Define: Plea In Bar

Plea In Bar
Plea In Bar
Quick Summary of Plea In Bar

A plea in bar is a legal defence that aims to completely and permanently defeat the action of the plaintiff or prosecutor. There are two types of plea in bar: general and special. A general plea in bar is when a criminal defendant pleads not guilty, denying every fact and circumstance necessary for conviction of the charged crime. For instance, a defendant accused of murder may enter a plea of not guilty, denying all allegations against them. On the other hand, a special plea in bar is a plea that presents an external fact demonstrating why a criminal defendant cannot be tried for the offence charged. This plea does not address the merits and denies the alleged facts. Examples of special pleas in bar include “autrefois acquit,” which asserts that the defendant has already been acquitted of the same offence in a previous trial, and “pardon,” which asserts that the defendant has been pardoned for the charged offence. These examples illustrate how a special plea in bar can be utilised to prevent a defendant from facing trial for a crime, even if they are technically guilty of the offence charged.

What is the dictionary definition of Plea In Bar?
Dictionary Definition of Plea In Bar

In legal terms, a plea in bar refers to a defendant’s plea in a criminal case that aims to completely and permanently defeat the plaintiff’s or prosecutor’s action. There are two categories of pleas in bar: general and special. A general plea in bar is when a defendant pleads not guilty and denies all facts and circumstances required to be convicted of the crime charged. On the other hand, a special plea in bar is when a defendant presents an extrinsic fact that demonstrates why they cannot be tried for the offence charged, such as a plea of pardon or autrefois acquit.

Full Definition Of Plea In Bar

A “plea in bar” is a procedural device used in legal proceedings within the context of the United Kingdom’s legal system. It is a plea that, if established, prevents the prosecution from proceeding with the case against the accused. The concept has deep roots in common law and is integral to the protection of legal rights, ensuring that certain defences are recognised as absolute bars to prosecution or claims.

Historical Context

Historically, pleas in bar trace their origins to medieval England, where various pleas could be raised to avoid trial. These included pleas of “autrefois acquit” (previous acquittal), “autrefois convict” (previous conviction), and pardons. Such pleas are grounded in the principle of double jeopardy, which prohibits an individual from being tried twice for the same offence.

Definition and Scope

A plea in bar serves to halt legal proceedings on the grounds that the case should not be tried or cannot proceed further. It is distinct from pleas in abatement, which only delay proceedings by pointing out a defect that can be rectified. Pleas in bar, on the other hand, completely negate the legal grounds for the proceedings to continue.

The scope of a plea in bar can include:

  • Double Jeopardy: Asserting that the defendant has already been tried and acquitted or convicted of the same offence.
  • Pardons: Invoking a royal or statutory pardon that absolves the defendant of the charges.
  • Limitation Periods: Arguing that the statutory period within which the prosecution must commence has expired.
  • Immunity: Claiming legal immunity granted under specific circumstances.

Types of Pleas in Bar

  1. Autrefois Acquit and Autrefois Convict
    • These are the most common forms of plea in bar. “Autrefois acquit” asserts that the defendant has previously been acquitted of the same charge, whereas “autrefois convict” claims a prior conviction for the same offence. The rationale is rooted in the principle of res judicata (a matter already judged) and the prohibition of double jeopardy.
  2. Pardon
    • A plea based on pardon involves demonstrating that the defendant has received a pardon from the sovereign or a statutory pardon that nullifies the charge. The effect of a pardon is to obliterate both the guilt and the conviction.
  3. Statutory Limitation
    • Some offences are subject to limitation periods, beyond which prosecutions cannot be initiated. A plea in bar can be entered to assert that the prosecution is time-barred.
  4. Diplomatic and Sovereign Immunity
    • Certain individuals, such as diplomats, enjoy immunity from prosecution under international law and treaties. Similarly, sovereign immunity can be invoked by states to prevent legal action against them.

Legal Framework and Application

The application of a plea in bar is governed by procedural rules, and its acceptance is contingent upon satisfying specific legal criteria. For example, in the context of criminal law, the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) outline the procedural aspects related to such pleas.

Procedure for Entering a Plea in Bar
  1. Filing the Plea
    • The plea must be formally filed with the court, often in written form, accompanied by supporting evidence.
  2. Judicial Consideration
    • The court reviews the plea and the accompanying evidence. It may conduct a hearing to allow both the defence and prosecution to present arguments.
  3. Determination
    • The judge makes a determination based on the merits of the plea. If upheld, the proceedings are terminated. If dismissed, the case proceeds to trial or further hearings.
Burden of Proof

The burden of proof generally rests with the defendant to establish the validity of the plea in bar. For instance, in claims of autrefois acquit or convict, the defendant must demonstrate that the previous proceedings were for the same offence and resulted in acquittal or conviction.

Case Law and Judicial Interpretation

Over the years, numerous cases have shaped the interpretation and application of pleas in bar. Key precedents include:

  • R v. Humphrys (1976)
    • This case established important principles regarding the plea of autrefois acquit. The House of Lords held that the plea would only succeed if the earlier acquittal was for the same offence, and there was no procedural irregularity that vitiated the initial trial.
  • Connelly v. DPP (1964)
    • The House of Lords addressed the scope of double jeopardy and autrefois convict. It underscored that the plea must be narrowly construed to apply only where the offences are identical in law and fact.
  • R v. Miles (1890)
    • This case dealt with the plea of pardon. The court affirmed that a valid pardon extinguishes the guilt of the defendant and acts as a bar to prosecution.

Modern Developments

The principle of double jeopardy has evolved with statutory reforms. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced significant changes, allowing retrials for serious offences under certain conditions, even after an acquittal. These provisions were designed to address the challenges posed by new evidence, such as DNA, that could emerge post-acquittal.

Despite these changes, the core concept of plea in bar remains vital in safeguarding individual rights against unjust prosecution. Modern jurisprudence continues to balance the interests of justice with the rights of the accused, ensuring that pleas in bar are applied judiciously.

Comparative Perspectives

Comparing the UK’s approach with other common law jurisdictions, such as the United States, highlights both similarities and differences. In the US, the Fifth Amendment provides constitutional protection against double jeopardy, which is strictly adhered to. The UK’s approach, while historically similar, has incorporated more flexibility through statutory amendments.


A plea in bar is a fundamental legal tool that ensures fair administration of justice by preventing redundant or unjust prosecutions. It reflects the principles of legal certainty, finality of judgments, and protection of individual rights. As the legal landscape evolves, the application of pleas in bar continues to adapt, balancing the demands of justice with the need to protect against double jeopardy and other forms of legal harassment. Through its rigorous application in courts, this plea upholds the integrity of the legal system and reinforces the rule of law.

Plea In Bar FAQ'S

A plea in bar is a legal defence raised by the defendant in a civil case, asserting that the plaintiff’s claim is invalid or barred by law.

A plea in bar can be used when the defendant believes that the plaintiff’s claim is legally insufficient, time-barred, or otherwise barred by law.

Common grounds for a plea in bar include the expiration of the statute of limitations, lack of jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, res judicata (claim already adjudicated), or collateral estoppel (issue already decided in a previous case).

A plea in bar is a pretrial defence that challenges the validity of the plaintiff’s claim, while other defences, such as affirmative defences, are raised during the trial and seek to justify or excuse the defendant’s actions.

A plea in bar can be raised at any stage of the case, but it is typically raised early in the litigation process, often in the defendant’s initial response to the plaintiff’s complaint.

If a plea in bar is successful, the court may dismiss the plaintiff’s claim, preventing the case from proceeding further.

Yes, if a plea in bar is denied by the court, the defendant may have the option to appeal the decision.

No, a plea in bar is specific to civil cases and cannot be used as a defence in criminal cases.

Yes, a plea in bar can be used in various types of civil cases, including personal injury, contract disputes, property disputes, and more.

Yes, it is highly recommended to consult with an experienced attorney before raising a plea in bar or any other legal defence. An attorney can assess the merits of your case, guide you through the legal process, and help you determine the best course of action.

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: 7th 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):Plea In Bar. DLS Solicitors. June 20 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Plea In Bar. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 20 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Plea In Bar. Retrieved June 20 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