15 Legal or Law Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Updated on June 6, 2018
Idioms or idiomatic expressions about legal matters and the law are widely used in English as a Second Language or ESL.
Idioms or idiomatic expressions about legal matters and the law are widely used in English as a Second Language or ESL. | Source

Idioms or idiomatic expressions are one of the toughest English topics to master for many learners of English as a Second Language or ESL.

They are quite complicated.

Most of the time, the individual meanings of the words that make them up do not add up to create their unique, total and real meanings.

In many cases, it is almost ridiculous to second guess their definitions.

We just have to look up their meanings in a dictionary.

To make things even more complicated, there are idioms relating to legal matters or the law, which is already filled with jargons that even native English speakers cannot understand easily.

Legal or law idioms, however, are commonly used in the English language as English speakers, just like many other groups of people from around the world, frequently talk about peace and order, justice, redress, crimes, and offenses.

To help out English as a Second Language learners, below are some of the most common English idiomatic expressions about law or legal matters and a little explanation about them.

1. With No Strings Attached

Something comes with no strings attached if we can get it without having to do anything in return. In short, we are not under any obligations to do any actions for anyone at any point in time after getting that thing. That thing comes for free.


She volunteered her time and talent with no strings attached.

2. Turn a Blind Eye to

A person is turning a blind eye to something or someone if he or she can see something wrong or suspicious but is pretending not to see any. Turning a blind eye is an act of omission, which means not performing the actions that are expected to be done by most people.


He turned a blind eye to the dying dog that had been crossing the street and got hit by a car.

3. Take the Law into One's Own Hands

People who try to take the law into their own hands are trying to seek for justice on their own. They do not ask help from authorities or people who can legally administer the law. Taking the law into one’s own hands is generally regarded as illegal.


Out of contempt, she took the law into her own hands and shot her cheating husband.

4. Null And Void

Something is null and void if it has already been cancelled. Being cancelled, that thing is redundant and worthless.


The court case against the company was null and void. The company had settled the lawsuit out of court.

5. Lodge a Complaint

We lodge a complaint if we are formally making a complaint against someone, a group, or an organization. We usually lodge a complaint in a court of law or a government office.


Villagers lodged a complaint against the owners of a mine that polluted the river.

6. Legal Age

When somebody has reached legal age, he or she can already vote, drive, buy cigarettes, drink alcohol, or gamble. After reaching legal age, people are expected to be fully responsible for their actions. They become liable to the law.


These kids cannot buy alcohol. They are obviously below legal age.

7. Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is a legal document that a person has made before dying. It specifies what he or she wants to do with his or her assets after dying. It may also contain his or her notes dedicated to friends, family, and associates.


The duchess did not leave any last will and testament. Now her kids are fighting over her massive wealth.

8. Invasion of Privacy

An action is an invasion of privacy if it makes someone lose his or her right to confidentiality, personal space, and time. Invasion of privacy is considered a legal offense and thus punishable by law.


The paparazzo was charged with invasion of privacy after he snapped pictures of an exposed actress sunbathing in her mansion’s pool.

9. Grace Period

A grace period is the period of time that immediately comes after a deadline for paying a bill. Normally, we can pay a bill without interests and penalties during a grace period, which usually runs for about 30 days.


The company was kind enough to give us a 30-day grace period to pay our credit card bill.

10. Fine Print

A fine print is an important part of a document that is written in fine or small text. Because it is written in small text, fine print is usually overlooked or ignored.


She did not realize that she had to pay 75% monthly interest for her loans until she read the fine print of the contract.

11. Due Process or Due Process of Law

Due process refers to the legal procedures that must be followed to protect the rights of an accused. Not going through due process is considered a violation of the civil liberties of the accused.


Everyone is entitled to due process.

12. Cease and Desist

The idiom cease and desist means to stop immediately and permanently. Separately, cease means to stop and desist means not to re-start.


The owners were given a cease and desist order to stop operating their sex shop.

13. Contempt of Court

If we violate court rules or disregard court processes, then we can be cited for contempt of court.


The woman was cited for contempt of court for coming in too late for the trial and wearing revealing clothes.

14. Burden of Proof

When somebody has the burden of proof, then he or she is required to present evidence to prove his or her claims.


He has the burden of proof after scores of boys came out to testify against him.

15. Beyond Reasonable Doubt

If something is beyond reasonable doubt, then there is enough evidence to prove that thing to be true. For example, if an accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, then it means that there are sufficient pieces of evidence to prove that he or she has done something wrong.


The jury found the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of over 45 counts of sexual assault.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

Crime and Police Idioms


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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      8 years ago

      Interesting hub. Great design on the content with good descriptions on the terms for ESl learners.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      8 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thanks for this, nicely set out and very clear definitions. Legal jargon can be a nightmare but you have simplified it - beneficial for all students - which has got be a good thing.

    • ramerican profile image


      8 years ago

      good. will share with my students!


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