American law terminology

American law terminology

Anyone who looks at what words and phrases people are searching for online when they’re looking for a defence solicitor quickly realises that a lot of the phrases used to search the internet for criminal defence services in the UK are American. This phenomenon has come about because of our exposure to American news and culture online and our love as a nation of American law-based dramas like Suits, Better Call Saul and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Here we take a look at some of the American law terminology that has crept into use in the UK and what it means.

What is an attorney?

In the UK, we talk about using a lawyer or solicitor if we need legal representation for an offence we have been accused of.  Americans also often use the word lawyer but they also commonly refer to lawyers as attorneys. Traditionally in the UK the word attorney is not used, however it is being used colloquially more and more. That said, you will never hear the word ‘attorney’ used in an official setting in the UK such as in court.

However, perhaps confusingly, the most senior legal office in England and Wales is that of the Attorney General, currently Geoffrey Cox QC. The Attorney General is a government minister who is responsible for overseeing the Crown Prosecution Service and advising government departments on legal issues.  In America, the word solicitor is not generally used to describe a lawyer; however the fourth highest ranking official in the United States Justice Department is called the Solicitor General!

Defence or defense  – a question of spelling

In the UK, we spell defence with a ‘c’. However in America defence is spelled ‘defense’ and so US solicitors are called ‘defense lawyers’ or ‘defense attorneys.’ Again, because of the global nature of the internet and our exposure to American culture through TV shows and films, spelling defence with an ‘s’ is something that some people have started doing here in the UK.

Language has always changed and evolved over the centuries, which is why the language in historical texts such as the works of Shakespeare contains words and spellings that are unfamiliar to most people in 2019. However, in the UK, the correct spelling remains ‘defence’ and this is how this word is spelled in all official UK documents.

It’s also worth mentioning that defence is never spelled with an ‘s’ in the UK in any context. This can cause confusion because of words such as practice which change their spelling according to how they are being used. For example:

  • Purcell Parker is a top criminal law practice in Birmingham.
  • The lawyer asked the witness to practise what she was going to say in her statement.

Driving under the influence (DUI)

Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber and Mel Gibson are all American stars who have made international headlines for the wrong reasons after being caught drink driving. In the States, driving while intoxicated under the influence of alcohol or another substance is known as DUI, and again due to our exposure to American news, most people understand what is meant by DUI.

However, you will never hear the acronym DUI officially used in relation to any drink driving charges in the UK, in spite of the fact that some people who search for drink driving lawyers in Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK use DUI to find out more about drink driving charges from a search engine.

Felony charges

Another term British internet users accused of a crime often search for is ‘felony charges.’ In the USA a felony is the word used to describe a more serious crime punishable by over one year’s imprisonment and a misdemeanour is the term used to describe a less serious offence. If a US citizen is found guilty of a felony, he or she is known as a convicted felon.

In the UK crimes are categorised as summary offences, either way offences or indictable offences. However, these terms are usually only used by legal professionals, for example when it’s being decided whether a court case should be heard in a Magistrates’ Court or a Crown Court.

Criminal defence lawyers on your side in the West Midlands

At Purcell Parker, we don’t use Americanisms to talk about the criminal defence services we offer, but we do understand that legal jargon can be confusing and off-putting so we will always speak to you in plain English. For free initial advice when you have been accused of a crime in the Birmingham, Coventry, Warwick, Worcester or Wolverhampton area, call us on 0121 236 9781or fill in our contact form.