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COCKTAIL LEGAL with Jacqueline Naa Tecki Nartey

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ignorantia juris non excusat[ or ignorantia legis neminem excusat[ (Latin for ignorance of the law excuses not and “ignorance of law excuses no one respectively) is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content. Though it is highly improbable for even the most learned legal expert to know every single dictate of the laws of the land, the above stated principle is necessary to avoid the situation where every lawbreaker uses ‘ignorance’ as an excuse to escape the necessary punishment. In addition, one’s ignorance of the legal system can sometimes be manipulated by others who on that occasion may claim to be applying the very dictates of the law. It is therefore imperative that everyone familiarizes him or herself with at least the basic tenets enshrouded in the law to protect the rights of citizens of the land. As Dr. Ben Carson, the great African American Paediatric Surgeon once said “No knowledge is useless”, I will urge you to stick with this column as I employ the knowledge of the best legal brains as a source to educate you on various aspects of the legal system in Ghana. Hence we will eventually become familiar the basics of the law relating to pertinent issues such as voting in an election, environmental protection, starting and running your own business, contracts, will/testament, road regulations, child adoption, employer – employee relations, copyright and intellectual property regulations etc. For starters, let us familiarize ourselves with some basic legal terminology:

Adjournment: is a temporary postponement to a case


Administrator: the person appointed to oversee an estate in the event that no will is written

Affidavit: A sworn written statement

Alimony: also known as “maintenance” and “spousal support”, alimony is the money paid by one spouse to another following a divorce

Annul: to void

Annulment: is a legal decree stating that a marriage was not valid – not to be confused with “divorce”

Appeal: a request to a higher court to overturn the judgment of a lower one

Arbitration: a method of amicable dispute resolution

Arraignment: the initial appearance before a judge in a criminal case – it is at this hearing that a defendant can enter a plea, ask to post bail, and, if the defendant cannot afford one, have a court lawyer appointed

Article of Incorporation: is a document filed with the state incorporating a limited liability company

Assignment: is the transfer of legal rights from one person to another – not the same as an novation, which is the transfer of legal obligations from one person to another

Award: a decision, usually by an arbitrator, in favor of a plaintiff or defendant, as the case may be


Bail: money paid to the court to guarantee the defendant’s attendance at court at a later date. Money paid is more commonly known as a bail bond

Bankruptcy: a process governed by federal law where a person cannot pay bills when due and payable – chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy actions

Beneficiary: the person named as such in a will or insurance policy. A beneficiary may also be the equitable named person under a trust, where the legal owner is the trustee

Board of Directors: a group of individuals who run a company on behalf of the shareholders

Brief: a legal document that sets out the legal arguments in a lawsuit

Burden of Proof : is the duty, in law, to show, according to the facts, that the allegations to the lawsuit are either false or true – depending on the nature of the case


Capital Gain / Loss: the profit or loss, as the case may be, from the sale of an asset – such as your home. Ordinarily, but not always, capital gain will be taxed

Cause of Action: is the reason/grounds on which the legal action is being submitted/brought

Caveat Emptor: Latin meaning “buyer beware”, this legal doctrine means that if you do not take due care when buying something, you cannot take your case before the courts

Certified Copy: also known as “certified true copy”, this is a document signed as being a true copy of the original

Certify: to testify in writing

Class Action Lawsuit: is where two or more plaintiffs join together to bring a case against another

Collateral: is the security you agree to put down on a loan and which you will have to forfeit in the event that you cannot repay the loan – also known as “security”

Complaint: is a civil law action that initiates a lawsuit

Condition: are circumstances which are essential to the ascertain of a right; for example, it may be a condition to a loan that you give security, without giving security, you do not have the right to the loan

Conflict of Interest: means that you have competing interests in something that would make it difficult or impossible for you to fulfill your duty impartially

Consideration: is the thing, usually money, which you pay, under a contract, in exchange for getting something else

Contract: is a legal agreement entered into between two or more persons, known as “parties to the contract”, whereby an offer is made and accepted

Costs: the sum awarded to the successful party to a lawsuit – and usually amount to the “costs”, including legal fees, of having brought the case

Counsel: legal representative: lawyer or attorney

Creditor: someone to whom you owe money

Custodian: person appointed to manage and disperse funds on behalf of a child – unlike a trustee, a custodian is normally a court order persons


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