Von Amts wegen

I was always pleased with myself when I recognized whether von Amts wegen was to be translated as ex officio or as of (the court’s) own motion.

But I never asked myself why. Recently, someone has asked why!

It seems that the term ex officio is used in more situations in German than in English. Here is the von Beseler/Jacobs-Wüstefeld dictionary of 1991 on von Amts wegen:


ex officio, by virtue of (one’s) office; because of one’s position; officially; proprio motu (Lat.); upon (of its) own motion; upon/of the court’s (own) motion; in ordinary

I think if someone does something by virtue of their office, ex officio works. But if a court comes to a decision, perhaps because it usually deliberates about it, then of its own motion is appropriate.

I looked up both expressions in the big Oxford English Dictionary, but they don’t add anything much to this.

I have one other excellent law dictionary but I don’t speak much Italian so I have never read the introduction, which I am sure is wonderful. I must scan it and run it through DeepL. It is by, Francesco de Franchis, Dizionario Giuridico English-Italian, 1984

He even says where ex officio would not be used in English. It is the bilingual law dictionary every translator wants, but it is in the wrong language.

Di ufficio; si dice, ad es., che il Lord Chancellor (v.) è un giudice della Court of Appeal ex officio, come pure il President della Chancery Division e il Lord Chief Justice. Ma si noti che quando si vuole alludere ad una iniziative di ufficio e ad una istanza di parte si parla, rispettivamente, di suo officio e di its own motion e di at the instance of the parties.






Inter alia et al.

Inter alia

This was a recent mailing-list discussion.

We are advised nowadays to avoid Latin expressions, even in legal English. When avoiding inter alia, we are widely advised to use among others, but this doesn’t always work.

inter alia: among other things
inter alios: among others/among other persons

Actually, among others sometimes works in a wider sense, but not always.

Thus, here it works, as ‘others’ is taken to refer back to ‘factors’:

The survey, carried out by The Economist, rates locations based on factors such as stability, healthcare and infrastructure, among others.


here it doesn’t work:

Museum collections have been enriched with video records. Registered accounts are devoted to, among others, functioning of ghettos in Lublin, grounds of the Majdanek camp after its liquidation, and post-war fates of a former prisoner of KL Lublin.

These are often non-native English texts, but they may have taken their advice from native sources.

There is a problem that Bryan Garner, who edits Black’s Dictionary, does say in his book on style that
‘among others’ refers to both people and things. This is not the view of Mellinkoff or of The Cambridge Guide to English Usage or of Thornton on Legislative Drafting – all agree with me that ‘among/amongst others’ means people.

One of my colleagues quoted a slightly edited example from a search engine as a sentence where ‘among other things’ would not work, he felt:

For example, the Transparency and the Markets in Financial Instruments Directives, among others, have come into effect since 2003.

Among/amongst and while/whilst

We also had an argument about this. Some don’t like the use of amongst and whilst, which are more common in BE than in AmE, but even in BE less common than the forms without -st on the end.

I don’t think it’s relevant to us BE speakers that it sounds pretentious for Americans to use those forms, although we may think about our target audience if they are Americans. My target audience is often a variety of native and non-native speakers of English in Europe, some of whom are going to be from the USA, so I tend to use double inverted commas and I suppose I should avoid ‘amongst’. I certainly avoid the verb ‘to undertake’ in a contract because I believe, rightly or wrongly, that Americans find it odd. A colleague in Vienna (no, not you, Adrian) once got very hot under the collar at the very idea I might pander to Americans, but there it is.

But as for the use of ‘whilst’ in BE – I hate it! I wonder why. I don’t hate ‘amongst’. I think I am being snobbish here. I associate it with people who aren’t very well educated. But I haven’t found that confirmed.


Some publications on both sides of the Atlantic disapprove of whilst in their style guides (along with “amidst” and “amongst”); for example:

Times Online Style Guide: “while (not whilst)”
Guardian Style Guide: “while not whilst”
Hansard: the Canadian Parliament record: “while not whilst”

More Latin

I have mentioned before that lawyers’ Latin differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. You can have a nice library of glossaries of legal Latin for England and Wales, Scotland, the USA, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

There’s been a move to reduce Latin and for legal texts to be comprehensible to the public for some years now, famously in Woolf’s Civil Procedure Rules in 1998. But not every intended simplification really works.

A 2004 article in the Law Gazette, Language Barrier, is useful. Quoting David Ibbetson, professor of civil law at Cambridge University:

‘Sometimes Latin phrases were used as a sort of shorthand for technical terms which could not be translated into simple English,’ he says.

‘Actus reus, for example, doesn’t simply mean guilty act, and to try to translate it out of the Latin into comprehensible English would risk giving the impression that it had an ordinary language certainty.

‘So we do have to be careful not to try to achieve a spurious comprehensibility at the expense of accuracy.

That said, there can be no excuse for retaining Latin terminology simply because putting it in English would demystify the whole law – like insisting on singing operas in German because the words sound so silly in translation.’

Mutatis mutandis

Finally, one of the expressions found useful is Latin, is mutatis mutandis. Note that this has been replaced in English legislation by ‘with the necessary modifications. Here’s a Google search:

“with the necessary modifications” site:www.legislation.gov.uk

This gets 30,000 ghits, whereas ‘mutatis mutandis’ gets 220.