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The Law Language: A Glossary

Following are some terms that you are likely to hear throughout your involvement with the criminal law system.

Lethbridges values direct and honest communication. We will always explain what is happening in relation to your case. Make sure to ask us about anything you do not understand.

Adjournment – postponement of a case.
Accused – the person accused of a crime in the County Court or Supreme Court. In the Magistrates’ Court, the accused person is called the defendant.
Admission – a statement admitting a fact.
Agreed Facts – an agreed summary of what happened that is put before a sentencing court.
Alibi – a statement that a defendant was not at the place at the time where the crime was committed.
Appeal (from the Magistrates’ Court) – a complete re-hearing of a matter before a County Court judge.
Appeal (from the County Court) – heard by the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court upon proof of error by the County Court.
Arraignment – the formal entry of a plea of not guilty or guilty before the County Court or Supreme Court.
Arrest – the apprehension and detention of a suspect by police.
Bail – the release of a person held in custody to await the hearing of charges, conditional on the person undertaking to attend court at a later date.
Charge – a formal accusation of a crime.
Charge sheet – a document that lists the charges.
Caution – the warning the police must give suspects before questioning them.
Committal – a preliminary hearing in the Magistrates’ Court that allows the defence to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and test the prosecution case.
Committal mention – an administrative hearing in the Magistrates’ Court that determines whether a defendant can have a committal hearing and to determine what witnesses are to be called.
Community Based Order (CBO) – a sentence that involves supervision and unpaid community work.
Confession – an admission by a defendant of guilt. To be admissible in evidence, the confession must be voluntary and, in most cases, tape-recorded.
Contest mention – a compulsory hearing in the Magistrates’ Court to determine whether a matter should be listed for contested hearing.
County Court – the court where nearly all serious crime is heard in Victoria. A jury determines guilt or innocence and the judge determines the law.
CREDIT (Court Referral and Evaluation for Drug Intervention and Treatment) – a Magistrates’ Court bail program for drug dependent persons.
Conviction – a declaration by a court after the finding of guilt. Not all findings of guilt are convictions.
Court hierarchy – the Magistrates’ Court hears summary offences, indictable offences triable summarily and committal hearings. The County Court hears indictable offences and the Supreme Court hears the most serious indictable offences such as murder. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the County Court and Supreme Court.
Depositions – the transcript of the questions and answers at a committal hearing together with copies of witness statements and exhibits.
DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) – an independent person who brings prosecutions in the County and Supreme courts.
Dismissal – a finding of not guilty in the Magistrates’ Court.
Discharge – a finding that the evidence at a committal hearing is not of sufficient weight for a jury to convict. It is not a dismissal and may or may not signal the end of the prosecution.
Discount – a reduction in sentence given for a guilty plea or co-operation.
Diversion – a Magistrates’ Court initiative that diverts defendants away from the criminal justice system so there is no official record of the prosecution.
Hand up brief – the prosecution brief for a committal hearing that details all the evidence the prosecution intends to rely on.
Indictable offences – offences that must be heard before a jury.
Indictable offences triable summarily – offences that must be heard before a jury unless a defendant consents to having them heard before a Magistrate.
Indictment – (also called presentment) the formal charge sheet filed with the County or Supreme Court.
ICO (Intensive Correction Order) – a term of imprisonment that is served in the community.
Extradition – a request by another State to hand over a citizen.
Listening device – a bug secretly placed in private property by police pursuant to a warran
Legal professional privilege – a special right or immunity given to an individual when obtaining legal advice. This right protects the communication from being disclosed to anybody, including to police or a court.
Magistrates’ Court – the Court that hears the majority of criminal cases where a Magistrate determines guilt or innocence. The Magistrates’ Court also hears committal hearings for cases that will ultimately be heard in the County or Supreme Courts.
Matter – a case.
Mention – the first listing date of a summary charge in the Magistrates’ Court.
Nolle prosequi – a document filed by the DPP in the County or Supreme Courts indicating the prosecution is not going to proceed.
No case – a finding by the court that the prosecution evidence is insufficient to found a case against the defendant.
Offences – crimes.
OPP – Office of Public Prosecutions.
Parole – the conditional release of a prisoner after serving a non-parole period.
Plea – sentencing hearing.
Plea of not guilty – a declaration by the defendant that the prosecution must prove its case against them.
Plea of guilty – a solemn confession of all the elements of the offence.
Presentment (also called indictment) – the document filed with the County or Supreme Court setting out the charges.
Prior convictions – previous findings of guilt.
Registrar – a clerical officer of a court.
Remand in custody – an order committing a defendant to custody pending the hearing of the case.
Search warrant – an order made by a court allowing police to search and enter private property.
Sentence – a penalty imposed by a court.
Statute – an act of Parliament setting out laws.
Subpoena – a court order to a person to appear in court and/or produce documents.
Summary offence – an offence that can be heard in the defendant’s absence (for comparison, see ‘indictable offences’ or ‘indictable offences triable summarily’).
Summons – an order to a defendant to appear in court at a specified time and place.
Supreme Court – the court that hears the most serious criminal charges (usually murder).
Telephone intercept – a listening device secretly placed on a telephone by police pursuant to a warrant.
Trial – a contested criminal matter before a jury in the County Court or Supreme Court.
Verdict – the decision of a jury or court regarding guilt or innocence.
Victim impact statement – a statement made by a victim of crime as to how the crime has affected them.
Voir dire – a hearing before a judge or magistrate to determine the admissibility of evidence, that is whether it is allowed to be used as evidence.
Witness – a person who gives evidence in court.