Legal word of the week-[Authority]- Series by Alan M L Jones.

FICL brings "Legal word of the week" Series by Alan M L Jones, Lawyer, teacher and skills coach based out of London. Creator of ACE Legal English online courses for corporate lawyers.
Legal word of the week-[Authority]- Series by Alan M L Jones.


Authority is a difficult word
It's a noun with both countable and uncountable uses and authorities has specific meanings
It needs to be considered with the verb to authorise and the noun authorisation


1.1 Authority - the right and power to make decisions and give orders generally and specifically

a) Generally

The general power described arises by law

e.g. the Companies Act gives the registrar of companies the power to perform the functions conferred on the registrar by or under the Companies Act or any other enactment

Another example is the power conferred on the directors by a company's Articles

b) Specifically

This refers to the situation when a person with authority delegates that authority to a third party pursuant to, for example, a board resolution or a power of attorney.

c) The extent of a person's authority - the area between general and specific
A proper consideration of this subject requires a look at actual authority and apparent authority, also called ostensible authority which is when someone is held out as having authority

e.g. a company gives an employee who is not a director a name card on which the person is described as Director

The company is holding the person out as being a director

The legal consequences of doing so are beyond the scope of this course

1.2 To authorise, verb, and authorisation, noun

To authorise somebody to do something – to give a person the authority to do something
Authorisation - both the act of giving authority and the document or, if done orally, the words doing so

- The branch manager has been authorised to sign the contract on behalf of the company by a resolution of the board of directors. That gives the manager the necessary authority

- I have signed a Power of Attorney giving John the authority to sign the contract on my behalf

- Think of your office building. If it's a modern building with a front desk, turnstiles and security people, the rules of the building will say that only authorised people are allowed beyond the front desk. If you work there, you will be an authorised person. Your pass will be your authorisation enabling you to get through the turnstile

- Only partners have the authority to sign legal opinions on behalf of the firm. It’s also only a partner who can authorise spending more than £X on entertaining a client

- In order to find out who has the authority to sign the Agreement on behalf of the Bank, you need to look at the Bank’s list of authorised signatories

- The question of authority is very important in the law of agency which, in turn, is very important in many areas of law. Does a commercial agent have the authority to bind his appointer / principal to a transaction? The answer to this question is a combination of the law of agency and the law which relates to that particular type of entity, be it company law, partnership law or whatever.


Administrative authority
Although we have administrative law, it’s not as important as it is in many civil law countries and we don’t have separate administrative courts
We describe the bodies which are responsible for administering parts of the country as local authorities or, in the case of an authority responsible for administering a city, a municipal authority

Although that’s how we describe them, we call them councils In passing, see the difference between describe (official name) and call (how we refer to something in everyday speech)

- The local authority is responsible for many things

- The Financial Services Authority is the regulator of the financial services industry in the UK
A couple of examples combining 1 and 2
- The Financial Services Authority gets its authority from an Act passed in 2000.
- The local authority needs to decide whether to go ahead with this. Who has the authority to make this decision on behalf of the authority?


Lawyers often use authority in this way. They also use evidence
Evidence supports a factual argument while authority supports a legal argument
When a lawyer is making a legal point, he’ll often quote his authority
In a common law system, this will be legislation or a case. In a civil law system, as I understand it, the authority can be legislation, perhaps a case or, confusingly, an authority (see 4 below).


In common law systems, it’s rare to quote the opinion of a leading academic as support for a legal argument
However, I believe it’s much more common to do so in civil law systems when you use the opinion of somebody who is an authority on the subject

Professor X is the UK’s leading expert on 16th century Dutch art
Professor Y is Japan’s leading expert on the law of the seaProfessor Z is Germany’s leading expert on the question of authority in German commercial law

Each professor is an authority in his field. No, I’ll go further – each professor is the leading authority in his field


The authorities is an expression sometimes used to describe the institutions which hold power in a country such as the government, the police and the army
The exact identity of the authorities varies from country to country and depending on the context

For example, it will vary depending on whether you’re talking in the context of actual or threatened civil unrest; problems in the financial or any other markets; specific product markets etc
Journalists like it, particularly in headlines. E.g. “Authorities clamp down on protesters”

6 EXAMPLE (far-fetched) of all the uses of "AUTHORITY"

Art 123 of the Commercial Code as interpreted by Professor Z is my authority for the proposition that a deputy mayor acting alone does not have the authority to enter into the transaction we are considering on behalf of X City Council which is a local authority

Professor Z is our leading authority on the question of authority and in his recent article he wrote the following: “a deputy mayor is not an authorised person for the purposes of Article 123 of the Commercial Code”

Having said that, the authorities have recently thrown Professor Z into jail because they believe he is behind the wave of recent anti-government protests and it remains to be seen whether the courts will pay much attention to his views. He may indeed be a former authority

About Alan M L Jones

Qualified as a solicitor more than 35 years ago and has practised for many years mostly in London but also further afield in Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Tokyo. Alan has been both a lawyer and a communication / language teacher for years and used his experience to create the ACE Legal English online courses for non-native speaker lawyers. The courses are very engaging and relevant and are the first of their kind.

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