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Legal Terms Explained

Below are some legal terms commonly used in the criminal law context:

 

Acquit:          An accused person is acquitted when they are found not guilty of a crime.

Adjourn:        When a matter before the Court is postponed until another day.

Affidavit:      A written statement that is sworn under oath and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace, Commissioner of Declarations or Solicitor

Aggravated Offence:        Occurs when circumstances surrounding the commission of a crimek make it more serious, attracting higher penalties. For example, the possession of a weapon or the victim’s age may serve to aggravate an offence.

Allegation (alleged):         A charge which has not yet been proved.

Appeal:         To ask a higher Court to review a matter when you are unhappy with a decision. The person appealing is called “the appellant”

Arraignment:           When a person appears in a court of trial to hear the indictment (charge) read out and to enter a plea.

Arrest:           To take a person into custody when they are suspected of committing a crime.

Bail                 When an accused person is given bail they are allowed to go free while they await a court hearing or trial. Sometimes the Court will order that money be paid as security, or the accused may simply promise  (enter a recognisance) to appear in court. Other conditions such as place of residence, non contact with certain persons, surrender of passport and police station reporting requirements may be imposed.

Bench Warrant:      This is a warrant usually issued for the arrest of a defendant when a person fails to appear before the Court when required.

Burden (or Onus) of Proof            In criminal cases, the prosecution is required to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the offence has been committed by the accused. This is a higher onus of proof than in civil cases where the case must only be proved “on the balance of probabilities”.

Call over:     When the Court looks at the matters that are before it and allocates dates for the matter to be heard.

Committal Proceedings:            When a magistrate decides if there is sufficient evidence on which a jury could convict an accused of an indictable offence in the District or Supreme Courts and so whether the accused should be sent for trial.

Confiscation:                     When a person’s property is taken by the government because, for example, it constitutes proceeds of crime.

Contempt of Court:         When a person acts to defy the authority or dignity of the Court this is referred to as “Contempt of Court”. An example is using obscene language in Court. Contempt of Court can be punished by fine or jail term.

Convict:       When a person accused of a crime is found guilty by the court.

Coroner:       An officer of the Court who investigates deaths which occur in suspicious circumstances.

Coroner’s Inquest:           Court proceeding where the Coroner investigates suspicious deaths.

Corroboration:       Independent evidence connecting an accused person with a crime or confirming a material fact.

Cross-examination:                     In a trial, when a lawyers asks questions of the other party’s witnesses this is called cross-examination.

Crown:          The state/government, sometimes referred to as “the Crown” because the Queen is the formal head of state.

Custody:      Being detained by the police or in jail.

De Novo:      This is a Latin term meaning “anew”. It means a new trial will be held as if any previous trial had not occurred.

Detention:   When a person is held by the police or in jail.

Double jeopardy:   The rule which says that a person cannot be punished twice for the same offence.

Examination in Chief:       When a lawyer asks questions of his client’s witnesses this is called the examination in chief.

Extradition:             The delivery of a person accused of committing a crime by another country (or state) to the country (or State) where the crime was allegedly committed.

Full Hand up Committal:In this type of committal hearing there is no cross-examination and all evidence is handed up to the magistrate by way of statements.

Good Behaviour Bonds:If, as part of his/her sentence, a court requires a person to enter into a recognizance to be of good behaviour for a period of time this is referred to as a “good behaviour bond”. A breach of the bond by for example the commission of further offences can expose that person to further punishment for the original offence.

Habeas Corpus:     A writ directed to a person who has another person in custody requiring them to bring the detained person before the Court.

Hearsay:                   Evidence which has not been personally heard or seen by a witness, but rather what someone else has been heard to say. This evidence is generally excluded by the Court, but there are exceptions to the rule.

Indictable Offence:           This is a serious crime which may be tried by a judge and jury in a higher court (District or Supreme Court).

Indictable Offence heard Summarily:  When a serious crime is dealt with by the Magistrates Court.

Jurisdiction:                        Whether the court has the authority to hear a matter. It can be determined for example by the seriousness of the charges and the geographical location of the alleged offence.

Legal Professional Privilege:     The duty of a lawyer to keep matters disclosed to him/her during the provision of legal services, confidential. This duty can be waived by the client or by the lawyer in limited circumstances.

Mens Rea:                Latin for “guilty mind”. Doing something with the knowledge and intention of wrong.

Mitigating Factors:           Matters the Court may take into account which may lead to a lesser sentence being imposed.

Oath:                         When a person swears on the Bible or another religious text to tell the truth. A person can also request that they make an affirmation, which is a promise to tell the truth without swearing on a religious text.

Offence:                   The commission of an illegal act in breach of the law.

Onus of Proof:       See Burden of Proof

Parole:                      Where a prisoner is released before the end of his or her sentence on probation.

Perjury:                     When a person tells a lie under oath. Perjury is itself a criminal offence.

Plea of guilty:         A statement by an accused to the Court that they admit to committing the offence alleged.

Plea of not guilty:  A statement by an accused that they do not admit to having committed the offence alleged.

Prima facie:             Latin for “on the face of it”. A type of evidence which can prove an offence if there in no other opposing evidence.

Recognizance:       A recorded obligation by an accused to the Court to do something (e.g.  to appear before the Court on a certain date). If an accused is released on his or her “own recognizance” this means no bail money need be paid into court.

Remand:       This term refers to the period of time before a charge is finally dealt with by the Court. A person can be kept in custody during this time.

Sentence:    The penalty imposed by the Court for commission of an offence.

Standard of Proof:            See Burden of Proof

Subpoena:   A writ which instructs a person either appear before the court or to produce documents to the court.

Summary Offence:            A less serious offence which is heard in a magistrates Court without the need for a jury.

Summons:   An order to appear before the Court.

Surety:          A promise to pay a person (or the Court) an amount if another person defaults on an obligation (eg. does not appear before the Court).

Voir dire:       A preliminary examination of a witness by the Judge (without the jury being present) to see whether the evidence he/she gives will be admissible.

Warrant:        A legal document that gives a police officer the authority undertake the purpose expressed in the warrant (eg. to arrest a suspect or search a premises)

Watch House:         Part of a Police station where people who are alleged to have committed offences are held until they appear in court or are granted bail.