Hello I'm Robin and welcome to TransLegal's lesson of the week.
Today we're going to talk about the Latin phrase amicus curiae.
This phrase literally in Latin means friend of the court. You probably know some other words that sound like amicus, like the Spanish amigo, the French ami, but this is amicus because Latin is usually the language that we use in the law and amicus curiae is a friend of the court.
In practice, an amicus curiae is a person or an organisation who is not actually a party to the case but gets involved, in the way that they file a brief -- some papers -- to the court in order to advise the court to give them their opinion.
Now why would you want to be involved in a case that you weren't actually a party in?
The reason is usually there are many cases that have a very widespread effect. They don't just affect the plaintiff and the defendant who are in the case but may have an effect on public policy and so will affect everybody in that jurisdiction or in the country. In those kinds of cases, people that have some sort of an opinion about the outcome and how it might affect them might want to have a say in the matter. They would like to somehow shine a light on all possible considerations for the court to look at so the court can understand how its ruling might affect everybody.
These people or organisations, seek permission to file an amicus brief with the court. The court doesn't want to be flooded with millions and millions of amicus briefs – there's only so much you can read in each case -- so they use their discretion in order to grant only certain persons and organisations the right to file amicus briefs.
This is a practice that exists in most common law countries. It is used most commonly in the US, in the UK is it usually the Attorney General who will act as an amicus in representing the public interest. But in the US we find all sorts of individuals and organisations involved in filing amicus briefs. For instance, in environmental cases, you have environmental organisations like Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund that file briefs. In criminal cases, the American Civil Liberties Union often files briefs on behalf of criminal defendants whom they feel have had their rights violated by the police or the courts.
Now as you've heard, when I've been speaking, I've often just talked about filing an amicus brief. That's very common. This (amici curiae) is a big mouthful. Lot's of people don't say it; they just talk about filing an amicus brief. Another phrase that we hear is amici curiae. Amici is plural in Latin for amicus and we use it for that reason. Also, if you tried to say amicuses, your tongue would be tied and would not sound very good, so we generally use the word amici.
There is a recent case in which there were quite a few amici curiae. This is a case filed by the University of Alabama who was very unhappy about the fact that there is a painter who often painted football scenes with a football team wearing uniforms that were the colours used by the University of Alabama in its uniforms. So the University of Alabama sued for violation of trademark protection. They sued the painter. There were twenty seven other universities that agreed with the University of Alabama and felt that schools' colours should be protected and not used by anyone else so they also filed amici curiae briefs in order to support the views of the University of Alabama.
That's all for today, friends. I hope that you enjoyed this little lesson and that we welcome your comments.