Legal Dictionary

prima facie

Legal Definition of prima facie


    Latin Origin


  1. A legal presumption which means "on the face of it" or "at first sight". Law-makers will often use this device to establish that if a certain set of facts are proven, then another fact is established prima facie.

    Example: Proof of mailing a letter is prima facie proof that it was received by the person to whom it was addressed and will accepted as such by a court unless proven otherwise

    Other situations may require a prima facie case before proceeding to another step in the judicial process so that you would have to at least prove then that at first glance, there appears to be a case.

Definition of prima facie


  • IPA: \pɹaɪ.mʌ.feɪ.ʃi, -ʃʌ\




prima facie (comparative more prima facie, superlative most prima facie)

  1. (law) at first sight; on the face of it


prima facie (not comparable)

  1. (law) apparently correct; not needing proof unless evidence to the contrary is shown

Usage notes

In common usage, often used to mean that the conclusion is obvious. In more narrow legal usage, it means rather that there is a case to answer - that the question is clear, but the conclusion is not necessarily obvious - with an obvious conclusion rather being referred to as res ipsa loquitur ("the thing speaks for itself"). However, res ipsa loquitur is rarely used in common speech, instead referred to as an open and shut case.

Further reading

Prima facie (pronounced /ˈpriːmə ˈfæsiːa/, from Latin prīmā faciē) is a Latin expression meaning on its first appearance, or at first sight. The literal translation would be "at first face", prima first, facie face, both in the ablative case. It is used in modern legal English to signify that on first examination, a matter appears to be self-evident from the facts. In common law jurisdictions, prima facie denotes evidence which - unless rebutted - would be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or fact. The term is used similarly in academic philosophy.

Most legal proceedings require a prima facie case to exist, following which proceedings may then commence to test it, and create a ruling. This may be called facile princeps, first principles.

Res ipsa loquitur

Prima facie is often confused with res ipsa loquitur ("the thing speaks for itself"), the common law doctrine that when the facts make it self-evident that negligence or other responsibility lies with a party, it is not necessary to provide extraneous details, since any reasonable person would immediately find the facts of the case.

The difference between the two is that prima facie is a term meaning there is enough evidence for there to be a case to answer. Res ipsa loquitur means that because the facts are so obvious, a party need explain no more. For example: "There is a prima facie case that the defendant is liable. They controlled the pump. The pump was left on and flooded the plaintiff's house. The plaintiff was away and had left the house in the control of the defendant. Res ipsa loquitur."

Criticism of subjective prima facie interpretation

It is logically and intuitively clear that just because a matter appears to be self-evident from the facts that both the notion of the evidence presenting a case in a self-evident manner and the facts actually being facts (which, presumably, would require evidence of at least a minimum degree of quality) can often be reduced to entirely subjective interpretations that are independent of any truthful merit by sufficiently skilled individuals.

That is to say, appearances can be deceptive even to the objectively minded, and they can be subjectively interpreted (meaning that what amounts to a prima facie case for one judging individual would not do so for another). Just because a matter appears to be evident from a certain presentation of the facts it does not follow that that matter has any truthful validity - which would limit the common sensical utility of prima facie evidence.

Other uses and references

The phrase prima facie is sometimes misspelled prima facia in the mistaken belief that facia is the actual Latin word; however, the word is in fact faciēs (fifth declension), of which faciē is the ablative.

In policy debate theory, prima facie is used to describe the mandates or planks of an affirmative case (or, in some rare cases, a negative counterplan). When the negative team appeals to prima facie, it appeals to the fact that the affirmative team cannot add or amend anything in its plan after being stated in the first affirmative constructive.

Source: Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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