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Senior Member
UK; English

I wonder if anybody could help me to understand the exact meaning of "undermine" in a legal context. It is used in this newspaper article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/26/scotland-rushes-through-new-laws-court-ruling) and talks about "undermining convictions". Does this mean that the conviction is removed or that their sentence is simply reduced? If any one could offer an appropriate synonym to help me understand better that would be great!

Thanks! :)

<< Moderator's note:
The sentence being discussed is:
Ministers in Scotland are rushing through emergency legislation following a landmark ruling by the UK supreme court that could undermine the convictions of suspects who were questioned by police without a lawyer.
Next time, please include the complete sentence in the post itself. ;) >>
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  • Fabulist

    American English
    "Undermine" means to dig a tunnel underneath something. A standard way to make a castle wall collapse, thus creating an opening for storming it, was to dig a "mine" under wall, shoring it up until it was completed, and then remove or burn the shoring so that there would be nothing to support the wall and it would collapse. Now, the word is used metaphorically to mean "sabotage" or "remove the support from." Here, it means that the convictions that were obtained after suspects had been questioned for up to six hours without access to legal counsel (an attorney) might be held to be invalid, and the convicts could be freed even if they had in fact engaged in criminal activity. Holding accused persons and questioning them for up to six hours had been police practice, and convictions had been obtained of persons so held. This practice was supported by tradition or other interpretations of law. The Supreme Court decision removed that support and thus undermined—removed the support from—convictions of persons who had been questioned for six hours without an attorney.


    Senior Member
    British English
    In the figurative sense, it means 'to damage or weaken'.

    "Criticism just undermines their confidence."
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