may not mean what you think it does.

With reference to law, doctrine means a rule or a principal of law that has come into existence through the repeated application of legal precedents. This means that a doctrine comes into existence because numerous judges have applied a precedent many times over and now everyone knows that this is the way the law sees things, and this notion is now called a doctrine. There is no need to have statutory law on the matter because a precedent and doctrine already exist.

Don’t confuse “doctrine” with “legal scholars’ opinion”. People who study the law are called legal scholars and their interpretation of laws and legal aspects is of interest to the legal community.

Some examples of doctrines include:

  • The doctrine of privity of contract: which prevents a person who is not a party to a contract from enforcing a term of that contract, even where the contract was made for the purpose of conferring a benefit on the third party;
  • The doctrine of fruit of the poisonous tree: where evidence that has been obtained illegally by a law enforcement officer will be excluded as evidence in court;
  • The doctrine of caveat emptor: which often places the burden on buyers to reasonably examine property before purchase and take responsibility for its condition. In a real estate transaction, for example, it is the buyer’s duty to do searches on the property before buying it. Caveat emptor is Latin for “let the buyer be aware”.

Thank you very much and see you next time for more Peter’s Pills to improve your Legal English!

doctrine – principio di legge
statutory law – legge codificata/emanata
legal scholars’ opinion – dottrina
enforcing – far rispettare
evidence – prove
burden – onere

To see more doctrines in common law jurisdictions take a look at this list: https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Legal_doctrines.