Legal Abbreviations

ThelmaFor Legal Secretaries and PAs, it is important to know the vast array of abbreviations currently used in the legal world, and I seek to shed some light on the meaning of some of the most widely used legal abbreviations. Getting to grips with lawyers’ abbreviations will spring you forward in the right direction professionally. Secretaries are expected to research or look up commonly used legal abbreviations and, in particular, case references.

I worked for a Family Division Senior Partner who often recorded his dictation almost entirely in abbreviations. He would, for example, say, ‘at the FPC the judge in the case of Re: M (a minor) referred to [2004] 1 FLR 837 and FPR 4.2 when deciding with the CG whether to place the child in the care of the LA...’ Such phrases are common and probably even more complex now than ever before.

Rights Brought Home:
Because we seem to live in a ‘rights based’ era, I begin with abbreviations used in universal human rights instruments. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 is usually abbreviated to the form of ‘ECHR’ or ‘the Convention’, but on first mention, the full, lengthy title is always used, which can be a bit of a mouthful. The ECHR was first drafted by the Council of Europe (‘CoE’) in 1949 with a view to ending the atrocities of the First World War. The Court that hears cases under the Convention is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, abbreviated to ‘ECtHR'. The United Kingdom, in recognition of the need for individuals to redress their human rights grievances effectively, ‘brought home’ the ECHR in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000. This is abbreviated to 'HRA 1998' and the articles within this act are known as 'Convention rights' and are extremely important to understand as the basis of so many changes taking place in our society today.

International Law:
Another major development of law is public international law, and the array of instruments relating to this area of law is vast. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (‘UDHR’), the United Nations (‘UN’) and the United Nations Charter (‘UN Charter’) all form good starting points in understanding international law. You would certainly then come across the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 ('ICCPR') and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 ('ICESCR'), which all form part of the general principles of international law. Today, international communities have more robust, democratic principles upon which to rely on. There is now a rise in non-governmental organisations ('NGOs') such as the Red Cross and Amnesty International, to name but a few, and it is important to familiarise oneself with their terms and abbreviations. 

With this ‘gentle’ introduction to legal abbreviations, I hope your careers will be greatly enhanced by this guidance note.

Thelma Othieno FILS

Here is a link to a comprehensive website on legal abbreviations and a search engine for definitions of law terminology and legal terms: