skip to Main Content
 +46 8 791 8944

The World Law Dictionary Project

English may be the common language of the world, but the Common Law is not the common law of the world

That’s why, in a unique project, TransLegal has teamed up with leading law schools from around the world to create an online multilingual law dictionary linking the world’s legal languages to a single English law dictionary.

e.g. principle, consideration, jurisdiction
# a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

immunity noun

when you are immune (=when you are not able to be punished or damaged by something)
As a diplomat, she can claim immunity from prosecution.

Hello. I'm Robin and welcome to TransLegal's lesson of the week. Today we are going to try to understand the differences between the two sound-alike words immunity and impunity.

Now these two words do sound alike, they're spelled very similarly and are often used together to create an effect. And in fact they have a rather similar meaning in that they both refer to some sort of protection. However, impunity is a much narrower word. It derives from the Latin words which together mean not punishment and it means protection from punishment or from any harmful consequences of an action.

So for instance, it is often said that the Mafia operated with impunity for many years because of the cooperation of corrupt police officers. It is often said that having freedom of speech gives us impunity for any statements that we might make that are against the government.

Now when we get to the word immunity, that's a good deal broader and it refers to protection not just from punishment but from a duty, from a liability or even from an illness. So there are popular phrases in which the term immunity is used. For instance, diplomatic immunity, that is what diplomats get when they are posted in foreign countries which protects them from any kind of arrest or prosecution for crime and indeed even protects them from having to pay taxes. In New York for instance, there are many diplomats who live there because they're there for the United Nations and since they don't have to pay their fines for illegal parking they park all over the place which makes citizens of New York very angry because the diplomats take advantage of their diplomatic immunity to break the law in a way that is very irritating to law-abiding citizens.

We also have the concept of executive immunity. And that refers to a system in which, in some countries, presidents and vice-presidents and other people at the top of a government are protected from any kind of criminal arrest or punishment or charges. This derives from the earlier sovereign immunity which protected kings and queens from any kinds of criminal punishment based on the idea that the king was somehow divine and the king could do no wrong. These days executive immunity is considered to be a very undemocratic system and it is not widespread in the western world so much.

Then of course there's the concept of immunity from prosecution and that occurs typically in a criminal case when there is a co-conspirator in the crime who maybe knows a lot of important information about the crime that the prosecutor would like him or her to testify about a trial. However, this particular witness or co-conspirator is afraid that if he or she testifies he will say something incriminating. Therefore, in order to get this person's testimony, the prosecutor grants immunity from prosecution to this witness.

And then of course we have one more meaning, which is not a legal meaning but a medical meaning, and that is immunity from some sort of illness or disease. Some of us get immunity, for instance if we've had diseases as children we probably will be immune from them as adults, otherwise we get immunizations, which are kinds of vaccinations or shots to protect us from other diseases.

So that's all for today. Thanks for listening. Please leave your comments or questions in the box provided below and don't forget all feedback is good feedback. We hope to hear from you. Thanks.

This is a limited preview!

To see an example of a full dictionary entry click one of the example entries

jurisdiction consideration principal

Phrase Bank

Common Mistakes

Close search


Back To Top

Expand your Legal English vocabulary word by word

Online and free each and every week!