The Latin phrase ipso facto, meaning “by the fact itself,” is used in law to describe a situation where something occurs by nature, or as a direct consequence of an action. By contrast, something can be said to be ipso jure, meaning “by the law.” In an example of a situation where ipso facto can come into play, blind people are denied drivers' licenses on the grounds that the very fact of their vision impairments makes it impossible to drive.
This term is not widely used in the legal community anymore, reflecting a turn away from legal Latin in many regions of the world. Many attorneys and courts prefer to use plain language rather than a smattering of Latin phrases and have been pushed to do so by people who want to encourage members of the legal profession to communicate in a way accessible to members of the public. An attorney saying “my client, being bankrupt, ipso facto cannot pay the damages” could just as easily say “because my client is bankrupt, it's not possible to pay the damages awarded in this case.”
One place where this phrase can turn up is in older legal texts and discussions of legal matters, from eras when Latin was more commonly used, and in books featuring lawyers. Some books invoke legal Latin to make readers feel more immersed in the world of law, while others may use it as a rhetorical device, suggesting, for example, that an attorney is pompous for relying on professional jargon rather than simply making statements in plain language.
When an attorney in court makes an argument on an ipso facto basis, the attorney starts by establishing the facts of a person's nature or situation, using these as grounds for showing that, by the very nature of the case, something must be true or untrue. An attorney mounting a defense could provide ample proof that a client was not at the scene of the crime, concluding with a statement like “my client was in London, and ipso facto could not have murdered someone in the Bahamas that very afternoon.”
Many references discussing common Latin phrases used in the legal community are available for people who are having trouble understanding legal documents or who are conducting research for works of fiction featuring lawyers. In some courts where a more formal atmosphere prevails, the use of Latin may be considered acceptable and is sometimes even expected.