Common legal terms explained

Affidavit
A written, sworn statement that sets out a person’s evidence in court.

Appeal
An application to a higher court to review the decision of a lower court on the grounds that it was in some way flawed. Find out more about appeals.

Arrest
Being taken into custody by a legal authority.

Bail
Being released from legal custody if you are charged with an offence on the condition that you obey certain conditions and return to court at a specified time. Find out more about getting bail.

Barrister
A legal practitioner who has more specialised knowledge of the law, and who provides opinions to solicitors and appears in court.

Default judgment
A court’s decision against a defendant when they don’t defend their case in court. 

Defendant
This is the person legal action is brought against. This legal action could be from police, an individual or another authority. 

Defence lawyers
In the Local Court, a lawyer speaks on behalf of the defendant.

In the Supreme Court a person who is accused of a crime is represented by a barrister and a solicitor. The barrister speaks on behalf of the accused. The solicitor gives instructions to the barrister on behalf of the accused.

Expert witness
A witness who has specialised knowledge, whose opinion may help a court reach a decision.

Fine
A sum of money an offender must pay to the government as a punishment for breaking the law. Find out how to pay your fine.

Good behaviour bond
When a court orders a person to be of good behaviour for a certain period of time, they must not break the law for that period of time. It is often given instead of a fine or imprisonment. 

Injunction
A court order requiring a person to do something, or stop doing something.   

Judge
A person who controls the courtroom, interprets the law, and gives the final decision.  A judge decides if a person is guilty when there is no jury. They will always decide what punishment a person should receive if they are guilty.

Judgment
The final order of the court which says who is successful in a court action. Judgment can be in favour of plaintiff or the defendant.

Judgment creditor
A person who the court decides is owed money by another person, known as the judgment debtor. Find out more about small claims.

Judgment debt
The amount of money the court orders one person to pay another.

Judgment debtor
A person who the court decides owes money to another person, known as the judgment creditor.

Jury
Twelve people selected at random from the community. In a criminal case they decide if a defendant is guilty or not guilty based on the facts they hear in court. Find out more about jury service.

Loss of driver licence
When an offender is unable to drive a vehicle legally for a certain period of time.

Matter
Another name for a court case.

Parole
The release of a prisoner back into the community under supervision and conditions. Find out more about parole.

Plaintiff

A person or organisation that starts legal action against another person or organisation in court.  

Plea
When a person who is accused of a crime says in court whether they are guilty or not.

Privilege
When information and conversations with a lawyer remain private and cannot be revealed in court without that person’s permission.

Probation
Court orders involving supervision of an offender in the community. Find out more information about probation.

Sentencing
The punishment a magistrate or judge gives a person who is found guilty of a crime. Find out more about court cases, orders and sentencing.

Solicitor
A person qualified in law who gives legal advice, prepares cases and who may represent people in court. 

Subpoena
A notice telling a person they must appear before a court or produce something specific to a Registry for a court case.  

Summons

A notice telling a person they must appear before a court.

Tribunal
A statutory body responsible for disputes and hearings of appeals in particular areas of government. 

Witness
People who are called to give evidence in court. They will be asked questions by both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer. Read more about going to court as a witness.

Last updated: 03 May 2016