The legal jargon dictionary: everything you need for your Court trial

Written by: Natasha Poppen

20/03/18

I should probably start off this blog post by clarifying that what you’re about to read is not the Oxford English dictionary. We all know going to Court is intimidating, largely because we don’t fully understand it. The legal world is rife with complicated terms none of us can expect to be familiar with if we’re not lawyers or law students. If you have a trial coming up, there are some common words which will inevitably spring up in Court. I’ve listed these below in what is definitely an unorthodox, easy-to-follow legal jargon dictionary.

Affidavit

A document that contains information to which the person who wrote it swears to be true. It is usually sworn to in the presence of a Notary (a lawyer, for example) and will be used as evidence in a Court trial.

Appeal

If this is your first attempt at going to Court, keep in mind that should you be unhappy with the decision or felt that something was wrong with the judgement handed down, you can appeal to a higher Court to have the matter reviewed. If your case is being heard in the Magistrates’ Court for example, you may seek leave to appeal to the County Court. However, you only have a limited amount of time after your hearing concludes to lodge an appeal so don’t delay! If you were sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court, the period of leave to appeal 21 days.

Applicant

This is the person or group who started the legal proceedings. If you initiated proceedings, you may be referred to as this throughout the trial. Another word for a civil applicant is ‘plaintiff.’

Balance of probabilities

In civil cases, this is the level of proof needed to decide which party’s version of events is more likely to have happened.

Bench

If you hear the term “please approach the bench” in your hearing, it simply means to approach the judge.

Beyond reasonable doubt

In criminal cases, this is the level of proof needed in for a magistrate or jury to decide whether a defendant is guilty. There can be no reasonable doubt of a guilty verdict.

Community Corrections Order (CCO) 

A magistrate can issue this penalty if you have been found guilty of committing a serious offence. Instead of going to jail, your penalty is served in the community – usually in the form of unpaid work. You may also be orders to undertake treatment or rehabilitation under a CCO.

Contempt of Court

There are things you can and cannot do in a courtroom. If you commit any sort of act of defiance of Court authority, you can be held in Contempt of Court. This is a crime and is punishable via a fine or even imprisonment. Examples include any acts which are disobedient or disrespectful. This includes swearing at a Judge, violence in the courtroom or disobeying a court order.

Directions

These are orders made by the Judge in relation to the conduct of a proceeding. Before your trial, the Judge may give directions so that each party will be properly ready. The directions usually outline a list of steps you have to take before your trial. For example, some directions orders may be filing certain documents and defining the issues that require a decision by the Court.

Discovery

This is a process in which you and the opposing party must inform each other of any documents in your possession which are related to the issues in dispute. Hence, the word ‘discover.’

Exhibit

This is a fancy showcase term for any document or item that you or the other side produce as evidence during the proceeding.

Independent Children’s Lawyer

If your case is related to a family law matter involving children, this type of lawyer is appointed by the Court to represent the child’s best interests.

Litigants

If you’re one of the parties in the Court proceedings, then this term refers to you.

Parties

The people on each side that are involved in fighting a Court case.

Respondent

The person or group against whom the legal proceedings are against. Other names for a respondent include ‘defendant’ in criminal matters.

Victim Impact Statement

If your Court hearing is related to a criminal matter, a victim-impact statement may be given by the person or people who suffered harm as a result of the defendant’s actions. This statement informs the Court about the harm which the victim suffered as a result of the offence, and it helps the Court decide on a sentence length appropriate for the offence and level of harm committed.

 

Hopefully the terms above will be a lot clearer for those of you about to begin a Court trial! If you’re struggling with some of the concepts, don’t stress – your lawyer is well-versed in this area and knows exactly how to handle your case. If you’d like to be able to follow along, why not print off a copy of this blog and take it with you to Court? Best of luck!

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