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Legal Words

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The meanings of some common legal words and terms that are used on this website are listed below.

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

A

accused
person charged with the crime
adjourn
to put off a court case to a later date
administrator (of a Will)
person appointed by the court to deal with a deceased estate where there is no Will or where the Will does not name a suitable executor
affidavit
a written document containing evidence for the court. An affidavit is signed in front of an authorised person (such as a lawyer or Justice of the Peace) and sworn or affirmed to be true
affirm
a declaration or promise that something is true that is made if you do not want to swear on the Bible, Koran or other religious book
arraignment
a procedure where a person enters a plea in the supreme court
allegation
when someone accuses another person of having done something
appeal
a procedure that allows a party to challenge the decision made by a court
applicant
the person applying for a court order
arrest
when the police hold you in custody because they think you have broken the law
assets
things you own, such as property, land, shares, bank deposits, jewellery, clothes, and so on
attorney
a person appointed to make financial, legal or medical treatment decisions for another person
Australian workplace agreement (AWA)
a written employment contract between you and your employer that sets out the terms and conditions of your employment
award
a document that sets out wage rates and conditions of employment for groups of employees

B

bail
a promise that you will go to court to face charges on a certain day. You may have to agree to conditions like reporting to the police, living at a certain place or having someone act as a surety for you
balance of probabilities
level of proof needed in civil law cases to decide which version of events is more likely to have happened. This is easier to prove than 'beyond reasonable doubt'
barrister
a lawyer who specialises in appearing at court
beneficiary
a person who is given something in a Will
beyond reasonable doubt
level of proof needed in criminal cases for a magistrate or jury to decide whether you are guilty
breach
to break a law or court order

C

capacity (legal capacity)
having the ability to understand and think things out
case
your legal issues in the court system
case management hearing
A court date in a not guilty case where the magistrate finds out what the main points of contest are, and what witnesses will be called, and sorts out any other procedural issues
case statement
a document setting out what the prosecution says about how criminal charges will be proven
caveat
a notice that certain actions may not happen without first telling the person who gave the notice
certified copy
copy of a document on which an authorised person has signed and written: 'This is a true and complete copy of the original'
charge
an explanation of the law that police say you have broken
codicil
legal document used to change a Will
community based order
when a court says you must do certain things instead of other penalties like going to prison or paying a fine
committal
the first part of a court case where a magistrate decides if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial
confidentiality
a rule that says what you say to someone will not be told to others unless you agree
consent
when you agree to something
consent orders
an agreement between you and the other party which is approved by the court and then made into a court order
contest
a court hearing in which the parties disagree or where an accused person pleads not guilty
contravention
when a court decides a party has broken the rules of a court order
conviction
a criminal record of when the court has found you guilty of breaking the law
costs
money for legal or other costs which a party may be ordered to pay in a court case
court list
a list at court that shows the cases to be dealt with that day
court order
a court document that says you must do something. It is also a document that sets out your penalty if you are found guilty of breaking the law
criminal record
a police record of your history in relation to criminal offences
custody
when you have been arrested and are not free to leave

D

de facto spouse
a person who is living with a another person as if they were a married couple although they are not
deed
a document that is signed and officially sealed
defence
the evidence given for the person charged with breaking a criminal law
defendant
a person or organisation that has been charged with breaking the law
deponent
a person making an affidavit
directions hearing
a court date where pre trial issues are sorted out
disqualification of licence
the court takes your drivers licence away from you. You have to go to court to get it back
divorce order
an order made by a court that ends a marriage
domestic partner
an unmarried person who has registered their relationship with the Relationships Register. Also a person who has a personal and financial commitment to another person and provides domestic support
domestic violence order
an order made under ACT law to protect a family member from violence
duty lawyer
a lawyer who helps people who do not have their own lawyer on the day of their court hearing. They can give free legal advice and may be able to represent people in court

E

enduring power of attorney (financial)
a document that allows a person to make financial and legal decisions for you, even after you cannot make decisions for yourself
enduring power of attorney (medical treatment)
a document that allows a person to make decisions about your medical treatment when you are not able to make these decisions yourself
enduring power of guardianship
a document that allows a person to make personal or lifestyle decisions on your behalf when you are not able to make these decisions yourself
enforcement order
a written document made by a court that says you must follow an order
estate
the assets of a person who has died
evidence
information used in court to prove if something is true
ex parte hearing
a court hearing where a party is not present and has not been told that this is happening
executor
person named in a Will to deal with the estate
ex-nuptial
child born to parents who are not married to each other

F

family consultant
a psychologist or social worker who helps the court and the parties in children's cases
family dispute resolution
when a family dispute resolution practitioner helps people to sort out their disagreements with each other following separation
family law registry
a public area at a Family Law Court where people can get information about the court and its processes, and file documents for their court case
family report
a report about a family written by a family consultant. The report helps the court make a decision about the children
family violence
harmful behaviour that is used to control, threaten, force or dominate a family member through fear. It includes sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse
federal magistrate
a person who makes sure the court case follows the rules and makes the decisions in the Federal Magistrates Court
file/filing
to give documents to the court. The court stamps the documents and gives you back a copy
final hearing
the last hearing in a case where the court listens to witnesses and any other evidence
final order
the last order that the court makes to finish a court case
forensic medical examination
an examination of your body by a doctor or dentist. This may involve taking body samples like blood, pubic hair, anal, genital or breast swabs, saliva, and mouth or dental impressions

G

general power of attorney
a document that allows a person to make financial or legal decisions for you while you have legal capacity
giving instructions
telling your lawyer what you would like them to do
good behaviour order
a penalty imposed that involves a promise to be of good behaviour. It may include promises to undertake community service, or to comply with other community based conditions on release.
grant of probate
court order that allows the executor of a Will to deal with and distribute the estate
guarantee
a promise given by a person to pay your debt if you do not pay it
guardian
a person appointed to make lifestyle decisions for someone who is unable to make those decisions themselves
guilty
what you say when you admit to breaking the law. Also a decision made by the court

H

hearing
the presentation of a case at court

I

independent children's lawyer
a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child
independent person
an adult who must be with you during police questioning when you are under 18 and your parents or guardian cannot be there
indictable offence
a serious offence often heard before a judge and jury or judge alone
indictment
the formal document setting out a criminal allegation
informant
a police officer or government official, such as a public transport officer, who charged you with breaking the law
infringement notice
money you have to pay for minor offences, such as littering, parking or traffic offences (also known as an ‘on the spot’ fine)
interim hearing
a hearing that looks at the issues that need to be decided in the short term, such as where the children will live
interim order
an order made by a court until another order or a final order is made
intestate
a person who dies without a valid Will is said to have died intestate

J

judge
a person who controls what happens in higher courts and deals with legal issues
judgment
a decision by a court
judicial officer
a person who the law says can hear and decide cases, such as a judge, federal magistrate or magistrate
jurisdiction
the legal power of a court or the area that a court's legal power covers (such as the state of Victoria)
jury
a group of people who decide if you are guilty or not guilty based on evidence given in court

L

lawyer
a person who can advise you about the law and represent you in court
less adversarial trial
a court date in the family law court where the issues are raised and the judge makes rulings about how the case should be run
lien
a right to hold another person’s property until they meet an obligation or pay a debt to do with that property. For example, if someone has repaired your car at your request they can claim a lien over the car until the work is paid for

M

magistrate
a person who decides if you are guilty or not and what sentence you get
mediation
where both parties try to sort out problems with the help of a qualified professional
mental impairment
a disability, including intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injury, mental illness and dementia
mention
a court date when the magistrate will ask you or your lawyer about your case. The magistrate will also speak with the other lawyer (or with police, if they are involved). If your case is not sorted out, a date may be set for a hearing

N

no comment
what you say when you do not want to say anything to police
not guilty
what you say when you deny breaking the law. Also a decision made by the court

O

oath
where you swear in the name of your religious beliefs to tell the truth
offence
an offence is something the law says is wrong

P

parenting plan
a written agreement between parties setting out parenting arrangements for children
party
a person or legal entity (for example, a bank) involved in a case
perpetrator
a person who breaks the law
personal protection order
an order made under ACT law to protect people from violence by a person they are not related to
plea
your response in court to the charge. You can plead guilty or not guilty
police brief
a document that contains evidence the police use to prove their case
police case
what the police say about what happened and why they charged you
pre arraignment conference
a meeting, or meetings, prior to a criminal trial where procedural matters are discussed
precedent
a court decision that is used as an example or reason for later decisions
prescribed concentration of alcohol
the amount of alcohol a person is allowed to have in their blood
priors
your criminal record
privilege
a legal rule that says confidential information that you have given to or received from your lawyer cannot be used in court
prosecutor
a lawyer who appears in a criminal court case and presents evidence against the person accused of breaking the law

R

registrar
a person who works for the court and who has been given power to do different things
respondent
a party named by an applicant as the other party in a court case
revoke
to cancel something, such as a court order

S

sentence
a penalty or outcome you get when a court finds you guilty
serve
the legal delivery of a document
sheriff
a person who carries out sanctions if you do not do what it says in a court order
solicitor
a lawyer who can advise you about the law and represent you in court
stalking
when someone repeatedly contacts another person or behaves in a way that makes them feel scared, distressed or fear for their safety
statement
a written document of what you say about events
statement of facts
a document setting out what the police say happened
statutory declaration
a document that is signed in front of an authorised person, such as a justice of the peace
subpoena
a document that says you must appear in court or give certain documents to the court at the request of the party
summary offence
a less serious offence usually heard in the Magistrates’ Court
summons
a court document that tells you when you must go to court
supervised access
when a parent spends time with a child while another adult is there to make sure the child is safe
surety
a person who promises money or property if you do not meet your bail conditions
suspended sentence
a penalty where the magistrate or judge decides to impose a prison sentence but does not require the person to serve the sentence providing they agree to be of good behaviour for a period of time and comply with other conditions
swear
when you swear on a Bible, Koran or other religious book that something is true

T

transcript
a record of the spoken evidence in a court case
triable summarily
when an indictable offence can be dealt with by a magistrate in the Magistrates Court instead of a judge and jury in a higher court
trial
a court case in front of a jury
trustee
a person who manages property held in trust for the benefit of another person

U

undertaking
a promise to the court to do or not to do certain things

W

warrant
a court document that says what the police or sheriff can do, such as arrest you or search your house
Will
a legal document setting out who gets part or all of a person’s estate when they die
witness
a person who gives evidence in writing or in person