Define: Absque Hoc

Absque Hoc
Absque Hoc
Quick Summary of Absque Hoc

Absque hoc, an antiquated Latin phrase, signifies “without this.” In previous times, it was employed in legal proceedings to refute specific assertions. It is also recognized as “sans ce que.”

What is the dictionary definition of Absque Hoc?
Dictionary Definition of Absque Hoc

Absque hoc, an old legal term, means “without this.” It was historically used in common-law pleading to deny allegations. For instance, if accused of stealing, one could say, “I did not steal absque hoc,” indicating that they did not steal without other circumstances or conditions. In a court case, a defendant might use the term to assert, “I did not commit the crime absque hoc,” meaning they did not commit the crime without any other factors involved. This example demonstrates how absque hoc was used in legal language to deny allegations by emphasising the absence of other circumstances or conditions.

Full Definition Of Absque Hoc

“Absque hoc” is a Latin term traditionally used in common law pleading. The term translates to “without this” and is critical in legal pleadings, particularly in formulating a traverse. This legal device, originating from the medieval English legal system, has evolved over centuries, playing a significant role in the procedural aspects of law. This overview will explore the historical context, definition, application, and current relevance of “absque hoc” in British law.

Historical Context

The use of Latin in legal pleadings dates back to the medieval period, when Latin was the lingua franca of educated Europeans, including lawyers and judges. During this time, the English legal system was developing its distinctive procedures and terminologies. “Absque hoc” emerged as a technical phrase in the intricate process of common law pleading, particularly in drafting special traverses.

A special traverse is a pleading that specifically denies an allegation made by the opposing party. The formulaic nature of medieval pleadings required precision, and “absque hoc” was introduced to negate specific facts or assertions precisely. This practice was crucial in shaping the adversarial justice system, allowing for a clear demarcation of contested issues.

Definition and Function

“Absque hoc” is used in a legal pleading to introduce a denial or negation of a preceding statement. It typically follows an affirmative statement that sets up a situation or context, after which “absque hoc” introduces the specific denial. For example, a pleading might affirmatively state certain facts and then use “absque hoc” to specifically deny an important element of the opponent’s claim.

The structure of a special traverse using “absque hoc” can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Inducement: This is the preliminary affirmative statement or series of statements that provide context. These statements often acknowledge certain facts but aim to set up the specific point of contention.
  2. Absque Hoc: This is the “without this” clause, which introduces the specific denial. It operates as a direct contradiction to a particular assertion made by the opposing party.
  3. Conclusion: The conclusion ties the inducement and the “absque hoc” clause together, reinforcing the denial and setting the stage for the legal argument.

Application in Legal Pleadings

In practice, using “absque hoc” in legal pleadings allowed lawyers to navigate the complexities of common law procedures with greater precision. The strategic use of “absque hoc” could effectively narrow the issues for trial, ensuring that the focus remained on specific, contested points rather than broader, less relevant facts.

Example Scenario

Consider a hypothetical case where a plaintiff alleges the defendant breached a contract by failing to deliver goods on time. The defendant might respond with a special traverse structured as follows:

  • Inducement: The defendant acknowledges that there was a contract for the delivery of goods and that the goods were to be delivered by a certain date.
  • Absque Hoc: The defendant denies the plaintiff’s assertion that the goods were not delivered on time by stating “absque hoc that the goods were not delivered by the specified date.”
  • Conclusion: The defendant concludes by reinforcing that, contrary to the plaintiff’s claim, the goods were delivered as per the agreed terms.

This precise denial helps clarify the exact point of contention—whether the goods were delivered on time—thus simplifying the factual and legal issues for the court to decide.

Evolution and Modern Relevance

Over time, the rigid structures of common law pleading, including “absque hoc,” have given way to more flexible procedural rules. The introduction of the Judicature Acts in the late 19th century and subsequent reforms in civil procedure aimed to simplify and modernize the legal process, moving away from the technical complexities of medieval pleadings.

The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) govern modern civil litigation in England and Wales. They emphasize clarity, simplicity, and the just resolution of disputes. The technical use of Latin terms like “absque hoc” has largely disappeared from everyday legal practice, replaced by plain English and more straightforward forms of pleading.

However, the principles underlying “absque hoc” still resonate in modern legal practice. Clearly defining and contest specific issues remains a cornerstone of effective legal pleading. Modern equivalents of the special traverse can be seen in the structured denials and specific pleadings required under the CPR.

Comparative Perspectives

While “absque hoc” is rooted in English common law, its influence can be seen in other common law jurisdictions, including the United States. American legal practice inherited many of the procedural complexities of English law, including using Latin phrases and structured pleadings.

In the United States, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) have similarly moved away from the archaic language and rigid structures of traditional pleadings. However, the fundamental concepts of precise denials and specific pleadings continue to underpin the adversarial system.

Criticisms and Reforms

The technical nature of “absque hoc” and other similar legal constructs has faced criticism for being overly complex and inaccessible. Critics argue that such archaic language creates unnecessary barriers to understanding and participation in the legal process. The movement towards plain language in legal documents aims to make the law more understandable and accessible to laypersons.

Legal education and practice reforms have emphasized the importance of clarity and precision without reliance on outdated terminology. This shift reflects a broader trend towards modernizing and democratizing the legal process, ensuring that legal proceedings are comprehensible to all parties involved.


“Absque hoc” represents a fascinating element of the historical development of common law pleading. While its usage has declined in modern legal practice, the principles it embodies—precise denials and clear issue identification—remain integral to effective legal advocacy. The evolution from the technical complexities of medieval pleadings to the streamlined procedures of today illustrates the dynamic nature of legal systems and their capacity to adapt to changing societal needs.

In contemporary British law, the spirit of “absque hoc” emphasises clarity, precision, and the just resolution of disputes. As legal systems continue to evolve, the balance between tradition and innovation will shape the future of legal practice, ensuring that the law remains effective and accessible.

Absque Hoc FAQ'S

“Absque hoc” is a Latin phrase that translates to “without this.” In legal terms, it is used to refer to a defence strategy where the accused denies a specific element of the prosecution’s case.

When using the “absque hoc” defence, the accused is essentially claiming that the prosecution has failed to prove a crucial element of the alleged offense. By denying the existence of this element, the accused aims to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case.

Yes, the “absque hoc” defence can be used in various types of legal cases, including criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings. It is a defence strategy that challenges the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the prosecution.

If the “absque hoc” defence is successful, the accused may be acquitted or have the charges against them dismissed. By undermining the prosecution’s case, the defence can create reasonable doubt in the minds of the judge or jury.

While the “absque hoc” defence is not as widely known as some other defence strategies, it is still used in legal proceedings. Its effectiveness depends on the specific circumstances of the case and the strength of the evidence presented by the prosecution.

Yes, the “absque hoc” defence can be used in civil cases as well. In civil litigation, it can be employed to challenge the plaintiff’s claims by denying the existence of a crucial element necessary to establish liability.

The “absque hoc” defence is subject to certain limitations. It cannot be used to deny elements that are considered “conclusively presumed” by law or those that are not subject to dispute. Additionally, the defence must be supported by credible evidence or arguments.

In cases where the accused has admitted guilt, the “absque hoc” defence may not be applicable. This defence strategy is primarily used when the accused denies a specific element of the prosecution’s case.

No, the “absque hoc” defence can be used in both criminal and civil trials. It is a defence strategy that challenges the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the opposing party, regardless of the type of legal proceeding.

The decision to use the “absque hoc” defence should be made in consultation with an experienced attorney. They can assess the specific circumstances of your case and determine whether this defence strategy is appropriate and likely to be successful.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th June 2024.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Absque Hoc. DLS Solicitors. June 12 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Absque Hoc. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 12 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Absque Hoc. Retrieved June 12 2024, from website:
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts