If a situation or business is described as above board, it is open, honest and legal.
“There are not secret negotiations. Our dealings have always been above board.”
above the law
Someone who thinks they are above the law considers that they do not have to obey the laws that apply to everyone else.
“Sometimes elected officials violate regulations because they think they are above the law.”
accomplished fact (fait accompli)
Something that has been done or completed, before those affected by it can intervene or change it, is called an accomplished fact.
“The changes in the regulations were never discussed. They were presented as an accomplished fact, for which the Chairman was severely criticised.”
against one’s better judgement
If you do something even though you feel it is not a sensible thing to do, you do it against your better judgement.
Bob persuaded her to go by car, against her better judgement, and she regretted it as soon as she saw the heavy traffic.
A lawyer who finds work by persuading people injured in accidents to claim money from the person who caused the accident is called an ambulance chaser.
“Peterson and Scott are well-known ambulance chasers – that’s how they make their money!”
arm of the law
This expression refers to the extent to which the authority or power of the law extends.
“He fled to South America hoping to escape the arm of the law.”
A geographical area where law enforcement is practically impossible, because people ignore all rules, is called bandit territory.
“There are a certain number of bandit territories in the world where travellers are advised not to go.”
Someone who is behind bars is in prison.
“If you hang around with that gang, you’ll find yourself behind bars in no time!”
beyond reasonable doubt
This is a legal expression which means that something is certain.
“The court established, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the man was innocent.”
in black and white
This is a legal expression which means that something is certain.
“The court established, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the man was innocent”
blow the whistle
If you report an illegal or socially-harmful activity to the authorities, and give information about those responsible for it, you blow the whistle or you are a whistle-blower.
“He refused to blow the whistle on his boss for fear of losing his job.”
breaking and entering
The term breaking and entering refers to the fact of entering a building or home illegally by breaking open a window, door, etc.
“The two men were found guilty of breaking and entering.”
brush with the law
When you have a brush with something, such as the law, you encounter or experience it briefly.
“He had a brush with the law for speeding a few years ago, but he has had a clean record ever since.”
burden of proof
The burden of proof is the necessity imposed by the law to prove that what one says is true.
“The burden of proof lies with the claimant.”
case in point
The term case in point refers to an example which serves to illustrate, support or prove a point which is currently under discussion.
“Not even the most talented athlete is guaranteed a long career. The latest skiing accident is a case in point.”
If a person is caught red-handed, they are caught while they are doing something wrong or illegal.
“The police arrived as the burglar was leaving the house. He was caught red-handed.”
This Latin expression, which means ‘let the buyer beware’, is a warning to customers that goods are for sale ‘as is’. The buyer is purchasing the articles at his/her own risk and is responsible for examining them beforehand.
“Caveat emptor is a principle to be remembered when buying second-hand goods.”
crack down on
If the authoritiescrack down on something, they enforce the law by taking severe measures to restrict undesirable or criminal actions.
“To reduce road accidents, it was decided to crack down on speeding.”
cut some slack
If you relax a rule, treat a person less severely or allow someone to do something which is normally not permitted, you cut them some slack.
“Our parents are very strict; I wish they’d cut us some slack now and then.”
The term daylight robbery is used when the price of something is thought to be much too high.
“$15 for an orange juice? That’s daylight robbery!”
(a) fair hearing
When accused of wrongdoing, if someone gets a fair hearing, they get an opportunity to present evidence or give their side of the story, usually in court.
“I can guarantee that you will get a fair hearing.”
If you obtain something under false pretences, you deceive others by lying about your identity, qualifications, financial or social position, in order to get what you want.
“The journalist obtained the interview under false pretences.”
(can’t) fight the city hall
This expression means that it is useless to try to win a battle against a politician, establishment or bureaucracy in general.
“Brian decided it was a waste of energy trying to obtain a tax refund – you can’t fight the city hall.”
get out of hand
If a person or situation gets out of hand, they cannot be controlled any longer.
“During the student demonstration, things got out of hand and several shop windows were broken.”
hit and run (accident)
When the driver of a vehicle hits another vehicle without stopping to provide help, identification or insurance, and fails to report the accident to the police, the collision is called a hit-and-run accident.
“A hit-and-run accident deserves serious punishment.”
The crime of using another person’s personal information (name, credit card number, etc.) without his/her knowledge, to set up and use bank accounts and credit facilities is known as identity theft.
in trouble with the law
If someone is in trouble with the law, they are being questioned by the police in connection with something illegal or criminal.
“The suspect has often been in trouble with the law.”
A kangaroo court is an illegal tribunal set up by a group of people who have taken the law into their own hands and conduct trials which deny fundamental justice.
“Calm down please! Is this a meeting or a kangaroo court?”
judge, jury and executioner
Someone who is judge, jury and executioner has full power to judge and punish others unilaterally.
“OK. Report him to the authorities if you suspect him. You can’t just appoint yourself judge, jury and executioner!”
justice is blind
This expression means that justice is impartial and objective. Everyone is equal before the law.
“There’s no way he’ll get preferential treatment. Justice is blind.”
law of the jungle
A situation in which people are prepared to use unscrupulous methods in order to succeed or survive is called the law of the jungle.
“Some businesses today seem to be governed by the law of the jungle.”
law unto themselves
If someone is a law unto themselves, they do things their own way and ignore what is generally considered as acceptable.
“They’re against discipline and allow their children complete freedom – they’re a law unto themselves.”
lay down the law
Someone who lays down the law tells people very forcefully and firmly what they must do.
“The volunteers helped in a disorganised way. They needed someone to lay down the law.”
letter of the law
If you keep to the letter of the law, you act according to what is actually written in the law, the exact words, rather than the intent of those who wrote the law.
“To comply with the letter of the law, he was fined for allowing his son to take his toy tractor to the park. The sign said: “No vehicles permitted.”! “
licence to print money
An officially authorized activity which enables people to make a lot of money without much effort is called a licence to print money.
“The contract to supply computers to schools was a licence to print money.”
(the) long arm of the law
This expression refers to the extensive power of the authorities or the police.
“The suspect got away but he won’t escape the long arm of the law for long.”
Referring to Murphy’s law expresses a sentiment of bad luck and the idea that if anything can go wrong, it will.
“We’ve tried to prepare for every possible incident, but remember Murphy’s law …!”
not have a leg to stand on
To say that someone doesn’t have a leg to stand on means that they can’t prove what they say or do not have valid arguments to support their position.
“Three people testified against him. He didn’t have a leg to stand on.”
null and void
Something which isnull and void has no legal force or is invalid.
“The contract was declared null and void.”
An open-and-shut case is one where the facts are so clear that the matter can be dealt with or solved easily.
“He was caught driving the stolen car. It’s an open-and-shut case.”
If a person or organisation leaves a paper trail, they leave evidence in writing or in document form that will serve as proof of their actions.
“The police found a paper trail which lead to the author of the hoax.”
partner in crime
A person who helps you to plan something dishonest or unlawful is called your partner in crime.
(This expression can be used jokingly as in the example below.)
“Sam was my partner in crime. He hid my son’s new bicycle until his birthday.”
pervert the course of justice
If a person perverts the course of justice, they tell a lie or prevent the police from finding out the truth about something.
“The suspect was accused of trying to pervert the course of justice.”
Poetic justice is an ideal form of justice in which virtue is rewarded and evil punished, often in a particularly appropriate manner, by an ironic twist of fate.
“It is poetic justice that the country responsible for the ecological disaster should suffer most from its effects.”
put one’s house in order
If you tell someone to put their house in order, you are saying that they should organise their own affairs or take care of their own problems before giving advice to other people.
“You should put your house in order before telling me what to do!”
read someone the riot act
If you declare with force and authority that something must stop, and announce the consequences if it happens again, you read them the riot act.
“Dad read us the riot act when we messed up his tool-shed.”
Treatment or justice that does not seem fair, or is too severe, is called ‘rough justice’, especially if it is not legal.
“The way the player was treated by the media was very rough justice!”
Trying to achieve something by using underhand, deceitful or dishonourable means, that are barely within the law, is called sharp practice.
“That company is under investigation for sharp practice so it’s better to avoid dealing with them.”
signed, sealed and delivered
When an agreement, contract or treaty is signed, sealed and delivered, all the legal documents are in order.
“It is hoped that the agreement will be signed, sealed and delivered before the end of the week”
A smoking gun is a piece of evidence or the indisputable sign of someone’s guilt.
“The fingerprints left on the door-handle was the smoking gun that enabled the police to arrest him.”
take the law into one’s own hands
If, instead of calling the police, you personally take action against someone who has done something wrong, you take the law into your own hands.
“Instead of calling the police, he took the law into his own hands and confronted the youth who had stolen his son’s scooter.”
toe the line
If someone toes the line, they obey the rules and accept the principles laid down by a person, group or organisation.
“If you want to stay in this school, you’ll have to learn to toe the line.”