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Legal language

Legal language

Accused A person charged with an offence
Act A law passed by Parliament
ADR Alternative dispute resolution (Legal Aid WA offers a family dispute resolution service also known as "FDR". Go to Family dispute resolution at Legal Aid WA)
Adjournment This means the case is only part heard and is being put off to another time or date
Adversarial A system in civil law where two sides argue their case
Affidavit A written statement of facts made for the court. It is signed in front of an authorised person and sworn or affirmed to be true
Affirmation A declaration or solemn promise that the evidence to be given in court is the truth - made instead of taking a religious oath
Applicant A person who applies for a court order including a violence restraining order or misconduct restraining order or family court order
Arbitration Where a person called an arbitrator
  • hears evidence and
  • makes a legally binding decision about a dispute
The arbitrator is usually a person with experience in the subject of the dispute.
Arraigns This is when the registrar of the courts
  • calls you by name
  • reads the charge and
  • you plead "guilty" or "not guilty"
Arrest warrant An arrest warrant allows the police to arrest the person and bring them before the court.
If a person has been summonsed to court and fails to attend, a bench warrant can be ordered.
Assets/liabilities An asset is an item which
  • has some economic value to its owner
  • may be money or
  • can be converted into money for the owner's benefit
An example of an asset is a bank account, a house, a car etc. Assets may be used for the payment of debts.

A liability is something a person
  • is obliged to do or
  • is responsible for

An example of a liability is a mortgage or debt

Annexure An annexure is an extra document attached to a main document, eg an affidavit.  The annexure must be identified in the main document as an addition eg " Annexed and marked with the letter "A" is a copy of ....". The annexure must also refer to the main document, eg "This is the Annexure marked "A" referred to in the Affidavit of .....". Different courts have different rules about how documents are identified.
Bail A written promise (undertaking) that the accused will appear in court on the date required
Balance of probabilities Level of proof needed in civil law cases to decide which version of events is more likely to have happened
Bankruptcy The state of being or becoming bankrupt.
A bankrupt person is one who, upon their own petition or that of their creditors, is declared insolvent by a court.
You may be declared insolvent if you are unable to satisfy creditors or discharge liabilities, either because
  • your liabilities exceed your assets, or
  • because of an inability to pay debts as they mature
Once a person is bankrupt their property is administered for and divided among their creditors.
Barrister A lawyer who argues cases in court
Bench Area where the judge or magistrate sits in court
Beneficiary A person who is given something in a will
Bill A draft of a proposed statute presented to parliament but not yet passed and made law
Breach To break a law or court order
  1. The instructions given by an arresting officer to the police prosecutor about the case
  2. The instructions given by a lawyer to a barrister.
By-law A law made by an authority that only has legal effect within the boundaries of that authority's jurisdiction, eg a council by-law
Civil law The area of law that covers matters between citizens where the wronged party seeks action against the party who caused hardship or inconvenience, eg the law of negligence
Claimant The party who starts a civil claim in the Magistrates Court
Committal mention When an accused pleads not guilty to a serious (indictable offence) in the Magistrates Court a committal mention date is set. On this date the prosecution must show the court and the accused what evidence they have
Common law Law made through judgments made in court/precedent
Communicates with A term used in family law for arrangements about how a child will keep in contact with the parent they are not living with, eg by phone, letter, email
Compensation Paying money for the damage or hurt done
Complainant The person who has complained to the police ie the victim
Concurrent When the court orders that two or more sentences be served at the same time
Consent Orders an agreement made between parties which is approved by the court and then made into a court order
Constitution The law that states the rules for the governing body
Coroner A judicial officer who investigates deaths that are not due to natural causes
Corroboration Evidence which supports evidence that has been previously given
Costs This is the money claimed by the successful side at the end of a case for costs incurred in going to court or for part of a court case.
Criminal law Law dealing with offences which are considered to be offences against the community as a whole. For example burglary, drug offences, murder. Compare civil law.
Cross-examination When the opposing party, or their lawyer, questions a witness
Cumulative When the court orders that two or more sentences be served one after the other
Custody Confinement in a police station, prison or remand centre
Defamation Injury to another's reputation by making false statements
Default To fail to comply with an order of the court eg fine, good behaviour bond
Defendant A person against whom a civil complaint has been made
Equity The value of a mortgaged property after deduction of charges against it.
Examination-in-chief The questioning of a witness in court by the party who called the witness to give evidence
Executor An executor organises for the deceased to be buried or cremated according to the deceased's wishes and to collect the assets of the deceased, pay the debts and distribute the property as set out in the deceased's will
Family consultant A family consultant is a trained psychologist or social worker. Their role is to try to assist you and the other persons involved in the case to negotiate toward an agreement and also to work out the issues in the case to present to the court.
Family Court of WA WA court which deals with children's issues, divorce and property settlement for married couples, and children's issues and in some cases property settlement for defacto couples.
Family Dispute
Resolution Provider
Means a service that has been approved by the Attorney General (Cth) to provide family dispute resolution services to help parties resolve family law issues.
Family violence Means conduct, actual or threatened, to a person, their property or a member of their family which causes them to fear for or be reasonably apprehensive about their personal safety or well-being.
Fast-track plea of guilty On indictable matters, the accused may elect to enter a "fast-track plea of guilty".
A plea of guilty to the charge is based on the facts in a brief Statement of Material Facts that must be provided to the accused. This plea is entered in the Magistrates Court. The magistrate then commits it for sentence to a fixed date in the District Court, or in the next sittings of the Supreme Court. The judge will give credit for a 'fast-track plea' when considering the sentence.
Financially associated
Any person
  • you may receive financial assistance from
  • you provide financial assistance to
  • who could reasonably be expected to financially assist you in obtaining legal services, eg relative, spouse, trust, corporation, group etc
Hague Conventions The Hague Conventions are a series of agreements between certain countries. They are named Hague Conventions because they were the result of international conferences held in The Hague, in the Netherlands. Generally, they are created to ensure different countries have similar high standards of law. Countries who sign a particular agreement are agreeing to abide by that agreement as if it were a law of their own country. An example of a Hague Convention is the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which ensures that precise and uniform rules relating to adoption are maintained by all countries that belong to that agreement.
Indictable offence An offence that is dealt with by judge and jury in a District or Supreme Court. Some indictable offences can be dealt with summarily (by a magistrate in a lower court) at the accused's request or the magistrate's discretion.
Intensive youth
supervision order
A sentence for young offenders which can be made with or without detention and may involve going to a rehabilitation centre or course, doing supervised unpaid community work, reporting in to a Juvenile Justice Officer.
A process in civil law, where a matter is brought before a judge, magistrate or registrar, which is usually to compel compliance with a specific order, such as discovery of documents.
Injunction An order from a court that prevents a person doing something, eg leaving the State with children, selling property, coming into contact with someone. It can also be an order that makes a person do something.
Intestacy / intestate When someone dies without leaving a will
Judge The judicial officer who decides outcomes of cases in the intermediate and superior courts
Judgement A decision by the court
Judgment creditor The person who is entitled to the benefit of a judgment
Judgment debtor The person against whom the judgment is against or to be enforced on
Judicial support officer
(once called bench clerk)
A court officer who sits in front of the magistrate in court and records exhibits, arranges adjournment dates etc
Judiciary The system of courts of justice and the personnel, such as judges, who are involved in making judgments
Jurisdiction The extent of authority to make judgments and administer justice.
Lawyer A person with legal training, who mainly advises clients, prepares cases and briefs barristers. They also can appear in court
Legislation Law made by the parliament
Letters of administration An authority the Supreme Court gives to a person to deal with a dead person's estate. It is given when someone dies without a will
Litigant One of the persons involved in a court civil action
Litigation A lawsuit
Live with A term used in family law about who a child will live with after separation. It was known as "residence"
Magistrate A judicial official who makes judgments in the Children's Court, the Magistrates Court, and the Family Court of WA.
Means inquiry Inquiry conducted in court to determine if the judgment debtor can pay the judgment debt
Mediation A system using a neutral person to help two parties in a dispute to come to an agreement or settlement without going to court.
Mention The name given to a court appearance when a plea of guilty or not guilty has not yet been entered.
  1. A form of dispute resolution where an independent person arranges settlement via discussion or compromise
  2. Process where parties discuss potential resolution of issue
Oath A sworn acknowledgment to speak the truth in court
Order A command or direction by a court
Parental responsibility A term used in family law which means all the decisions about a child's welfare and development are taken to be shared by the parents unless otherwise changed by agreement or court order.
Parenting plan A written document that is signed and dated by the parties that covers an agreement about parenting and/or plans for children.
Parenting orders Orders made by a court which set out important things about children, such as where children are to live, who children will spend time and communicate with and how often that will be, and who has parental responsibility for the children.
Personal undertaking
The accused signs an undertaking or promise that they will return to court on the required date. Sometimes an amount of money is attached to the promise. If the accused should fail to appear in court on the next date, they must pay the set amount of money to the court.
Precedent A prior decision which serves as an example or justification for later decisions
Personal representative An administrator appointed by the court to finalise the deceased's affairs when they die without a will (see also Letters of administration).
Preside To occupy the position of authority or control and to hear and determine the matter brought before the court
Property (seizure and sale) order An order that permits an enforcement officer eg a bailiff, to seize and sell the judgment debtors personal and real property to satisfy a judgment debt.
Prosecutor The person who is representing the Crown (Commonwealth) or State and trying to prove the case
Protection order A final order made in the Children's Court
Quantum A share or portion of something, such as damages or an estate, which is owed to a certain party
Quantum of damages The amount of money awarded as damages or compensation for proven losses
Recognisance/bail While waiting to appear in court for the first time, or while waiting to come back to court, a person can remain at liberty after signing an undertaking or bail agreement.
The only requirement may be to appear in court at a certain date.
Sometimes bail conditions may be imposed which limits a person's movements or associations with other people
Re-examination The examination of a witness for a second time by the party calling him/her, following the opposing party's cross-examination of that witness
Registrar The officer in charge of the courthouse and administration
Remand The accused is in custody after having been refused bail or if bail cannot be considered (eg if the accused is a sentenced prisoner).
Is often used in Magistrates Court instead if the word "adjournment" and simply means that the matter is put off until another date and the accused remains on bail
Respondent A person named by an applicant as the other party in a court case including the person against whom a violence restraining order or misconduct restraining order is sought
Restraining order An order which a court may issue to prevent a person from doing a particular act
Restitution This is the payment of money equal to the value of what has been stolen or damaged and is ordered to be paid by the child or adult. Restitution can be apportioned to several co-accused in criminal cases
Return of property Police retain property that has been recovered until after the court case, in case it should be required for evidence. They then ask the court for an order to return the property to the complainant
Senior counsel
(once called Queen's Counsel)
A senior barrister who has been appointed to this position of distinction by the Chief Justice
Separation of powers Having the judiciary separate from and not influenced by the parliament and the executive arm of the government
Solicitor Another name for a lawyer
Spend time with Term used in family law for arrangements about when a parent or other interested person, eg a grandparent, will spend time with or see or access a child. This was previously called "contact"
Stand down Magistrate has finished dealing with the case, accused is free to leave or can be removed by police escort
Statute A law passed by parliament
A minor criminal offence triable before a magistrate without a jury
Summons A document requiring a person to appear in court on a charge. It states the charge and the date and place of the court appearance
Supreme Court The Supreme Court is the State's highest court, with responsibility for both criminal and civil matters. It deals with serious criminal charges, such as wilful murder, murder, armed robbery and serious breaches of Commonwealth drug enforcement laws. Generally, it hears civil cases where the amount involved is more than $750,000. It is also the main appeal court in Western Australia
Surety/guarantor A third party required to promise to pay to the Crown an amount fixed by the court to ensure the accused's appearance at court on the required date
Swear When a person swears on a Bible, Koran or other religious book that something is true
Undertaking A promise to the court to do or not to do certain things
Warrant A document issued by a court directing an officer to take certain action. For example, a warrant can order police to arrest someone or seize their property
Will A legal document which people use to leave property as a gift when they die
Witness A person who gives evidence in court
Your honour This term is used when addressing a judge or a magistrate
Youth Community
Based Order

A sentence for youth offenders which may involve going to a rehabilitation centre or course, or doing supervised unpaid community work


Last reviewed: 14/09/2010
Last modified: 10/08/2016 2:47 PM


The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.